by Alicia Boemi, Dogly Wellness Advocate & Canine Nutritionist
Pet parents are often immediately concerned when their dog has an upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting and want to do their best to alleviate their dog’s upset stomach right away. It can be tricky to navigate, especially when it comes out of nowhere. This is when a bland diet can help soothe your dog’s digestive tract.
When is the bland diet used for pets?
A bland diet is often used to help a dog’s digestive system get back to normal after a stomach upset, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal condition. The bland diet temporarily replaces a dog’s regular diet to reset the digestive system and provide supportive foods while your dog is under the weather. A bland diet is not a diet that should be used long term unless you’ve worked with your veterinarian or canine nutritionist to ensure that the bland homemade diet you’re feeding is meeting all nutritional requirements for your dog, which will require the addition of vitamins and mineral supplements. In this article, we’ll go over how to safely feed your dog a temporary bland diet composed of minimal, highly digestible ingredients as a home remedy for mild cases of gastrointestinal upset.
What Exactly is a Bland Diet for Dogs?
A bland diet is used for a short period to alleviate gastrointestinal upset a dog might be experiencing for many reasons. The bland diet replaces a dog’s usual food temporarily to calm down a dog’s stomach and allow it a chance to heal. In the simplest explanation, your dog’s regular pet food will be replaced with bland foods consisting of a lean meat protein source, starchy carbohydrate, with a bit of fiber. These bland foods are fed to your dog as a home remedy to stop vomiting or diarrhea so your dog can return to everyday pet food with regular bowel movements.
When to Use Bland Diets for Dogs
Whether kibble, freeze-dried, raw, or cooked, adult dogs fed any diet can experience digestive issues and may temporarily need a bland diet. Before starting any diet change or treating your dog with a bland diet, it’s best to have your veterinarian rule out any major underlying gastrointestinal issues your dog might have.
Rule Out Serious Conditions in Your Pets
Severe conditions that affect the gastrointestinal system need much more specialized treatment, medication, and diet than a mild case of a one-time upset stomach would need. Serious gastrointestinal ailments such as pancreatitis, intestinal blockage, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, and other pancreatic conditions such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency should be overseen by a veterinarian with the help of a canine nutritionist. Especially if your dog cannot keep food down, has persistent diarrhea, is lethargic and/or in pain, has blood in the stool or vomit, you should seek treatment at an emergency hospital and not wait to see if a bland diet might work.
Puppies and Bland Diets
Puppies should be fed a bland diet under veterinary supervision. Since puppies need particular nutritional requirements daily for growth and development and are prone to illness because of their developing immune system, they need additional medical support to ensure they are on the right path to healing from whatever might be causing their upset stomach. For puppies struggling with digestive issues, it’s best to seek an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Mild Cases of an Upset Stomach - Should I Start Feeding Bland Diet?
In mild cases of digestive upset when your adult dog is under the weather with some diarrhea or vomiting, you can start feeding a bland diet after a fasting period. Pet parents are usually pretty good about recognizing that their dog gave himself a temporary upset stomach by eating a new vegetable the dog has never tried, chewing on some grass, or maybe a new treat that didn’t sit well with your dog. The important part is to make your veterinarian aware and get the "ok" to feed a bland diet. If you know for a fact that a bland diet will help your dog get over this small hump, then inform your veterinarian of your plans so they can keep a record of it in case the issue does not resolve. We’ll talk more about how to prepare and feed your dog a bland diet for a mild stomach upset, including the recommended fasting period.
Gastrointestinal Parasites or Worms - Care With Bland Diet
If an adult dog has been diagnosed with gastrointestinal parasites or worms and is undergoing treatment, a bland diet might be helpful until medication can kick in. Often parasites like giardia or coccidia will present themselves with an onset of diarrhea. Dogs need medications from their veterinarian to get rid of the parasites in the body, but a bland diet paired with medications can be calming and soothing for the digestive system inflamed from the parasites. This recommendation also applies to dogs who might have worms in their systems. You would not need to fast your dog before feeding a bland diet - you would start to incorporate a bland diet for a few meals and then work to transition your dog back to regular pet food. You would keep your dog on the prescribed medication to treat the parasites or worms during this time.
Checklist of Considerations Before Feeding Your Dog a Bland Diet
Could this be a more serious issue?
- Suppose it could be a severe gastrointestinal problem such as pancreatitis, a blockage, etc. In that case, you need to skip any home remedy and head straight to your local veterinarian or emergency veterinarian if it’s after hours.
Is my dog an adult or a puppy?
