Vet-Approved Home Remedies for Upset Stomachs in Dogs
Here’s a step-by-step guide to treating your dog's upset stomach at home. At the veterinary hospital where I used to work, I learned about these effective, natural home remedies. We would offer these tips as an option to owners of dogs with minor stomach upset when we had a shortage of vets and no same-day appointments available.
Not surprisingly, these clients often didn't reschedule because their dogs recovered nicely after using these vet-approved remedies! You can make them with ingredients in your pantry.
If followed carefully, these may soothe or heal your dog's upset stomach. However, in some instances, they are not sufficient and medical treatment is the only choice. Here are the steps in brief, with more thorough explanations below.
Quick Look at the Steps for Treating Your Dog's Upset Stomach With Home Remedies
- Determine if you should try to treat your dog for its upset stomach at home. You should NOT attempt home treatment if your dog is acting lethargic, vomiting continuously, having continuous squirts of diarrhea, expressing bloody stools, or getting dehydrated quickly.
- Check your dog's hydration levels, either by examining their skin elasticity or by checking their gums for color. See your vet immediately if your dog is dehydrated.
- Fast your dog for 12 - 24 hours, depending on their size and age. See the vet immediately if your dog continues to vomit even after you've taken food away.
- Limit the amount of water they drink to prevent them from getting dehydrated. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, letting your dog gulp water may further irritate his or her stomach. See below for tips on how to avoid this.
- Put them on a bland diet of rice and low-fat meat. Bonus foods could include plain canned pumpkin, a tablespoon or two of yogurt, or probiotics.
- Monitor your dog closely. They should have better-formed stools and no more vomiting episodes. Take your dog to the vet if they are acting lethargic or not like their normal selves.
- If this doesn't work, go see a vet. It's possible there is a more serious underlying condition.
- Re-introduce regular foods gradually. Never go back to their old diet quickly. That can cause stomach upset all over again.
Disclaimer: Because there are many possible causes for your dog's upset stomach, please see your vet for a thorough examination. This article is not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice.
Typically, dogs with a stomach upset will show the following symptoms:
- Desire to eat grass or to lick the carpets/floor
- Loss of appetite
- Passing gas
- Gurgling noises from the stomach
Step 1: Determine If Your Dog Is a Candidate for These Remedies
Once again, the home remedies listed in this article are not for all dogs—some should see the vet as soon as possible, as their upset stomach may have a serious underlying cause that needs to be addressed.
So please see your vet if your dog is acting sick or lethargic, running a fever, and not acting as his normal self. There could be a serious condition that needs immediate veterinary attention, such as parvovirus, an intestinal obstruction, gastroenteritis, or pancreatitis!
So who are these remedies good for? They may help those dogs who:
- Have an upset stomach from recently switching foods (new foods should always be introduced gradually!).
- Underwent a recent dietary indiscretion—think raiding the trash can. This only applies if the dog did not consume fatty foods (which can cause pancreatitis), toxic products, or bones that can cause a blockage.
Do not try home remedies for an upset stomach if your dog is:
- Acting lethargic
- Vomiting continuously
- Having continuous squirts of diarrhea
- Expressing bloody stools
- Getting quickly dehydrated.
Again, these remedies are only for mild cases due to dietary indiscretions or abrupt diet changes. Seek your vet if your dog is sick and the vomiting and diarrhea are severe and not getting any better. If in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution and see the vet than to use home remedies and delay treatment.
Once you have determined that your dog may be a good candidate, you can move on to step two to make sure your dog isn't dehydrated and then you can try following the bland diet protocol.
Warning! If your dog's stomach appears distended or your dog is pacing nervously, drooling, and retching without producing vomit, see your vet immediately as this may be bloat, a life-threatening condition seen more often in deep-chested dogs.
Did You Know?
Stomach upsets are one of the primary reasons dogs see the vet, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI)!
Step 2: Check Hydration Levels
If your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, you need to make sure he is not becoming dehydrated. Continuous vomiting and repeated liquid diarrhea may lead to a rapid loss of fluids. This is one of the biggest dangers for dogs suffering from vomiting and diarrhea.
