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What to feed a dog with diarrhea

by Dr. Pippa Elliott October 24, 2020 4 min read

Dog with a food bowl licking his nose

Have you heard the expression ‘adding fuel to the fire’?  Well, giving the wrong food to a dog with diarrhea will fuel that fire and make things oh-so-much worse. 

To speed up recovery time and get things back to their poop-scoopable normal as soon as possible, pet parents need to know how to feed their best buddy. In our seven-step guide to feeding a dog experiencing diarrhea, we look at:

  1. The causes of diarrhea
  2. Resting the gut
  3. What to feed a dog with diarrhea
  4. What not to feed
  5. How often to feed
  6. Healing the gut
  7. When to see the vet

What causes diarrhea in dogs?

So, your dog has diarrhea and you're not sure why? The most common cause of dog diarrhea is good ol’ garbage gut. When that hungry hound raids the trash can, the end result is often a grumbly tummy. Unpleasant as this type of upset is, it responds well to home care—especially when the dog is offered the right food. 

But, there are many causes of diarrhea other than scavenging spoilt food. These include:

  • Food allergies
  • Parasitic or viral infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

A dog with these conditions needs to see the vet, as medical treatment may be needed to  get them back on their paws. 

Resting the Gut 

Ironically, the first answer to ‘what to feed a dog with diarrhea’ is nothing at all. 

Fasting the dog for 12–24 hours (although don’t do this with pups) allows the gut to get rid of any nastiness, rest, and repair. Although opinions do vary about whether starving is a good idea or not, for the humble garbage-gut patient, giving the digestive system some downtime is undoubtedly beneficial. If the dog is elderly, a pup, or has an underlying health condition (such a diabetes), phone your vet for advice since one size doesn’t always fit all.

What to feed a dog with diarrhea (and what to avoid)

Easy does it when it comes towhat to feed a dog with diarrhea. A simple, bland diet is best. 

Topping the bill are white meats (boiled chicken, turkey, rabbit, or white fish) and boiled white rice, pastas, or potato—but be sure to skip butter, oils, or spices. Oh, and that chicken needs to be chicken breast or thigh meat, not the skin (which is very fatty). Also avoid chicken-flavored food, which is often filled with many other ingredients.

Stick with an easy-to-digest diet until the dog starts to produce formed poop. Then, when you’re sure the event wasn’t a flash in the pan, take four to five days to slowly transition your best buddy back onto their regular food. 

What not to feed a dog with diarrhea

Strange as it may sound, don’t give the dog their regular food when they have a stomach upset. For some (but not all) cases of doggy diarrhea, there is a risk that exposing the inflamed gut wall to their regular food can trigger the development of food allergy or sensitivity. This could mean that although the cause of the diarrhea goes away, the dog is left with belly ache and flatulence when they eat their regular chow. 

The second rule is to avoid rich, fatty, or poor quality foods. All of these are hard to digest (but for different reasons), when what the gut really wants is an easy ride. Off the menu are red meats, cheese, butter, chicken skin, soy ingredients, and vegetable-based foods. 

How often to feed your dog

You waited 24 hours, so now it’s time to give the dog their daily food allowance. Right? Wrong!

After a tummy upset, offer the dog four to six small meals (rather than one or two big ones) spaced over the day. 

The reason for this is that the bigger the meal, the more it stretches the stomach. The more the stomach wall is stretched, the stronger signals it sends to the intestine to tell it to contract. Long story short, small meals mean weaker signals, so there’s less stimulation telling the dog to go to the toilet. 

Healing the gut: The power of probiotics

When wondering what to feed a dog with diarrhea, don’t forget the probiotics!  

A probiotic supplement repopulates the gut with a healthy balance of bacteria that aid digestion. Probiotics work in a number of ways, including competing with and getting rid of bad bacteria and encouraging the growth of good bacteria that actively produce the B-vitamins to support digestion. 

Be sure to use a proper dog probiotic, rather than a human product. The bugs in a dog's digestive system differ from those in the human bowel, so offering the dog your breakfast probiotic may do more harm than good. Get this right and it's proven that dog getting probiotics get back into good habits faster than those not receiving a supplement. 

Good news for the dog and for their sleep-deprived owner!

Dog probiotics 

When to see the vet

While dogs with diarrhea brought on by so-called garbage gut can often be managed at home, this isn’t true for all dogs with diarrhea. Dogs with severe and prolonged diarrhea are at risk of dehydration, which is potentially serious. Long-term diarrhea can lead to weight loss or be a symptom of more general illness. 

 Always see a vet if: 

  • The dog lacks energy or is off their food
  • They are passing blood
  • They have sickness as well as diarrhea
  • You suspect they have a fever
  • The dog is restless, uncomfortable, or seems in pain
  • The diarrhea does not improve after 24–48 hours
  • The diarrhea is waxing and waning over days to weeks
  • You are worried about the dog

Learn more about diarrhea in dogs

The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on October 24, 2020.
Dr. Pippa Elliott
Dr. Pippa Elliott

Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow. In addition to hands-on work in the clinic, Dr. Elliott is an editor for small animal, veterinary textbooks from Improve International. She also writes a regular newsletter piece for the Webinar Vet and contributed to The Veterinary Times. Dr. Elliott is also qualified as an Official Veterinarian to oversee the export of animal products abroad.

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