There are plenty of perfectly innocent reasons why a dog’s digestive tract can go off the rails. Maybe there was a sudden change of diet because the pet store was out of the usual brand. Or your well-intentioned friend snuck your dog too many salami bites. Even stress can give your dog a stomach ache. And when that happens, you may be scrubbing vomit or diarrhea from the living room rug.
That said, there are also many serious reasons why a dog may have gastrointestinal trouble. Toxin ingestion, a foreign body blockage, and pancreatitis, to name just a few. You should also be concerned if you see blood in the vomit or diarrhea, if your dog is extremely lethargic, or if the vomiting or diarrhea is increasing in frequency.
In many of these cases, a “wait and see” approach can be devastating. That’s why it’s always best to discuss the situation with your veterinarian first, before simply handling the situation at home.
However, for mild cases of vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite, there are several ways you can help your dog.
Withhold food for 12 to 24 hours
Withholding food for a time gives your pup’s digestive tract a chance to calm down and reset itself. Your veterinarian may also recommend medications to help manage the vomiting or diarrhea, or probiotics to help firm up stools by restoring the natural balance of beneficial bacteria to the gut.
Keep your dog hydrated
Dogs often lose body fluids when they vomit or have diarrhea. If they feel nauseous, they may steer clear of the water bowl and become dehydrated. You can check your dog’s hydration by touching your finger to his or her gums. In a healthy dog, the gums should be moist enough that your finger slides over the surface. If your finger sticks to the gum tissue, your dog may be dehydrated.
A few hours after the last vomiting episode, start by offering a small amount of water. (Allowing your dog to gulp large quantities of water can disrupt the stomach again.) For small dogs, start with about a quarter cup of water every two hours, or half a cup during the same time span for medium to large dogs. Another option is to replace the water in your dog’s dish with ice, so he or she can only drink a small amount as the ice melts.
If your dog isn’t interested in drinking, try adding a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth to the water. Some dogs may benefit from subcutaneous fluids at the veterinary clinic, especially young puppies, senior dogs and those who are extremely dehydrated.
Once your dog can hold down water, it’s time to try solid food.
Prepare a bland diet
A mixture of soft white rice or boiled, skinless, boneless chicken or lean ground beef at room temperature can help. Be sure to ask your veterinarian for specific directions on preparing bland food for your dog’s upset stomach.
Don’t feel like cooking? Consider trying a diet specially formulated for sensitive stomachs, such as Diamond CARE Sensitive Stomach Formula for Adult Dogs, in situations like these.
Like the water, you don’t want to overdo the amount of food at first. Start with about a quarter cup of the rice and meat mixture or special food. If your dog can hold that down, keep feeding small amounts over the next few hours until your dog has eaten about the same amount he or she would normally consume.
In some cases, a small amount of plain canned pumpkin (not spiced pumpkin pie filling) might also help with diarrhea. For large dogs, feed about one tablespoon per meal. Medium dogs should receive two teaspoons per meal, and small dogs can receive one teaspoon per meal.
After two or three days of the bland diet, you can gradually transition to your dog’s regular food by mixing in greater amounts over the course of a few days.