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savvy shopping

The best food for dogs with sensitive stomachs, according to vets

Updated July 17, 2020

Created By

Andy Bowen,,
It's all about limited-ingredient diets // Here are the five tummy-calming formulas that met our vet's quality guidelines.

the essentials

  • Diet is the key. Serving your dog high-quality, limited-ingredient dog food is the best way to improve their quality of life.
  • You’re going to pay more. Whether it’s wet dog food or dry food, limited ingredient formulas often cost at least 30% more than our average kibble.
  • The occasional upset stomach is OK. Chronic sensitive stomach symptoms can be indicative of a deeper problem with your dog’s digestive system.
  • Always talks to your vet. If you think your dog’s experiencing sensitivities to a new food, call your vet.

At a glance: The best dog food for sensitive stomachs

🔍 How we picked our favorites

We ignored formulas with sketchy and often-debated ingredients — We analyzed the ingredients list of the most popular limited-ingredient dog foods on the market. Then we put them up against a list of 30+ highly debated ingredients and chemicals, including meat meal, carrageenan, byproducts, food dyes, and fillers.

We focused on natural ingredients and high-quality protein sources — We skipped over any dog food that didn’t have a specific type of meat (lamb, chicken, venison, etc.) as the primary protein. A higher percentage of real meat signifies a higher quality of ingredients and production process, thus more digestible protein.

We avoided grain-free formulas — This might be surprising, but there’s evidence that grain-free diets contribute to heart disease in dogs. We chose to be overly safe with our recommendations. Here’s our stance on the topic.

We focused on limited-ingredient diets with high fiber and low fat — Many specialized diets are already formulated this way. We focused on the standout formulas that excelled in both categories.

👉 There were several formulas that got a lot of praise from pet parents and other sites, but ultimately they didn’t pass our quality criteria:

  • Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Dry Dog Food
  • Hill’s science diet
  • Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Chicken & Sweet Potato Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog
  • Canidae All Life Stages Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food

How to diagnose sensitive stomach issues

Like humans, every dog is different. Some dogs may have stronger stomachs than others, while some need dietary restrictions in order to stay active and healthy. Also: The average puppy loves chewing on stuff. Adult dogs chew too. So it’s not uncommon for dogs to occasionally get an upset stomach because they ate something that isn’t food.

When you should start to be concerned is when your dog shows symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea on a pretty regular basis. Chronic upset stomach symptoms suggest that your dog might have a sensitive stomach, but they can also point to more serious chronic conditions like food allergies and pancreatitis.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your dog has a sensitive stomach or more serious condition. If your dog shows symptoms like vomiting, gas, and diarrhea but still maintains their same energy level day-to-day and isn’t losing weight, it’s likely a diet-related issue.

Symptoms of a sensitive stomach in dogs

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas / flatulence

👉 Occasional symptoms are OK, but always talk to your vet if your dog shows prolonged symptoms 

Probiotics and prebiotics can help, but they aren’t a silver bullet

👉 Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest probiotics can help your pet’s tummy problems and boost their immune system, but results vary wildly from pet to pet. 

Dr. Jan Suchodolski, the associate director for research of the GI Lab at Texas A&M University told Tufts that “nothing is guaranteed. Every single individual, whether a dog or a person, is different. We all have similar groups of bacteria in our GI tracts, but the proportions are somewhat different.”

On top of the genetic variances, it’s hard to know exactly which products are high quality and which ones aren’t. The FDA doesn’t regulate these types of products, so it’s tough to take ingredients labels at face value unless you’ve done extensive research in the company’s manufacturing processes. (We discuss this more in our guide to dog vitamins and supplements — we focus on brands who have a full-time vet nutritionist on staff.)

Ultimately, we maintain our thesis that your dog’s diet is key. There’s no good reason not to try adding a probiotic supplement to your dog’s food, but switching to a limited-ingredient diet has the potential to make much more of a difference.

dog food bowl

you can't take every formula at face value

Dog food ingredients to avoid

A dog’s digestive process is different from a human’s. There are certain foods, preservatives, and flavorings that we can eat that dogs should stay away from — especially if they have sensitive stomach problems.

Highly processed ingredients

  • Rendered fat. Animal tissue melted into a goop that’s loaded with grease and food waste.
  • Corn syrup. Zero nutritional value, and known to cause problems when eaten in excess.
  • Animal by-products. The “leftovers” of slaughtered animals with a super low nutritional value.

Chemicals and preservatives

  • BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin. Common chemical preservatives that are illegal to use in human food and are considered toxic.
  • Artificial flavors. Unnecessary additives common in dog treats and food that have no nutritional value.

Dog food manufacturing standards are low

Pet food ingredients are “feed-grade” rather than “human-grade,” which means they’re held to a lower standard. Even if an ingredient on a dog food label might impact your dog’s digestive health, companies aren’t allowed to show the quality or grade of that ingredient

FAQs

Why do dogs develop sensitive stomach issues?

Dogs can develop food sensitivities in all life stages, but age, size, and breed are a big part of a dog’s propensity to develop tummy issues. For example, older dogs (7 years or more) and puppies are more susceptible to digestive problems. Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Yorkies are genetically more likely to be born with or develop a sensitive stomach.

Food allergies are also a big instigator of digestive conditions and more. Low-quality ingredients (fillers, wheat, corn, etc) can also lead to chronic digestive issues and cause flare-ups.

What are the long-term health effects of improper nutrition?

Dogs are members of the family. Dog owners are responsible for making sure the food they buy has the nutritional value their pets need.

Low-quality ingredients can cause more than your dog’s sensitive stomach issues. Digestive issues often mean your dog isn’t getting the proper nutrition needed to live a healthy life. Over time, improper nutrition can lead to kidney disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

How can I soothe sensitive stomach issues?

The best thing you can do to alleviate and prevent symptoms is to make sure your pup eats high-quality food on a regular basis. Foods like banana baby food, bone broth, and canned pumpkin can be used to help treat the occasional upset stomach.
Always see a vet if you suspect your dog has chronic sensitive stomach issues — There might be health issues at play. Your vet will help you identify to root cause and determine your treatment options.