- If your dog is a puppy, you should skip any bland diet home remedy and have your pup seen by a veterinarian to avoid issues as your puppy’s growth, overall development, and immune system are still being developed.
- If your dog is an adult dog and you’ve either been to the veterinarian or informed your veterinarian what is going on and your plans for the bland diet, then you can begin the process of feeding a bland diet after a fasting period.
Has my dog been diagnosed with parasites or worms?
- If your adult dog has been diagnosed with parasites or worms, then your dog may benefit from a bland diet for a few meals until the medication begins to expel the parasites or worms.
Do I know the cause of my dog’s upset stomach and that it’s something I can manage at home?
- Especially if you know the cause of your dog’s upset stomach and you’ve either been to the veterinarian or informed your veterinarian what is going on and your plans for the bland diet, then you can begin the process of feeding a bland diet after a fasting period.
Preparing a Bland Diet for Dogs
The fasting period is recommended for at least one meal. To do this, pet parents would skip feeding their dog any food for one meal and then begin the bland diet at the next meal. If the issue is vomiting, it’s recommended to wait 2-3 hours after vomiting before offering water. Once you’ve waited 2-3 hours, you can provide ¼ cup of water. If your dog can hold down the water, you can offer more every 2 hours. Otherwise, dogs should have access to plenty of water during this time to avoid dehydration.
Your veterinarian might have specific instructions for feeding a bland diet their preferred way, but often the ratio of starchy carbohydrate to lean meat is 2:1 or 1:1. Therefore you’d choose one or two starchy carbohydrates and one protein and feed them in your preferred ratio or follow your veterinarian’s instructions. We’ll talk about choosing and cooking specific bland foods to feed your dog below. You can use a combination of bland foods to create bland diet recipes based on your dog’s individual needs and preferences.
How Much Bland Diet to Feed Your Dog
The key to feeding a bland diet is to feed it in small meals. Start by feeding your dog 1-2 tablespoons of the bland food mixture and make sure no vomiting or diarrhea occurs. If your dog does well and is a larger dog, you can increase the amount of bland food mixture you are feeding. For small dogs, you might not need more than 1-2 tablespoons of food per small meal throughout the day. Some veterinarians recommend feeding a similar volume of bland food as your dog’s regular dog food diet. Just be sure to split up the meals 2-4 times a day, so they are small meals that are digested easier. No treats should be given during this time at all!
Keeping a Food Diary
If you're feeding your dog 2-4 times a day, it can be easy to forget what time you feed your dog, how they reacted, or how much water they’ve been drinking. When your dog is under the weather with digestive issues and being fed a bland diet, it can make life easier to keep track of food, water intake, vomiting, bowel movements, etc., during this time. It doesn’t have to be a detailed food diary, simply grab some sheets of paper and jot down when symptoms started, fasting period, water intake, the time you feed your dog a bland meal consisting of what. This could also be helpful if you are in this situation again and need to refer back to what worked or didn’t work for your dog.
Bland Diet Foods
Contrary to popular belief, many foods can be fed to dogs as part of a bland diet. It doesn’t just have to be boiled chicken and white rice. Some dogs might not do well on chicken or rice for various reasons. It’s good to have options for dogs who cannot tolerate certain foods or who are just plain picky eaters. Listed below are bland diet food options to choose from. All foods used for a bland diet must be cooked - some with specific instructions. Make sure all meats are boneless and skinless. Never feed cooked bone to a dog, and avoid feeding the skin, particularly when your dog has an upset stomach because it is often filled with added fat and oils. You want to choose lean meats with no added fat, sodium, or additional additives.
Core Bland Diet Foods - Choose 1 protein and 1-2 starchy carbohydrate
- Chicken breast with no skin is easy to boil, shred, and offer to your dog as part of the lean protein source of your dog’s bland diet. Chicken is high in protein and low in fat, so as long as your dog doesn’t have an intolerance to chicken, it can greatly help your dog’s stomach reset itself. Chicken gets a bad reputation as being inflammatory because it contains Omega-6 fatty acids. Chicken really is not as inflammatory as we all think, in fact, Omega-6 fatty acids are required as part of a balanced diet. Especially in the situation of your dog having an upset stomach, boiled chicken can be very beneficial.
- Ground beef is easy to cook on the stovetop or in the oven and very palatable to dogs. Be sure to buy the leanest ground beef, containing the least amount of fat. I often choose 90% lean, 10% fat ground beef, or less. Fat can greatly upset your dog’s stomach even further, so we want to avoid that. Also, when cooking ground beef for a bland diet, it is best not to add any oils or butter. On the stovetop, you can use water in the pan, and you can bake beef in the oven on parchment paper or tin foil without adding any extra fats to the mix. You can also boil the ground beef as well if that is easiest.
