Stomach Issues in Dogs

Posted by Nicole Wanner, D.V.M. on

Stomach Issues in Dogs

Most dog owners have dealt with at least one episode of gastrointestinal upset. Your dog's upset stomach can have a variety of causes ranging from mild to serious. However, it can be difficult to know when the symptoms require treatment from a veterinarian. In this article, we'll discuss major causes of gastrointestinal and digestive disorders in dogs, specific issues like food allergies, how to protect your dog's digestive health, and more.

What Is the Digestive Tract?

Your dog's digestive system, or gastrointestinal tract, is one long tube divided into different functional parts. These parts act as a "disassembly line" to break down food your dog eats into nutrients their body can absorb and use for energy. The breakdown process starts with breaking apart food by chewing. Food then travels from the mouth to the stomach via the esophagus, where stomach acid breaks down food even further.

After the stomach is the beginning of the intestinal tract. Here in the small intestines, digestive enzymes make proteins, carbohydrates, and fats easier to absorb. Further down the digestive tract in the large intestines, helpful bacteria break down fiber and other tough-to-digest nutrients. After that, it's time to head outside for a bathroom break!

dog digestive systems

What Is a Digestive Disorder?

Healthy digestion is required for your dog to use nutrients from their food. Nutrients are converted to energy, which the body uses to fuel physical activity, repair itself, and more. Digestive disorders include any condition that interferes with breaking down or absorbing nutrients from food.

Digestive problems in dogs are common. Consult your veterinarian to identify the cause of your dog's symptoms and ensure appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of Stomach Disorders in Dogs

Common clinical signs of digestive problems in dogs include:

  • Abdominal discomfort (hunched posture, not wanting the belly touched)

  • Weight loss

  • Diarrhea

  • Change in stool color

  • Mucus in stool

  • Constipation

  • Vomiting

  • Retching or regurgitation

  • Changes in appetite

  • Flatulence

a sick dog

Causes of Digestive Problems in Dogs

Digestive disorders are complex and can have a variety of root causes. They can involve primarily the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, esophagus, or a mixture of multiple areas. Stomach problems can also be secondary to issues elsewhere in the body (1).

Acute gastroenteritis is a general term for episodes of short, often self-limiting episodes of stomach upset. They can be caused by table scraps your dog ate, foreign objects, toxic plants, infections, acute pancreatitis, and other diseases.

Other common sources of dog digestive problems include:

  • Emotional upset (stress diarrhea)

  • Dietary indescretion (something your dog ate)

    • Spoiled, rotten, or rich human food

    • Overating pet food

    • Toxins

    • Human medications

    • Non-food objects (socks, plastic, bones, corn cobs)

  • Parasites

    • Giardia

    • Hookworms

    • Tapeworms

    • Whipworms

    • Roundworms

  • Infectious diseases

    • Bacterial infections

    • Viral infections

  • Acute or chronic inflammation

  • Intestinal tract blockage

  • Bloat

  • Small intestinal malabsorption (genetics or inflammation)

Many dogs exhibit one or more common signs of digestive issues. Usually these signs are not specific to a single condition. For example, changes to your dog's stool color could be caused by stomach ulcers, a new dog food, or something else. Diagnostics at your veterinarian's office will be required to identify the cause of your dog's digestive problems.

things that cause dogs to be sick

Types of Chronic Canine Digestive Disorders

Most dogs experience short-term digestive problems at some point in theri lives. These issues can go away on their own or require emergency medical treatment depending on the situation. Other times, your dog's digestive health may be a long-term issue. These pups are more likely to lose weight and have persistent diarrhea, severe vomiting, or other concerning symptoms.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a complex condition that causes chronic digestive issues. In humans, IBD includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The underlying problem is inflammation in the intestines. It's unclear whether IBD in dogs and human IBD are equivalent digestive disorders. Veterinary experts prefer the term "chronic enteropathy" for this reason (2). Researchers are still learniing about the underlying causes of this condition in dogs.

Dogs with IBD typically have digestive health concerns lasting longer than 3 weeks. Common signs include vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and abdominal pain. Veterinarians will perform tests to rule out other diseases, such as digestive system cancer (neoplasia), before diagnosing IBD.

Food Allergies

A food allergy occurs when something in your dog's food leads to an inflammatory reaction in their digestive system. Healthy dogs can have digestive issues after eating people food. In contrast, dogs with food allergies have an abnormal response to normal ingredients in dog food.

Dog food contains a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats that your dog's body converts to energy. They also supply required vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Dogs with digesetive issues related to allergies tend to improve with dietary changes, such as switching to a new dog food.

Bloat: A Life-Threatening Emergency

Gastric dilitation and volvulus (GDV), or bloat, is a life-threatening digestive disorder that requires immediate veterinary attention. It happens when the dog's stomach twists around itself, cutting off the exits and causing dangerous gas buildup.


GDV is most common in large-breed dogs with deep chests. Breeds prone to life-threatening bloat include:

  • Doberman Pinschers

  • German Shepherds

  • Standard Poodles

  • Great Danes

  • Saint Bernards

  • Irish Setters

  • Weimaraners

  • Standard Poodles

  • Gordon Setters

Dogs are at the highest risk for bloat when they exercise right after eating a big meal. When GDV begins, the dog appears to vomit multiple times but nothing comes out. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, restlessness, drooling, breathing hard, and swelling of the stomach. Seek veterinary attention immediately if you think your dog has GDV/bloat. Without proper treatment, this condition is fatal.

dog with a thermometer

Treatment and Supporting Your Dog's Digestive Health

Digestive issues in dogs have a large number of potential causes. The digestive system is complex, and it can be affected by issues in other parts of the body. The solution to your dog's digestive concerns will depend on the underlying problem. For temporary bouts of gastrointestinal upset, a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice can calm down the digestive tract. If your dog ate a toy or other foreign object, they may need surgery to remove it.

Dogs with chronic stomach issues may benefit from a prescription dog food or other special diet. Consult your veterinarian to chose the best dog food for your pup's unique needs. For issues like parasites, an infected dog will only improve with appropriate medication. Working together with your vet is the best way to protect your dog's digestive health.




← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment


Dr. Nicole Wanner graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018. Currently, she is an academic research veterinarian studying CBD and DNA. Her research has been published in trusted international research journals. Dr. Wanner is passionate about pet wellness and has professional interests in genetics, behavior, and healthy aging. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and reading sci-fi novels. She shares her home with her husband Evan and their two mischievous rescue cats, Sylvie and Nemo.
RuffRuff App RuffRuff App by Tsun