Authored By: Chris Vanderhoof DVM, MPH
Digestive issues can be very common in dogs, though the causes for these issues, including stomach discomfort, loose stool, gas, picky/inconsistent appetite, constipation, and others, are very numerous.
Even so, there are a few approaches to handling digestive maladies, whatever their causes.
There are a lot of different diets out there and a lot of different digestive systems, meaning there isn’t one best diet for every dog.
The important thing for starters is to make sure a diet is complete and balanced. Commercial diets should have a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) indicating that a diet meets nutritional requirements.
The newer variety of fresh home delivery diet brands, home-cooked diets, and similar choices should be formulated by a veterinary nutritionist to ensure there are no nutritional deficits.
Changing a diet too often on a dog can lead to digestive issues on its own, so keeping things consistent is important.
If there are persistent digestive concerns, say with soft stool for example, and especially if some other short-term therapies have been tried, it’s important to look at diet. Dogs can have allergies to certain proteins like chicken or beef, intolerances to certain ingredients, or may respond differently to varying levels of certain ingredients like fiber.
With some guidance from your veterinarian, a diet change can be considered. This might be a diet with a single or novel protein source, a limited ingredient diet, one of the fresh home delivery diets, or one of several types of prescription diets depending on the circumstances, among other possibilities.
Ultimately, a dog should be happy and invigorated by his diet, and his diet in turn should not be causing any digestive upset issues. If your pup has wavering interest in food or chronic recurrent issues like stomach upset or runny stool, it’s important to find out why.
The digestive tract relies on a healthy balance of certain beneficial bacteria. These populations can get out of balance for a variety of reasons.
Probiotics have the aim of providing more of those beneficial bacteria strains to make sure that the ones that can overgrow and cause problems, like Clostridia, are kept in check.
Probiotics come in many varieties, including different strains of bacteria and number of cultures, or amounts of bacteria present.
Probiotics are generally very safe to use. They can be found as part of many different supplements. Depending on the circumstances, your vet may also recommend a specific probiotic to use.
While a somewhat debated topic, digestive enzymes may be beneficial for some pets.
Digestive enzymes are just one class of many enzyme types in the body, which help to make sure the body can get nutrients from the foods we eat.
In general, there is a belief, largely among holistic practitioners, that enzymes naturally present in foods that we eat are required for not just proper digestion but are helpful for other functions in the body as well, like immune function.
Normal, healthy pets (and people) with normal digestion may not need digestive enzymes added to their diet, as their pancreas, stomach, and small intestine are doing just fine taking care of the business of digestion.
But there may be some circumstances where supplementing with enzymes may be helpful.
Transitioning to new diets can be stressful on the digestive system. The body may become used to digesting certain proportions of nutrients and sources of those nutrients, and so changing to other formulations requires an adjustment. An enzyme supplement may help to smooth that process over.
Just like with us, there is a general appreciation for a loss of enzyme function with age in some dogs. If you feel that your older pooch is having more difficulty with digestion or maintaining weight than she used to, make sure to chat with your vet if he or she thinks a digestive enzyme supplement may be helpful to keep those golden years more “regular”.
Fiber can be very useful to help keep things in balance. There are two main types of fiber. Many foods, like pumpkin for example, contain proportions of both.
Soluble fiber is dissolvable in water. In the GI tract, it forms a gel-like substance. This gel slows down the digestion rate of other nutrients, like fats and sugars.
Benefits of soluble fiber include lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar levels by preventing blood sugar spikes after eating.
Because digestion of nutrients in soluble fiber foods is delayed, much of it reaches the colon, allowing for fermentation by our healthy gut bacteria. This helps to improve the health of good bacteria, maintaining a good balance.
Insoluble fiber is not dissolved in water, and essentially remains in its original form. Because insoluble fiber is not readily digestible, it can help to speed up the transit of nutrients through the GI tract, reducing constipation.
Together, both soluble and insoluble fiber can work together to slow down digestion, which may help with loose stool. But they also physically fill up space in the GI tract. This can improve satiety and may help with weight management.
Talk to Your Vet About Digestive Problems, especially if they’re chronic or recurrent. There can be a lot of causes of digestive issues. Sure, a dog may just repeatedly get into something out on walks with a bout of diarrhea each time. And another dog may just have an intolerance to a dietary ingredient and need a change.
Talking to your vet doesn’t mean abandoning natural remedies. But there can be lots of causes of digestive woes, like intestinal parasites, inflammatory bowel conditions, pancreatic insufficiency, and actual bacterial imbalance which are conditions requiring specific treatments.
That’s why it’s really important to have an exam and discussion with your vet to work through possibilities for your pup’s digestive woes and see if a simple change like a diet switch or probiotic may be helpful or if a more specific approach is needed.