- Ground turkey is a great, naturally low fat and lean protein option to feed dogs who might not do well with chicken, and beef might be too rich for them. Again, keep the fat percentage low. Opt for 7% fat ground turkey or no fat. Both of these options are very common at any grocery store. You can also cook ground turkey in the oven as well as the stovetop. Keep in mind that you do not want to add any additional butter or oils when cooking. In the same way as cooking ground beef, you can use water in the pan on the stovetop, and you can bake the ground turkey in the oven on parchment paper or tin foil without adding any extra fats to the mix. You can also boil the ground turkey as well if that is easiest.
White Rice or Brown Rice
- Rice is a typical staple for a bland diet because rice is easily digested by dogs and easy on an upset stomach. However, there is one thing that many pet parents overlook when feeding their dog white or brown rice - you must overcook the rice in order for it to be highly digestible for dogs. Rice must be a mushy consistency before being fed to dogs. It should not be fed to dogs if the rice is cooked like what we humans would eat. As far as choosing white or brown rice - it comes down to personal preference and what your dog does best on. White rice is not as bad as many people think it is. Especially when it comes to digestion and dogs with sensitive stomachs, white rice can help tremendously while providing certain nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese, all of which are required in a dog’s diet. White rice does have more sugars than brown rice, and therefore if you have a dog that is diabetic, it is best to steer clear of white rice. Healthy adult or senior dogs without a food intolerance to white rice do not need to steer clear of it unless their pet parent prefers to feed them brown rice. Brown rice contains more fiber which can be beneficial for firming up stools as long as the brown rice is prepared properly. Be careful not to feed too much brown rice though, as too much fiber from brown rice could also cause constipation.
White Russet Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes
- Both white russet potatoes and sweet potatoes can be beneficial for dogs who are having digestive problems. Both types of potatoes are rich in fiber, starchy carbohydrates, and B vitamins which can help to firm up loose stool and settle an upset stomach. White russet potatoes are high in potassium, while sweet potatoes are higher in fiber. Some dogs do not do well with the higher amount of fiber that sweet potatoes contain. To really bind up loose stool, I will often choose to work with white russet potatoes first. If the dog needs more fiber, I will opt for some sweet potatoes. It’s best to boil or bake either potatoes. Some dogs do well with some of the skin mashed into their bland diet meals. Although, it’s not recommended to feed too much skin.
- Cooked oatmeal is a great choice for soothing your dog’s stomach and incorporating into a bland diet. Like rice, oatmeal must be overcooked for dogs to digest it and gain its benefits optimally. Oatmeal contains a good amount of soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals, and even antioxidants. It slows down digestion and feeds the good gut bacteria which can be optimal for healing your dog’s digestive system. It’s best not to feed instant oatmeal from packets or oatmeal with sugars, syrups, or flavors. Purchase oatmeal that you can make on the stovetop with water. You can also choose gluten-free oatmeal, which is even easier on your dog’s digestive tract.
Optional Add-ons to the Bland Diet to Enhance Digestion and for Additional Nutrients
- Pumpkin is often one of the most commonly recommended foods to add to a bland diet because it can absorb water in the gut. The only thing to be aware of with pumpkin is that it can also cause a laxative effect. When using pumpkin as part of a bland diet, I recommend using 1-2 tsp in addition to using rice, oatmeal, or potatoes. While pumpkin has beneficial effects on digestion, it can also cause unpleasant side effects and add to diarrhea. It’s also not as high in fiber as we all think. You’d need 1 cup of canned pumpkin to get 7g of fiber - that is a lot of pumpkin to feed to a dog. There is even less fiber in cooked fresh pumpkin flesh. Less is more when it comes to pumpkin due to its laxative effect, but it is still beneficial in small amounts. Only use canned plain unsalted pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix. If you’re looking for an easier solution, check out Native Pet’s Pumpkin Powder -- one scoop offers the equivalent fiber of ½ a can of pumpkin and can be added to your dog’s food as a topper.
- Bananas are a gentle food that can absorb water in your dog’s gut and lend to firming up stools. You only need a small slice of banana for the benefits of it. Like pumpkin, banana is a beneficial food to use during a bland diet but not in excess. Less is more. Bananas are packed with nutrients and potassium, which can be great for a dog that needs to replenish vitamins and minerals. They are also a natural source of prebiotics. Mash a small piece and add it into your starchy carbohydrate and protein bland diet mix.