Keep in mind that small dogs and puppies tend to become dehydrated more quickly than larger ones. To check your dog's hydration levels, do the following:
- Check for Skin Elasticity—Among the tests we used to check for hydration levels was checking for skin elasticity since the skin quickly loses elasticity in a dehydrated dog because it starts lacking moisture. To check the level of skin elasticity: Gently lift the skin on the back or between shoulder blades in a tent using two fingers. If the skin snaps back quickly into position, good. If it delays, or worse, stays lifted, then the dog needs to be re-hydrated quickly. Often, this entails subcutaneous fluids from the vet (an IV).
- Check the Gums—It is good practice to check the gums as well. Typically, a well-hydrated and healthy dog's gums are a nice salmon pink color and coated with a slimy film of saliva. Run your finger over your dog's gums and check for sliminess. Dry or tacky gums are a warning sign of dehydration.
Another way we used to assess dehydration was by checking the dog's gum capillary refill time (CRT). When dehydration takes place, the volume of circulating blood is reduced from its normal amount. The gums are the best place to look for this. To check for capillary refill time do the following: Press on your dog's gums with your fingertip until the area becomes white, then remove your finger and count how long it takes for the gum's surface to return to its normal pink color. Generally, the normal refill time is less than two seconds. The average capillary refill time in a dog is 1.5 seconds. More than that may suggest the blood is not flowing normally.
Warning: See your vet immediately if your dog doesn't pass these hydration tests!
Step 3: Fasting
If the hydration levels check out, you can proceed to fasting. To fast, pack away any food he may have out and don't feed him anything (including treats!) for at least 12-24 hours. The purpose of this is to allow the gastro-intestinal tract to rest and recover if inflamed.
Many dogs do this naturally by losing their appetites for a few hours after being sick. However, your dog may not be sick enough to lose his appetite, so you may need to step in to prevent him from further upsetting his stomach with food.
Fasting for a few hours will do no harm, and, in this case, it is considered therapeutic. Indeed, according to veterinarian Nancy Scanlan in an article for Veterinary Practice News, "Complete or modified fasting is a natural part of a wild canine's diet and fasting or some form of reduced calories also benefits their health."
The general protocol for vomiting or diarrhea is to fast for a minimum of 12 to 24 hours. Puppies and small dogs should not fast for more than 12 hours—usually the whole night will suffice. If you own a small dog or young puppy, and you want to fast him 12 hours, rubbing a little bit of pancake syrup on his gums may help keep his energy level up and prevent his glucose level from dropping.
Warning! See your vet immediately if your dog continues to vomit even after you have taken the food away!
Step 4: Keep Them Hydrated
Often, water may cause further upset, leading to more vomit, and actually increasing dehydration, creating significant problems. This usually happens if a dog with an upset stomach gulps down a large quantity of water in a short amount of time. Before you know it, all the water has come back up and he's back to square one.
To prevent your dog from consuming water too quickly, offer him ice chips instead—at least until he feels better. You can also try freezing Gatorade and offer it for him to lick. If there is no vomiting for at least four hours, you can try filling his bowl with small quantities of water. Don't let your dog gulp lots of water at once; try 1/4 to 1/2 cup an hour depending on your dog's size (unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian).
If your dog is able to keep down some water, you can then try offering some clear liquids such as plain Pedialyte, Gatorade, apple juice diluted 50:50 with water, or chicken/beef broth—with no onion or garlic—diluted 50:50 with water.
Warning! Puppies and small dogs tend to dehydrate much more quickly than larger ones. Use extra caution on these guys when they get an upset stomach!
Step 5: Start the Bland Diet
After the 12-24 hour fast, if there hasn't been any vomiting, and if he has been able to keep down small quantities of liquids, you may then offer a bland diet. A bland diet is a diet that is easy on the dog's stomach, similar to the BRAT diet in humans.
Bland Diet Recipe
You will need:
- Boiled rice
- White meat chicken or extra-lean hamburger
The recipe must contain 75% boiled white rice, and 25% low-fat protein (the chicken or ground beef). The rice is the bulk of the meal for the purpose of binding while the meat is mostly there to work as an enticing ingredient to encourage the dog to eat.
