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canine health problems

6 common causes of an upset stomach in dogs

Discover what could be making your pup’s tummy turn and how to fix it

Updated October 8, 2021

Created By

John Dermott,
Golden Retriever with upset stomach

📷 by Regine Tholen

The essentials

  • Upset stomach is a common condition in canines — There are also common symptoms and causes to watch out for
  • What your pup eats, their breed, and underlying health conditions all play a role
  • Not all symptoms necessitate a vet visit — There are home remedies to help

No dog owner likes to see their dog uncomfortable. But dogs are known to have sensitive stomachs, which is especially apparent when they ingest something that’s not a routine part of their diet (so basically all the time). They’re likely to throw up whatever it is that’s causing the stomach rumbles, and you may not even know it until you’ve already stepped in it. Ew!

But there are also many other reasons for an upset stomach, ranging from the type of food itself and food quantity to illness, digestive conditions, and more. Some causes are more serious than others, and some stomach issues don’t come with tell-tale signs.

Read on to uncover some of the most common causes of upset stomachs in dogs, common signs of an upset stomach to look out for, and learn what to do when your pup suffers from one.

👉 Make sure your dog stays hydrated if they’re having diarrhea or throwing up, as those are quick ways for dogs to become dehydrated.

Common causes of a doggie upset stomach

Upset stomachs in dogs can be a challenge for even experienced vets to diagnose and provide treatment for because there are many factors that can affect a dog’s stomach tolerance. As much as your pup would like it to be true, not every pup is born with an iron stomach!

1. Food allergies & sensitivity

Just like with people, different dogs have varying susceptibility to allergens. In fact, you can have two dogs from the same litter with completely different allergen tolerances or food sensitivity.

Duck, lamb, beef, chicken, fish — these meats contain different chemical and molecular compounds. Oftentimes, upset stomachs can be attributed to an intolerance towards a certain protein found in one of them. The same is true for barley, corn, wheat, carrot, peas, and other ingredients commonly found in your dog food aisle. Your vet can help determine if your pup has an allergy to a specific ingredient.

Even if your dog doesn’t have an allergic reaction, many dogs’ stomachs are sensitive to change by nature, so feeding them a new variety or different brand can cause temporary discomfort, gurgling stomachs, gas, and diarrhea. It may take a few days or longer for your dog’s stomach to fully acclimate to new food. If you need to switch your dog’s diet, it’s important to do it gradually over five to seven days to prevent an upset stomach.

👉 See our guide to best foods for dogs with sensitive stomachs.

2. Breed

Your dog may have a certain susceptibility to an upset stomach due to their breed. For instance, brachycephalic breeds with short noses, such as French bulldogs (a.k.a. Frenchies), are known to have a hard time keeping food down, especially immediately following eating.

French bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds are prone to having elongated soft palates which means that the soft part of the roof of the mouth extends down and blocks part of the trachea. Elongated soft palates can cause eating and breathing issues. They may cause brachycephalic breeds to gag, vomit, cough, or have gastroesophageal reflux. Thankfully surgery can be done to correct an elongated soft palate if your pup has one!

Other canine breeds that are larger and have deep chest cavities, such as Great Danes and Doberman Pinschers, are more vulnerable to bloat, also called gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), which is a life-threatening condition where the stomach flips over on itself. This is often caused by sustained exercise or play immediately following feeding.

🚨 If you notice repeated unsuccessful vomiting attempts or retching following food and exercise, your dog may be having an episode of bloat. Call your emergency pet care provider immediately.

3. Overeating

There’s a good reason why you’ve come home to find your trash can turned over on the kitchen floor. Dogs love to eat.

It goes without saying that most dogs would eat indefinitely if they could. But therein lies the problem. Dogs are notorious for gulping down everything in sight. And as a result, they’re likely to get upset stomachs from eating too much in a short period of time.

That’s why it’s recommended that meals are fed in controlled portions several times a day, rather than allowing dogs to self-regulate (is there such a thing?) by keeping their food dish constantly full.

It’s ok to leave the water bowl full, as dogs will drink when they need to and should have a ready supply. But be on the lookout for water consumption that’s abnormally excessive, as this could be indicative of a stomach issue, dehydration, or another underlying condition.

4. Non-digestible substances

If eating is a dog’s favorite pastime, gnawing on just about anything else is their second. Toys, trash, grass, furniture, slippers — you name it. All are fair game in their mind, but they shouldn’t be fair game in yours. Any can be a culprit to causing an upset stomach as small pieces are swallowed, whether accidentally or not.

👉 Keep an eye on puppies, in particular, as they like to get their mouths on everything. While walking them, be on the lookout for rocks, wild mushrooms, another animal’s fecal matter, and litter that they may try to snarf up.

How long does it take for a dog to show signs of an upset stomach if you suspect your dog ate something bad? It really depends on what exactly they ate. Some non-digestible items, if small enough, will simply pass in a day to day-and-a-half. You’ll be surprised at what their digestive systems can work out (looking at you, squeaker). Eating bacteria, fungi, or spoiled food could also cause your pup to have a case of gastritis.

👉 Review our list of human foods to avoid, like foods with xylitol, as they are toxic and can cause more than just an upset stomach.

Other items, like sponges, socks, dog toys, tampons, and corn cobs can wreak havoc on the stomach and intestines, lodging themselves and creating blockages over the course of several days. Many items won’t pass on their own and will need surgery to clear.

Your dog may show more immediate symptoms if what they ate was toxic or poisonous.

🚨 If your dog is unable to keep food or water down, is excessively vomiting, or experiencing persistent diarrhea, it's important to call your vet immediately. Your dog could have a bowel obstruction, which is very dangerous and may require emergency surgery.

