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Tummy Troubles: Causes, Signs, and Diagnosing a Sensitive Stomach in Dogs

Like humans, some dogs may struggle with mealtime or have adverse reactions, like diarrhea or flatulence, after eating certain foods or treats.

Tummy Troubles: Causes, Signs, and Diagnosing a Sensitive Stomach in Dogs

Like humans, some dogs may struggle with mealtime or have adverse reactions, like diarrhea or flatulence, after eating certain foods or treats.

By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli

For many dogs, mealtime and snack time are the best parts of the day. Some mischievous pups may also sneak treats or assist in household chores by cleaning up lingering crumbs on the floor without any health consequences. However, like humans, some dogs may struggle with mealtime or have adverse reactions, like diarrhea or flatulence, after eating certain foods or treats.

While the occasional upset tummy may not be a cause for concern, frequent digestive system problems in your dog may be a sign of a sensitive stomach or other underlying health problems. Upset stomachs are painful and can lead to weight loss or malnutrition, so it's critical to determine the underlying cause by bringing your dog for a veterinary checkup. In fact, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal (GI) problems are among the most common reasons pet parents bring their dogs for a veterinary examination.

Understanding the possible causes and signs of a sensitive stomach in dogs is the best way to ensure your dog gets proper care and avoids painful tummy troubles

Gastrointestinal Causes for Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs

Like humans, some dogs may have an overly sensitive digestive tract. Various ailments can trigger problems, like eating a new treat or a rich food. Dogs can suffer from sensitive stomachs at any life stage and regardless of their breed. Still, some breeds have an increased risk, including miniature Schnauzers, German shepherds, Irish setters, and Yorkshire terriers.

Primary or direct causes of dog-sensitive stomachs include:

Intestinal Parasites

Worms, including roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms, can deplete your dog's nutrient absorption and cause diarrhea or loose stools

Bacterial, Fungal, or Viral Infections

Bacterial or fungal overgrowth can disrupt the gut microbiome or balance and cause GI issues. Additionally, viral infections, including canine distemper virus, coronavirus, or herpes virus, can cause chronic bouts of diarrhea.

Dietary Indiscretion

Ingestion of non-food objects like grass, dirt, garbage, or table scrap food items can put your dog at risk for a dangerous blockage or prolonged GI problems, like vomiting and diarrhea.  

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Affected dogs suffer from a syndrome that prevents proper nutrient absorption. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may be an immune-mediated condition, but often the underlying cause is unknown. Signs included vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, and weight loss. 

Food Allergies

Diet is a common culprit for dogs with a sensitive stomach. Protein sources, like chicken, are a common allergen. Other diet-related causes include lack of fiber, high-fat diets or treats, or vitamin and mineral-deficient home-cooked diets. Dogs with food allergies often have concurrent skin problems and ear infections. 


Neoplastic disease, or cancer of the GI tract, can disrupt normal gut function, leading to GI problems like vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss. 

Other Causes of Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs

Problems originating from areas outside of your dog’s digestive system, including your dog's brain, can negatively affect digestion and overall gut health. Common secondary causes include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Metabolic disease, like diabetes
  • Inner ear problems or infections
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pain
  • Stress or anxiety

Signs Your Dog May Have a Sensitive Stomach

The occasional loose stool or vomiting is not uncommon in dogs. However, dogs who experience more than one vomiting episode within 24 hours should receive immediate veterinary care.

Signs of an upset or sensitive stomach may include:

  • Vomiting after eating certain foods
  • Regurgitation after meals or drinking water
  • Constipation
  • Loose stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Flatulence (i.e., gas)
  • Burping
  • Excess mucus in the stool
  • Changes in stool color
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Unkempt fur coat
  • Behavior changes
  • Lethargy
  • Increased stomach gurgling
  • Hunched posture
  • Mild bloating or firm stomach
  • Prayer posturing (i.e., front legs stretched out with tail up)

How Sensitive Stomachs are Diagnosed

The occasional bout of loose stool or a single vomiting episode may not be cause for concern; however, repeat occurrences more than once monthly may indicate your dog is suffering from an underlying GI problem or stomach sensitivities.

Consider feeding your pup a bland diet consisting of sweet potato, brown rice, boiled chicken, or other inoffensive foods to rule out any food sensitivities. If the bland diet doesn’t work, contact your veterinarian for the next steps in diagnosing your pup’s tummy troubles.

Determining the underlying cause of your pooch's stomach issues requires a veterinary examination to rule out the vast list of potential causes. Your veterinarian will perform a nose-to-tail examination and may recommend a variety of diagnostic tests, including:

  • Complete blood work: This will check overall organ function and health.
  • Urine testing: Kidney function and metabolic diseases, like diabetes, can be ruled out
  • Imaging (i.e., X-ray, ultrasound): Diagnostic imaging may rule out intestinal blockages, gut inflammation, or cancer.
  • Metabolic and hormonal testing: This testing involves specific blood tests to check hormone levels or endocrine function.
  • Allergy testing: Blood tests for specific allergens or food elimination diet trials will help to rule out allergy causes for a sensitive stomach
  • Fecal testing: Microscopic stool examination is performed to look for intestinal parasites or other abnormal cells. 
  • GI biopsy: Microscopic examination of the digestive lining can help rule out inflammatory diseases and some cancers.

How to Treat Your Dog's Sensitive Stomach

Sensitive stomach treatment depends on the underlying cause. Removing the food source can be curative for dogs with specific food allergens. Other treatments may include

  • Parasite-prevention medication
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medication
  • Immunosuppressant medicines, like steroid therapy for IBD
  • A prescription dog food that targets sensitive stomachs (you can find kibble and wet dog food options)
  • Prebiotics and Probiotics to support gut health, like Native Pet Probiotic Powder 
  • Supplementing with a high-quality fiber source, like Native Pet Pumpkin Powder

How to Prevent Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs

Sensitive stomachs are not always preventable in dogs, especially those with underlying diseases like IBD or allergies. However, there are a variety of preventive measures available to promote healthy digestion and decrease the chances of them suffering a chronic upset stomach, including:

  • Feeding your dog a complete and balanced, AAFCO-approved diet with high-quality ingredients and little or no fillers
  • Bringing your dog for annual or more frequent veterinary checkups to catch disease processes early
  • Giving your dog monthly, veterinary-approved parasite prevention medication
  • Dog-proofing the home to prevent accidental garbage, toxin, or foreign object ingestion
  • Feeding meals in a puzzle dish or slow feeder to avoid overeating or eating too fast
  • Providing a consistent daily routine and eliminating stress when possible
  • Giving a calming supplement like Native Pet Calm Chews before an anticipated stressful event, like fireworks
  • Avoiding high-fat snacks or too many treats
  • Avoiding sudden changes to your dog’s diet

Like humans, dogs can be sensitive to certain foods, ingredients, or changes in their daily diet. However, unlike people, dogs often react negatively to variability in their diet, so feeding a consistent, high-quality AAFCO-approved pet food is the best defense against GI problems in your pup. The occasional digestive issue, like a loose stool or a single vomiting episode, may not be cause for concern; dogs consistently showing upset stomach signs require a veterinary exam to determine the underlying cause.

For more information and tips on your dog's digestive health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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