- If you choose chicken, make sure the skin is taken off and there are no bones.
- If you choose hamburger, make sure the meat is lean and the fat is drained off after cooking. Fat may cause pancreatitis and exacerbate the upset stomach.
- Note: Do not add any oils, fats, or spices to the bland diet!
Offer the bland diet in three or four small meals throughout the day for a few days until your dog is feeling better.
According to veterinarian Jon Rappaport in an article for PetPlace.com, you can test whether your dog is ready for food by starting with a small amount such as a tablespoon. If he can keep it down successfully, you can then offer more two hours later. If he's still doing well on it, the meals can gradually become larger and spaced further apart. For example, you would go from two tablespoons every two hours to ½ - 1 cup every three or four hours.
What If My Dog Does Not Like the Bland Diet?
If you do not have any rice and chicken or ground beef or if your dog does not like the bland diet, you can try to feed meat-based baby food with no onion or garlic in it. This is very bland, and most dogs find it tasty. Warming the canned food up or adding a little bit of warm broth (again, with no onion or garlic in it) may make the food more enticing. Keep in mind though that a lack of appetite suggests he is not feeling very well, which is indicative that a vet visit is a better option than trying to force him to eat.
A Bonus Ingredient:
- Adding a dollop of plain yogurt or cottage cheese will help sooth the inflamed stomach and intestines, especially if the upset stomach is accompanied by diarrhea.
- Probiotics such as FortiFlora may also help treat diarrhea by promoting the growth of good bacteria (see more below).
- Plain canned pumpkin (without spices, not the pie mix) may further help with diarrhea as it firms up the stools. One to four tablespoons, depending on your pet's size, would help.
- Additionally, many vets seem to agree that slippery elm bark can help for diarrhea. For more on this, read my article on slippery elm bark for dogs with upset stomach.
Not Looking Forward to Cooking? Commercially-Available Soothing Diets
If you are not to eager to cook up the bland diet, or you want to keep your dog on a diet for dogs with sensitive tummies, there are commercial diets that are quite bland. According to veterinarian Debra Promovic, the following are some commercial bland diets:
• Hill's Prescription Diet I/D
• Iams Recovery Diet
• Provision EN
• Waltham Low Fat
Step 6: Monitor Closely
Now that you've checked your dog for dehydration, fasted him or her, offered liquids, and started a bland diet, you must monitor for progress—hopefully—or signs of worsening. So monitor carefully during this time.
- Do not hesitate to take him to the vet if he becomes lethargic, is laying around, and not acting like his normal self.
- While on the bland diet, monitor your dog to make sure he has no more vomiting episodes and his stools are better formed.
What If the Upset Stomach Persists?
If your dog is still having an upset stomach despite the fasting and bland diet, it often means that the upset stomach is severe, and home remedies will not work.
Instead, a more intense treatment, such as meds, may be required from your vet. It also often means that there may be a problem that needs to be addressed, such as intestinal parasites, protozoans (e.g. giardia), or even a serious condition, such as parvo virus (which is common in puppies), gastro-enteritis, pancreatitis, an intestinal blockage, or another condition affecting the gastro-intestinal tract. At times, other organs may be affected, such as the liver and kidneys. So, go see a vet immediately if you think your dog has more than a mild upset tummy and don't try home remedies.
As seen, the natural home remedy of a bland diet may be helpful in many cases, but there are cases that need immediate vet attention. Usually, your dog's behavior will give you hints on what to do. Chances are that if your dog is not acting right, the vet may need to be seen the same day.
What If the Bland Diet Worked?
If the bland diet worked and your dog is feeling better (no more vomiting and more solid-looking bowel movements), then it is time to switch again to a regular diet. Be very careful; countless people switch too fast only to cause another upset stomach!
How to Reintroduce Regular Food
At this point, gradually add the regular diet and taper off the rice meal. This is best done very gradually and slowly over the course of a few days.
To give you an idea of how gradually:
- Offer 75% of the bland rice diet with 25% of the dog's regular kibble and give it for three days.
- If the dog does well, then offer half rice diet and half dog kibble in a 50-50 mixture for another three days.
- If your dog seems comfortable, then start feeding 100% of his regular diet again.