5. Parasites, bacteria, and viruses

Another common cause for an upset stomach is intestinal parasites. These foreign invaders come in all shapes and sizes, but some of the most common are hookworms and roundworms. These parasites are transmitted to puppies when they nurse if the mother dog is infected. Also, dogs can acquire hookworm and roundworm infections when they step in another dog’s fecal material containing the eggs of these parasites and then lick their paws.

Hookworms and roundworms can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and decreased appetite. If your dog has intestinal parasites, your vet will need to prescribe dewormer medication to kill them. It’s important to keep your dog on year round heartworm prevention to protect your dog from getting these parasites.

Similar to humans, dogs’ are susceptible to stomach bugs, or viruses and bacterial infections. Often these don’t last more than a day or two, but stubborn ones may only go away with a medication prescription from your veterinarian.

6. Health conditions

Your pup’s upset stomach could be the result of an underlying health condition. The number of digestive issues found in dogs are numerous, but some common health conditions that fit the description include:

The causes don’t always have to be physical either. Dog’s are complex creatures, much like their human counterparts. Emotional and psychological factors, such as anxiety, can cause dogs to get upset stomachs also.

Symptoms to look out for

The first step is to properly diagnose the symptoms, as leaving stomach problems unaddressed can lead to dehydration, a medical condition worsening, organ failure, or worse.

Some symptoms of upset stomach in dogs are much easier to identify than others. But more often than not, an upset stomach will be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

Unfortunately, there isn’t one symptom over another that’s a reliable indicator for determining the seriousness of a stomach issue. But as with any illnesses, a good barometer to measure severity is to look out for persistent symptoms that do not go away within a short period of time (one or two days).

Hopefully it’s just a temporary bug or nothing a digestive cycle won’t take care of. But in such cases where symptoms persist, a call or visit to the vet is in order.

When to call your vet

In the ideal scenario, your home remedies will solve mild symptoms and your pup will be back to normal in a day or two. Beyond that, you should call your vet for persistent or lingering symptoms.

Furthermore, when diagnosing and treating your dog’s upset stomach, keep an eye out for the following symptoms, as they are indicative of more serious issues and warrant prompt vet attention:

  • Bloody or tarry stools
  • Continuous vomiting or urgent diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Nervous pacing or restlessness
  • Refusal to eat multiple meals
  • Retching without anything coming up
  • Their stomach appears distended
  • Unable to hold down food or water
  • Uncontrollable drooling

Your vet may prescribe a prescription dog food for your pup to tackle any long-term stomach issues. You should not give your dog human digestive medicines such as Imodium, Pepto-bismol, or similar, without contacting your vet first. These substances are not made for dogs and can cause further harm.

Home remedies for upset stomach in dogs

You should always contact your vet if your dog is experiencing persistent symptoms of an upset stomach. But if your dog doesn’t have any major underlying issues that you know of, you can try some home remedies first.

1. Fasting

If your dog has an upset stomach, sometimes it’s best to lay off food for a short time. If you’ve switched food brands or a new treat just isn’t sitting right with your dog, it’s ok to skip a meal to allow your dog’s stomach to ease back to normal. But you don’t want to skip more than that, as bile buildup and acid reflux can exacerbate stomach issues as well.

And if your dog doesn’t show interest in eating at all for several meals, call your vet.

2. Bland diet

The American Kennel Club also recommends trying a bland diet for a short time. While bland diets don’t contain all the ingredients of fortified, sustainable long-term diets, these mild ingredients can provide intermediate sustenance and are easy on the stomach.

The best bland diet option is feeding cooked chicken breast (boneless/skinless) and white or brown rice only. It’s that simple. You can also try adding pumpkin to your dog’s diet with Native Pet’s pumpkin powder, which helps prevent and relieve doggie diarrhea.

👉 If you’re in a pinch, you can use Stage II meat-based baby food, so long as it’s free of ingredients such as garlic or onion powder, as those are toxic to dogs and will only make symptoms worse.

3. Ice cubes

If your dog has an upset stomach, sometimes the last thing they want to do is eat or drink. But hydration is especially important if your dog has lost fluids and electrolytes due to vomiting or diarrhea.

Ice cubes can be fun treats to give your dog to encourage water intake if the water dish isn’t cutting it. Better yet, freeze bone broth to add a little more enticing flavor while keeping fluids up. Make sure that the broth does not contain any garlic or onion (we like this pet-friendly chicken or beef  broth from Native Pet). And be aware that some dogs do vomit if they eat anything cold like ice cubes. So only offer them if you know your dog can tolerate them.

👉 If your cubes are too big or hard, your dog may not want them. Try breaking them up into smaller ice chips to make them easier to consume.

🚨 If you think your dog ingested a poisonous substance, call the ASPCA poison control hotline: (800)426-4435.

Preventing your doggie's upset stomach

An upset stomach can occur out of the blue as it’s hard to keep track of everything your dog puts in its mouth. And even foods you normally give your dog every day can suddenly cause issues.

Try to minimize the amount of grass, foreign objects, and human food your dog consumes, as these are some of the biggest contributors to upset tummies and abdominal pain. And if you want to try a new dog food, consult your vet prior to adjusting your dog’s diet. They often have helpful tips, such as slow food introduction guidelines for new foods, to minimize discomfort.

For long-term prevention, you may also try adding a probiotic to your dog’s diet. Probiotics promote gut health by aiding in digestion, helping to stave off pathogens, and boosting the immune system. Here are a few of our vet-approved probiotics from Native Pet, Purina, and Premium Care. These probiotics contain ingredients like pumpkin, organic probiotic blends, and more.

👉 Always check with your vet before adding a new supplement to their diet.