Updated: Nov 4, 2022
It’s not called being “sick as a dog” for nothing—caring for a dog’s upset tummy while ensuring they’re getting enough nutrients can be stressful and downright challenging. Not to mention, as much as you love your four-legged companion, cleaning up the evidence of their gastrointestinal distress can eventually wear out even the most patient of pet parents. While there are some commercial gut-soothing recipes for your pet on the market, they’re not often meals you’d have on hand at home. Fortunately, we’ve collected some simple, vet-approved recipes for your queasy pet with ingredients you probably have in your pantry already!
Symptoms of An Upset Stomach
While vomiting and diarrhea are the two most common signs of an upset stomach, there are other less—shall we say—dramatic and pungent signs of something amiss. For example, your dog smacking their lips or drooling (if they’re not a typically drooly breed of dog) can be a sign of nausea and acid reflux, which causes an increase in saliva production. As for what’s actually causing your pet’s gastrointestinal distress? That can come from a wide variety of causes which range from the manageable (stress, change of diet) to the imminently serious (ingested toxins, cancer). Your first course of action should be determining which of these two categories (manageable vs serious) your pet falls under. Start with looking for symptoms like the following:
Loss of appetite
Gurgling stomach sounds
Excessive gas (doggy farts or burps)
While the main culprit of an upset stomach is usually just that your pet ate something that isn’t agreeing with them, some of these symptoms can be caused by serious conditions like pancreatitis, bacterial infections, IBD, and other immediate concerns. Even though it’s just about impossible to diagnose these conditions at home, seeing some of the above symptoms—or more severe variants of them—should be a sign to bundle up your beloved pet and hustle to the vet.
When Do You Need to Go to the Vet?
There are lots of things pet parents can do to facilitate the ongoing health of their pet, but sometimes it’s better to get to an expert. Here are some specific symptoms that necessitate getting to your vet as soon as possible:
Continuous vomiting: if your pet is still vomiting after 12–24 hours of fasting or vomiting blood, then this is not an issue you can fix at home.
Diarrhea: if you see blood in their poops, it’s time to go.
Lethargy: unusual lethargy is a sign that something is seriously wrong—get to your emergency vet right away.
Fever: a dog’s fever temperature is 39.5 °C (103°F), but don’t worry about pulling out a thermometer if you can’t find it or don’t have one. If you’re seeing signs of fever, especially in addition to their upset stomach—including glassy, red eyes, panting, warm ears and dry nose—then it’s vet time, ASAP.
A swollen, tight belly: this condition is caused by food and/or gas trapped in your dog’s stomach, which will not be solved by a good fart. This is a potentially lethal emergency, so do not hesitate to get to emergency veterinary care as soon as you notice this.
Resetting Their Stomach
Once you're confident your pet isn't suffering from any of the severe issues listed above and their symptoms are likely from a mildly upset stomach, you can start looking at how to nurse them back to their usual spunky self. Contrary to what would seem logical, the first thing you'll make for your pet with an upset stomach isn't food, but a 1-2 punch of anything but food.
Fasting: If you had an injury, say a sprained ankle, you wouldn’t expect to heal it by continuing to walk around—you’d need to rest. The same goes for your dog’s digestive system. Give it a break, a chance to recuperate! Don't give your dog any food (including treats!) for 12–24 hours, depending on their age (puppies and senior dogs shouldn't be deprived of food for longer than 12 hours). Remember, if your dog continues to vomit during the fasting period, the situation could be more serious than you initially anticipated, and you look for veterinary assistance.
Limit Water Intake: Your next balancing act will involve making sure your dog is staying hydrated, but not over-watering them. When a dog has had diarrhea or just vomited, they'll likely be dehydrated and ready to gulp down as much water as they can. Unfortunately, too much water can irritate their stomach and cause them to vomit it all back up again, leaving them more dehydrated than before. Instead, portion out small amounts of water for your dog every hour (or thereabouts), or offer them ice chips to slow them down.
Stomach Soothing Recipes
Keep in mind that these recipes are not nutritionally balanced and aren’t meant to be fed for more than a few days. Besides, if your dog is used to tasty raw meals, they’ll probably be looking forward to more delicious and less-bland recipes within a few days of feeling better anyways!
Versatile, tasty, and hydrating, even the most nauseous of dogs can’t resist a taste of bone broth! Once your dog has been fasting and on a water-only diet for at least 12 hours, try some bone broth to whet their appetite, then add a little to their bland foods to encourage them to eat. It’s also a great way to ensure they’re getting enough fluids throughout their recovery. You can make your own salt-free bone broth or use commercial broth made for pets. Avoid using broth made for human consumption, though; while it might taste good to you, those high levels of salt, along with garlic and onion powder can be dangerous for your dog.
Plain, boiled chicken is an excellent option for puppies with tummy troubles, offering just enough protein, minerals, and amino acids to give them a boost towards feeling better. Take a defrosted chicken breast and boil it in unseasoned water for 12 minutes or until there’s no pink inside. Shred the chicken with a fork and let it cool completely before serving.
Plain White Rice
Plain white rice—especially when combined with boiled chicken—is a crowd favourite for unwell, sensitive puppy stomachs. White rice, not brown, is the selection of choice here because it’s easier for your dog to digest and won’t stimulate their bowels as much, which you might appreciate if you’ve been dealing with a dog plagued by diarrhea. Start with small portions and monitor their progress before giving more.
Canned pumpkin is a great option to have on hand—you can just throw it in the back of your cupboard until you need it, and it’s a great source of fibre and various vitamins. Make sure you get the 100% pumpkin kind, not pumpkin pie filling, as those sugars will give you and your dog a whole new issue to worry about. Try letting your dog lick a few tablespoons off their bowl, or mix it with some rice or scrambled eggs.
Here’s a meal you could share with your pup—as long as you don’t mind plain eggs yourself. Start with a single egg and scramble on its own without any seasoning, and let it cool before serving. Start slow with eggs; make sure they can keep it down before trying another.
Here’s another breakfast option you can share with your dog! Once again, while it might be too plain for you, it’ll be perfect for their palate. Oatmeal is an easily digestible fibre option for soothing the stomachs of dogs struggling to contain their rear-end deposits. Just remember to cook it in water—both raw oatmeal and milk can irritate their stomach even further! Remember to cook it absolutely plain, meaning no sweeteners or toppings.
Their Soothing Diet Seems To Have Worked—Now What?
Once your dog’s gastrointestinal issues have quieted down, it can be tempting to say the situation is over and go right back to their usual diet. But even once their stomach is no longer violently protesting, they’re still healing internally, so it’s best to reintroduce their normal food slowly. Keep your eyes peeled for returning symptoms, and have a protein on hand that your dog has never tried before. It may take switching to a brand new food to keep recurring upsets at bay!
If your dog does take well to their old food, then it was possible they just hit a bump in their digestive road. You can help prevent future upsets by strengthening their gut system! Start by including a probiotic into their meals to encourage a variety of gut flora to make them more resistant to funky bacteria they could encounter in their day-to-day life.
While we’re generally not huge advocates of cooking food for our pets, there’s an exception to every rule, and a sick dog is one such exception. Not only do you probably already have most of these meal items in your home, but knowing what’s safe and helpful to your dog can save you some unnecessary stress and trips to the pet store when you’d rather be taking care of your under-the-weather pup—so why not stock up?