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What to do if your dog has an upset stomach

by Scott Marshall June 16, 2024 10 min read

What to do if your dog has an upset stomach

Dogs with upset stomachs are a common concern for pet parents, often overshadowed by more dramatic health issues. Yet, this condition merits attention for its ability to be both an indicator of dietary missteps and a trigger for further health complications. The nuanced approach to managing an upset stomach in dogs emphasizes gentle care, keen observation, and a gradual reintroduction to a balanced diet.

This careful attention to a dog's digestive upset not only alleviates immediate discomfort but also reinforces the bond between pet and owner through nurturing care. Key strategies include withholding food for a short period, offering small, frequent meals, and ensuring hydration. Particularly, a focus on a bland diet, such as boiled chicken and rice, provides a soothing pathway back to gastrointestinal stability.

Delving deeper, each method of care—from fasting to hydration to diet modification—carries its own significance in the recovery process, grounded in an understanding of canine physiology and the importance of a gentle reintroduction to regular feeding. The following sections will unpack these strategies in detail, offering insight into the thoughtful approach required to navigate a dog's recovery from an upset stomach, with an emphasis on the role of a raw diet in promoting long-term digestive health.

Table of Contents

Causes of Upset Stomach in Dogs

An upset stomach in dogs can stem from a variety of sources, ranging from dietary indiscretion to more complex health issues. Commonly, it's the result of dogs eating something they shouldn't—like garbage or toxic foods—which leads to irritation or inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Other times, stress, dietary changes, or allergies can disrupt their digestive system.

Infections from bacteria, viruses, or parasites are also culprits, as are more serious conditions such as kidney or liver disease, which can first manifest as gastrointestinal symptoms. Understanding these causes is crucial for addressing the immediate discomfort and preventing future occurrences, guiding pet owners in maintaining their dog's digestive health through careful monitoring of diet and environment. Below is a detailed table of common causes, including specific examples of toxic foods and how different stressors or dietary changes can affect dogs:

Cause Category

Specific Causes or Examples

Dietary Indiscretion

- Eating garbage

- Consuming toxic foods such as chocolate, grapes, onions, and xylitol-containing products


- Changes in the environment

- Separation anxiety

- Loud noises (e.g., fireworks, thunderstorms)

Dietary Changes

- Sudden food changes without gradual introduction

- Introduction of new treats or human food


- Food allergies (e.g., to certain proteins)

- Environmental allergies (e.g., pollen, dust)


- Bacterial infections (e.g., Salmonella)

- Viral infections (e.g., Parvovirus)

- Parasites (e.g., Giardia)

Health Issues

- Kidney disease

- Liver disease

- Pancreatitis

Identify symptoms of an upset stomach in dogs

Recognizing the symptoms of an upset stomach in dogs is pivotal for providing timely care. Key signs include frequent vomiting or retching, which may indicate irritation or obstruction within the digestive tract. Diarrhea, possibly with blood, signals inflammation or infection.

Dogs may also show lethargy or a loss of appetite, refusing even their favorite treats. These symptoms, while sometimes mild and transient, can also hint at more serious underlying conditions. Early identification allows for prompt intervention, either through home care or veterinary consultation, to ensure the health and comfort of our canine companions.

To help you better understand and assess these symptoms, here's a detailed table:






Occasional, clear or bile

Frequent, contains blood or is dark (coffee grounds appearance)

Frequent vomiting, especially with blood, requires immediate veterinary attention.


Soft, formed

Watery, bloody, or black and tarry

Blood or very dark stools can indicate internal bleeding or severe infection.


Mild, still responsive

Extreme, unresponsive to stimuli

Sudden disinterest in usual activities can be a sign of discomfort or pain.


Slightly reduced

Complete refusal to eat for more than 24 hours

A loss of appetite can indicate more serious issues if it persists.


Slightly less playful

Unusual behavior, extreme lethargy

Changes in behavior or unusual levels of lethargy signal the need for veterinary diagnosis.

Assess the severity of your dog's condition

Evaluating the severity of your dog's upset stomach is critical in determining the next steps for care. Frequent vomiting or retching, especially if persistent over several hours, can deplete your dog's hydration and electrolyte balance, necessitating immediate attention. The presence of blood in diarrhea or vomit signifies a potentially serious condition that could involve internal bleeding or severe infection.

Additionally, lethargy and a sudden disinterest in usual activities are red flags indicating that the upset stomach may be more than just a minor digestive issue. A loss of appetite over 24 hours further underscores the urgency for intervention. Recognizing these signs early can help prevent complications, guiding whether home remedies suffice or if veterinary care is warranted.

