Ask a Vet: Diet Dos and Don’ts for Diarrhea-Prone Dogs

By Ericka Carroll, VMD, DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)

As a small animal veterinarian, I see food-related diarrhea as a common reason dogs find themselves making an unpredicted trip to see me. 

While many pet parents may know their pups have sensitive guts, with so many pet food options these days, it can be difficult to determine what to feed and what to avoid. When thinking about options for my food-sensitive patients, I keep in mind the following three diet fundamentals.

Fundamental One: Fat

In general, fat can be more complex to digest and to absorb than other nutrients. Foods and treats rich in fat can leave portions undigested or malabsorbed, manifesting as diarrhea in some dogs.  

Tip: For my food sensitive patients where I believe fat could be the culprit, I typically advise that pet parents look for foods and snacks 25% lower in average fat than what they are currently eating. 

Fundamental Two: Fiber

Many food-sensitive pets respond positively to fiber in their diets. Fiber can have beneficial effects on stool quality and regularity. It can also help bind toxins in the gut, promote a healthy population of gut bacteria, and buffer stomach acid upon passage into the intestinal tract.  

Tip: Fiber can come in both soluble and insoluble forms. The soluble form dissolves with water in the gut whereas the insoluble form essentially enters and exits the body unchanged. When selecting foods and treats, ideally look for options that contain a healthy balance of both. Sources of soluble fiber include barley, psyllium seed husk, and bananas. Sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran and pumpkin.

Fundamental Three: Formulation

In general, it's best to stick with good quality, highly-digestible foods and snacks. Limiting the number of ingredients to reduce variability can also be helpful in some food-sensitive dogs. Certainly, if a trigger food has been previously identified, it should be avoided.  

Tip: Look for food and treats that are perfectly balanced with fat, fiber, and limited, wholesome ingredients.  

As there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dogs with sensitive stomachs, asking your trusted veterinarian for further personalized guidance specific to your dog’s unique health needs is recommended. With a little attention to these three fundamentals, your sensitive pup will enjoy a visit to see me for belly rubs and not tummy woes.