If you are looking for a bland diet for a dog's upset stomach, most likely your dog is suffering from some digestive issues. Digestive upsets (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea) are one of the most common complaints that we see in practice. More often than not, this will be the result of some over-eager scavenging on a walk and the ingestion of something less than appetizing, which has upset the dog's digestive system. However, it’s important to remember that there are many other causes of vomiting and diarrhea too. If your dog is bright and well, we often recommend feeding them on a ‘bland diet’ for a dog's upset stomach for a few days. Most cases of digestive upset will be self-limiting and will clear up by themselves.
Why Feed Dogs a Bland Diet?
When a dog has an upset tummy, often his digestive tract will be inflamed or the lining may have been damaged. This can impair a dog's ability to process and absorb the nutrients that he will need from the food. By feeding a bland diet for a dog's upset stomach, which is easier to digest than regular food, you can help affected dogs overcome this.
The bland diet will also minimize the amount of work and time that is needed by the digestive system to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. This allows the dog's digestive system time to heal and repair.
In the past, we used to advise fasting pets that had diarrhea and vomiting, for 24 to 48 hours. However, we now understand that this can be detrimental to the health of their digestive tract long-term, as it can affect its motility, cellular structure and ability to repair. Instead, we now recommend that you feed your dog through their diarrhea and vomiting when possible using a bland diet.
It can also be beneficial to feed a bland diet for a dog's upset stomach after an anesthetic and surgery. This is because some of the medications that are used during an anesthetic can irritate the digestive tract and make your dog more vulnerable to vomiting and diarrhea post-operatively. A bland diet is especially important if your dog has had any surgery or investigations to any part of his digestive tract.
Bland Diet for a Dog's Upset Stomach
A bland diet for a dog's upset stomach can be prepared at home or there are veterinary diets available that you can buy. Both the home-prepared and the commercial diets are made using highly-digestible sources of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, which the digestive tract can process easily.
For example, chicken, white fish, potato, rice and pasta are all suitable ingredients. These diets are also low in fat and fiber, which take longer to digest and slow the passage of food through the digestive tract.
Because these diets are highly-digestible, there is minimal waste produced following digestion. This helps to reduce the risk of unwanted bacterial fermentation occurring, which can encourage the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria.
If you do decide to feed a home-prepared bland diet, there are a few things that you need to bear in mind when preparing it. Firstly, all meat and fish should be either steamed or boiled and no oil or fat should be used during cooking.
Secondly, any skin should be removed from the chicken and fish prior to cooking, as this can be too fatty. Thirdly, any bones or bony fragments should be taken out before serving. Pasta and potato should be boiled and free from any seasoning, butter or any other additives. To avoid spoilage or contamination, this should be prepared freshly each day.
How Long to Keep a Dog on Bland Diet?
Because a lot of dogs respond so well to being fed on a home-prepared bland diet for a dog's upset stomach, some owners are keen to keep them on it long-term. However, this is not recommended, due to the difficulty in making a bland diet at home that is complete and balanced (i.e. one that contains all the right nutrients in the correct amounts needed to meet your dog’s daily needs).
If fed long-term, over time, your dog could develop deficiencies and excesses of certain nutrients, which could be detrimental to their health.
Consequently, it is recommended that you should only feed a home-prepared bland diet for a short period of time, for example, a few days to weeks – the latter may be necessary if an underlying food allergy or intolerance is suspected. This should be enough time to allow the dog's digestive system to heal and for any inflammation to settle down.
However, if you would like to feed a bland diet for longer, then it is worth talking to your veterinarian, as there are several prescription veterinary diets available that can now be safely fed long-term.
Switching Back to Regular Food
After feeding a bland diet for a dog's upset stomach, it is important (as with any change of diet) that you gradually transitioned your dog back on to their regular food. Ideally, this should be done over a 5 to 7 day period.
Start by mixing the bland diet with a small amount of regular food and gradually increase the amount of the regular food that you are feeding compared to the bland food. By the final day of the transition, dogs should therefore be fed on 100 percent of their regular food. This will give the bacteria in their gut a chance to adjust to the change in diet.
What if my dog still has diarrhea or vomiting? If despite feeding your dog a bland diet he does not seem to be improving; is lethargic; off food or his symptoms are getting worse, then it’s a good idea to pop him down to your vet for a quick check-up. Your dog may need some medical treatment or further investigations to help him back on his way to recovery.
About the Author
Dr. Anna Cherry BSc Hons BVSc MRCVS
Since graduating from Liverpool Vet School in 2006, Anna has worked in small animal practice and has setup and run her own mobile veterinary service.
She has a special interest in canine nutrition and internal medicine and recently completed a certificate in Canine and Feline nutrition.
Away from the world of veterinary, she loves spending time with her Golden Retriever Chester, who likes to keeps her one toes with all his various ailments.