This is the same protocol used when introducing any new food to your pet.
Never Introduce a New Food Right Away!
Any new food must be added gradually to the older food to prevent tummy problems. Most dog foods clarify how to do this in the feeding instructions. The only possible exception to this rule are special diets for sensitive tummies. These generally do not create problems when switched right away because they are very bland. Consult with your vet if in doubt!
Should My Sick Dog Be Nibbling on Grass?
Why do dogs like to eat grass when their stomachs are upset? There are many theories. Some think dogs have in innate drive to eat grass in order to feel better. Indeed, it appears that the blades of grass trigger vomiting when the right amount is eaten. However, as much as your dog loves nibbling on grass when his stomach is upset, discourage this habit. Many lawns are treated with fertilizers and other chemicals, making the practice far from being therapeutic!
Note: If your dog tends to get an upset stomach when on his normal food, consider asking your vet to switch foods. At times, a special diet for sensitive stomachs may be recommended such as Hill's I/D or a homemade diet.
What About Over-the-Counter Meds?
Some over-the-counter medications may prove helpful for diarrhea (Adrienne Mulligan recommends some in the video above). Nevertheless it is best to err on the side of caution when using over-the-counter meds; they should only be used while overseen by a veterinarian.
The most common over-the-counter meds used to treat diarrhea in dogs are Immodium A/D (loperamide) and Pepto/Bismol. While these are, for the most part, safe when given in the correct dosage, they may cause side effects. For more on this read: 5 Good Reasons Not to Give Imodium Without a Vet's Consent.
- Immodium, also known as loperamide, for instance, can cause allergies in dogs that are sensitive to it (never give it to collie breeds and collie mixes) and should be used with caution in dogs suffering from hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and Addison's disease. It should not be given to elderly or severely debilitated animals unless recommended by a vet. If the diarrhea has been caused by the ingestion of toxins or bacteria, products like loperamide should be avoided, because the dog needs to clear out the toxins or bacteria from his system. According to veterinarian Dawn Ruben, due to the potential for overdose, dogs weighing under 20 pounds should be given loperamide in liquid form, not tablets. Constipation, bloating, and sedation are known side effects of loperamide.
- Peptol-Bismol (kaopectate). Not everyone is aware that Pepto contains salicylate. Just two tablespoons of it contains as much salicylate as an aspirin, according to veterinarian Mark Papich. As with other meds, Pepto-Bismol can cause allergies to sensitive dogs. While no serious complications are associated with it, there seems to be no agreement that it is helpful either, further explains Mark Papich. A darkening of the stools after giving it is considered normal. Note: If your dog has bloody stool, the aspirin in the Pepto will thin the blood, which is not good!
What About Using Probiotics?
Probiotics are great for restoring good bacteria in your dog's gut. If antibiotics have been prescribed, they may have wiped away the good bacteria along with the bad. There are several types on the market, including:
- Prostora, made by Iams
- Proviable, made by Nutramax Labs
- Fortiflora, made by Purina
These are all pretty good. Prostora comes in tasty tablets, Proviable comes in paste, and Fortiflora is sprinkled on food.
Note: Some owners obtain good results from giving low-fat, active-culture yogurt (look for the names of active bacteria in the ingredients) with no colors or artificial sweeteners added. Generally, one or two teaspoons given twice daily will suffice.
Some vets recommend giving probiotics after, not during, a course of antibiotics. According to veterinarian Lorie Houston, "Using antibiotics, such as metronidazole, with probiotics is a somewhat controversial topic. Some veterinarians recommend using one or the other but not both. Others feel that the two products can be used together. In this case, the worst-case scenario is that the antibiotics might kill some or all of the bacteria contained in the probiotic, rendering the probiotic ineffective." Some vets recommend giving the probiotics several hours before or after the administration of antibiotics to prevent this from happening.
If your dog has a sensitive stomach and repeated diarrhea, it may be helpful to get some probiotics to help him restore some healthy bacteria. Keep in mind, though, that because probiotics are alive, they must be stored in a cool place and have a short shelf life. If you are planning to use probiotics you bought for your dog's upset stomach in the past, check the expiration date to make sure they are still fresh!