- Low fat cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and vitamins for humans and dogs alike. This added protein and calcium can be very beneficial when your dog is under the weather. It’s important to remember that cottage cheese contains dairy, and not all dogs do well with lactose in their diet. While cottage cheese is beneficial from a protein source standpoint, it might cause a gastrointestinal flare for some dogs who cannot tolerate dairy. Make sure to feed your dog low or nonfat cottage cheese. Another benefit to cottage cheese is that it is naturally low fat and high in protein, so any small amount of fat in cottage cheese should not upset your dog’s stomach.
- Scrambled eggs can be a good option to add to a bland diet for additional protein, but be careful not to feed too much as they can up the fat content in the bland diet. Do not solely feed eggs as your main protein source with the starchy carbohydrate unless your dog cannot tolerate anything other than eggs. I use a small amount of eggs for extra protein while my dog is feeling better after being on a bland diet for a few days. It’s best if you can cook the eggs in the oven without any added oils or butter.
These add-on foods shouldn’t be fed all at once in a bland diet. We do not want to overwhelm the dog’s digestive system!
Bland Diet Combinations
Here are some combinations of bland diets to consider feeding your dog based on the foods listed above. Remember to use either a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio of starchy carbohydrates to proteins with the small addition of optional add-ons.
- Core Food: Ground Turkey, Sweet Potato; Add-on: Banana
- Core Food: Boiled Chicken Breast, Oatmeal; Add-on: Pumpkin
- Core Food: Ground Beef, White Rice; Add-on: Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
- Core Food: Ground Turkey, Brown Rice; Add-on: Scrambled Egg
- Core Food: Ground Beef, Russet Potatoes; Add-on: Banana
- Core Food: Boiled Chicken Breast, Brown Rice, Sweet Potato
Bone Broth And Baby Food
A lot of people will tell you to feed your dog bone broth as part of a bland diet for dogs. While bone broth can be soothing to your dog’s gut, it also has some drawbacks, so make sure to understand them before feeding it to your dog. Bone broth is high in histamines and can cause itchiness and redness in dogs prone to allergies. Homemade bone broth can also vary in fat and sodium content which can be very upsetting to a dog’s stomach that is already under distress. Whether you’re feeding a temporary bland diet or your dog’s everyday food, plain bone broth can serve as both a flavor and protein boost. Be sure only to serve a bone broth that has no added fillers or sodium like Native Pet’s Bone Broth Topper.
For picky eaters who do not want to eat any of the bland food listed above, or who need a bit more encouragement, use baby food. Dogs who are often sick or feeling under the weather love meat-only baby food. Just make sure the baby food has no additives, vegetables, fruits, sugars, or syrups. It should be pureed, only meat baby food. You can either feed the baby food on its own or feed the baby food to your dog as another add-on to the bland diet.
When to Stop Feeding Your Dog a Bland Diet
Getting your dog back to its regular diet is the ultimate goal! Transitioning back to your dog’s regular food such as a kibble, freeze-dried, or raw diet is easy as long as you take it slowly. The total transition time from a bland diet back to your dog’s regular diet after upset stomach signs are gone usually takes about 5 days. On the first transition day, you can mix 25% of your dog’s regular food with 75% of the bland diet. If your dog does well, then you can split the regular food and bland food 50/50. Continue this gradual change as long as your dog is doing well until your dog is back to the regular diet.
Bland diets should never be fed to your dog as a long-term dietary solution because they lack the required macro and micro nutrients a dog needs for overall health and wellness. As a short-term solution, a bland diet is fine, but long-term it is not. If your dog has a sensitive stomach and does better on a bland diet, then it’s best to consult your veterinarian or a Canine Nutritionist who can build your dog a diet that will meet nutrient requirements while also being digestible by your dog.
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If your dog could use some digestion help and you’re feeding a bland diet, try boosting it with Native Pet’s Probiotic, carefully created by their team of nutritionists and veterinarians.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are eggs a bland diet for dogs?
Yes, eggs can be used in a bland diet for your dog.
What bland food can a sick dog take?
There are various foods you can use in a bland diet. This article mentions all the important food that you can feed your dog. Food like boiled lean meat, chicken, hamburger, turkey, boiled white rice, etc. are included in bland diet.
How much bland diet to feed in a bland diet?
Start with 1-2 table spoons of any food that can be included in bland diet. Then, give a gap of 3 hours before the next feed. You can gradually increase the quantity.