What to Do if Your Dog Has an Upset Stomach

Many things can find their way into your dog’s stomach. Most people have found their dogs eating something they shouldn’t. Others take their dogs to the veterinarian only to find a small toy lodged in their dog’s digestive system. Sometimes, dogs get upset stomachs or stomach pain for reasons that aren’t as obvious. 

Here are some reasons for your dog's upset stomach, and how you can help.

Why Do Dogs Get Upset Stomachs?

Dogs get upset stomachs for many of the same reasons that humans do. Your dog might eat something they shouldn’t. They might eat too fast and then go outside and run around. Some dogs are more prone to medical conditions than others. Parasites, bacteria, gas build-up, or constipation can upset your dog's stomach.

Causes of Upset Stomachs

Numerous conditions can cause your dog to appear to have an upset stomach. In addition to those already discussed, these include:

  • Inflammation
  • Obstructions
  • Other sources of gastrointestinal infections
  • Bloating
  • Digestive System Cancer
  • Ulcers
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis
  • Malabsorption
  • Motion Sickness

Gas. Gas is naturally built up in your dog’s body as they digest their food. If they cannot pass it for some reason, it can increase and cause pain. Constipation is also a condition that dogs share with people. If they are constipated, their stool backs up along with the gas that is created and causes discomfort or pain.

Inflammation and obstructions. Dogs love to eat things that might not be good for them. They often ingest pieces of toys, human foods with spices, or any number of things that are usually bad. If your dog eats something they shouldn’t, it might cause inflammation in the lining of their stomach. If a toy or something that your dog eats gets caught in their intestines, they won’t be able to digest food.

Obstructions. Some gastrointestinal obstructions can happen in dogs that are not caused by something they ate. For example, intussusception is a condition where an intestine telescopes into itself, causing a blockage. 

Parvovirus. Parvovirus is a very contagious virus that dogs can pass to each other through direct contact with each other, feces, or people.

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Bloating. Bloating can result from a very severe condition in your dog. A dog’s stomach can stretch from gas that is trapped. Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV) happens when your dog’s stomach twists when it is stretched. The blood supply is blocked off from other internal organs, causing a medical emergency for your dog.

Cancer. Digestive system cancer is a term used for any cancer that can form in your dog’s stomach or intestine. This is a rare condition, but stomach pain is one of the first signs.

Ulcers. Dogs can get ulcers in their stomach if the lining is damaged. Ulcers can be the result of inflammation, medicines, or anything else that might damage their stomach lining. 

Bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel disease refers to a condition that humans can develop as well. Your dog’s bowels can become inflamed for no apparent reason. This causes them to display symptoms that are similar to many other conditions.

Malabsorption. Your dog may not be able to digest their food correctly. This is called malabsorption. It’s a challenging condition to diagnose because it has similar symptoms to other conditions. It’s typically caused by a deficiency in enzymes released by the pancreas.

Motion sickness. If you’re taking your dog for a ride or rocking them in a chair, they might not be used to the motion. Dogs can get motion sick from unfamiliar motions.

Symptoms of a Dog’s Upset Stomach

If your dog has an upset stomach or an issue that makes you think they have a stomach or gastrointestinal issue, they can display some or all of the following symptoms. These symptoms are grouped by cause to show you their similarities:

  • Parvovirus: dullness, fever, loss of appetite, progressing to vomiting and blood in the stool
  • Intestinal inflammation: diarrhea, strain to move bowels, pain when emptying bowels, weight loss, and vomiting
  • Constipation: hard, dry feces, straining to move bowels
  • Bloating: restlessness, discomfort, rapid breathing, abdominal swelling, dry retching, excessive drooling
  • Stomach inflammation: vomiting of bile, froth, fresh blood, or digested blood (appearance of coffee grounds)
  • Cancers: vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, pale gums
  • Obstruction: lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, low body temperatures, dehydration
  • Ulcers: vomiting fresh or digested blood, abdominal discomfort, pale gums, dark stool with blood, decreased appetite
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis: sudden vomiting, bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, depression 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, swollen abdomen, fluid retention, watery diarrhea
  • Malabsorption: weight loss and/or diarrhea

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Diagnosing Stomach Problems in Dogs

Tests vary for each of the conditions that your dog might have. Your veterinarian will do a physical exam and take an X-ray if needed. They might decide that blood tests are the only way to figure out what’s going on. Ultrasounds are also used to diagnose stomach problems in dogs. If your dog is passing stool with blood in it, bring in a sample for the veterinarian to test. 

Dog Upset Stomach Treatment

The treatment for your dog’s upset stomach depends on the condition your veterinarian identifies. 

Parvovirus. If they have parvovirus, they will need to be isolated from other dogs and require hospitalization. The veterinarian can give your dog intravenous fluids to rehydrate them and maintain their system's ability to fight off the virus. Veterinarians might prescribe antibiotics to reduce any bacterial infections that result from the sickness. 

Inflammation. For inflamed stomach tissue and conditions that cause a lot of vomiting, veterinarians generally prescribe short-term fasting and lots of fluid intake to make sure your dog is hydrated.

Other conditions. Bloating, cancer, and obstructions require immediate surgical procedures that can range from open surgery to less invasive procedures to remove obstructions. 

On rare occasions, an ulcer might need to be removed surgically if it has caused a perforation in part of the gastrointestinal tract.

Common treatment.  Vets often suggest a bland diet to treat a dog's upset stomach. Rice and chicken, or a more specific diet, removes the irritating substances from food to help your dog’s digestive system rebalance itself.

Veterinarians will treat your dog’s symptoms with medication while they are determining the cause of their stomach problems. Probiotics are a common prescription for a dog’s tummy troubles.

If your dog appears to have something wrong with their stomach, call your veterinarian for guidance. They might only have a stomach ache, but it could be something that needs to be treated by a veterinarian quickly.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on February 22, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Kennel Club: “A Survival Guide for Dog Diarrhea," “Bloat (or GDV) in Dogs — What It Is and How it’s Treated," “Car Sickness in Dogs," “Five Foods to Feed Your Dog When He’s Sick.”

MERCK MANUAL: “Canine Parvovirus,” “Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines in Dogs”, “Gastric Dilation and Volvulus in Small Animals," "Gastrointestinal Ulcers in Small Animals.”

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