To better assess your dog's condition and decide on the appropriate course of action, consider the following home tests and observations:

  • Dehydration Test: Gently pinch and lift the skin between your dog's shoulder blades. Upon release, the skin should snap back into place immediately. Delayed return can indicate dehydration. Also, check your dog's gums; they should be slick and wet. Dry or sticky gums are another sign of dehydration.
  • Capillary Refill Time (CRT): Press lightly on your dog's gums until they turn white and then release. The gums should return to their normal pink color within 2 seconds. Longer times can indicate dehydration and poor blood circulation.
  • Assessing Lethargy: Compare your dog's current energy levels and interest in activities to their normal behavior. Mild lethargy might just be a sign of discomfort, but if your dog is uncharacteristically inactive or disinterested in all activities, it could signal a more serious issue.
  • Monitoring Appetite: Note any changes in eating habits, especially refusal to eat for more than 24 hours. While a temporary loss of appetite can occur with minor stomach upsets, prolonged refusal to eat warrants veterinary attention.

Frequent vomiting or retching

This symptom often indicates irritation or obstruction within the digestive tract, requiring prompt assessment to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

Diarrhea with or without blood

The presence of diarrhea, particularly when blood is involved, signals inflammation or infection that could be detrimental if left untreated.

Lethargy and disinterest in usual activities

A sudden lack of energy or interest in play can be a telltale sign of discomfort or pain associated with an upset stomach, meriting closer observation.

Loss of appetite or refusal to eat

When a dog refuses food for more than 24 hours, it's a clear indicator of distress or illness that could be stemming from gastrointestinal upset, necessitating further action to address the underlying cause. Incorporating these additional guidelines for home assessment provides a more comprehensive approach to evaluating a dog's condition, empowering owners to make informed decisions about seeking further veterinary care.

Provide immediate care at home

When your dog shows signs of an upset stomach, providing immediate care at home can be crucial for their recovery. Initially, withholding food for 12-24 hours can give their digestive system a rest. During this time, offering small amounts of water frequently is essential to prevent dehydration.

After fasting, gradually reintroduce small, frequent meals of a bland diet, such as boiled chicken and rice, to avoid further irritation. These steps can help stabilize your dog's stomach and provide relief from symptoms. However, it's important to monitor their condition closely and consult a veterinarian if symptoms persist or worsen, indicating a more serious health issue.




Signs of Improvement/Worsening


Withhold food

12-24 hours; ensure no access to non-food items

Improvement: Less retching/vomiting; Worsening: Increased lethargy, continued vomiting beyond 24 hours


Offer water

Offer water frequently.

Improvement: Normal hydration signs (e.g., moist gums); Worsening: Dry gums, sunken eyes


Reintroduce food

Start with a bland diet; small, frequent meals (e.g., 1/4 cup boiled chicken and rice every 4 hours for small dogs)

Improvement: Gradual return of appetite, normal stool; Worsening: Continued diarrhea, refusal to eat


Monitor hydration

Check for signs of dehydration (e.g., dry gums, elasticity of skin)

Improvement: Regular drinking, normal skin elasticity; Worsening: Signs of dehydration persist or worsen


Gradual diet transition

After 48 hours of bland diet, slowly reintroduce regular food over 3-5 days

Improvement: No return of symptoms; Worsening: Symptoms reoccur upon reintroduction of regular diet

Withhold food for 12-24 hours

This step allows your dog's digestive system to rest and recover, significantly reducing the risk of further irritation.

Offer water frequently

Ensuring your dog stays hydrated is crucial, especially if they have been vomiting or have diarrhea. Offer frequent sips of water to prevent dehydration.

Gradually reintroduce small, frequent meals

After the fasting period, slowly reintroducing food helps ease your dog's stomach back to its normal function without overwhelming it.

Prevent dehydration

Closely monitor your dog for signs of dehydration, such as dry gums and lethargy, ensuring they have constant access to fresh water. If your dog is losing more water than they are bringing in and dehydration has set in, get to the vet immediately. Dehydration is no joke. 

Introduce a bland diet gradually

Transition to a bland diet, beginning with easily digestible foods like boiled chicken and rice, which is gentle on the stomach and can help firm up stools.

Boiled chicken and rice

This simple, nutritious meal is ideal for dogs recovering from an upset stomach, providing them with essential nutrients without causing further distress.

Small portions to avoid further irritation

Feeding your dog small, manageable portions of this bland diet throughout the day helps prevent overloading their digestive system and promotes a gradual recovery.

Know when to consult a veterinarian

Recognizing when to seek veterinary assistance is key in managing your dog's upset stomach effectively. If symptoms persist for more than 24 hours or worsen despite home care, it's time to consult a professional. Signs of dehydration, such as dry gums and sunken eyes, or the presence of blood in vomit or dog's poop, indicate a potentially serious condition requiring immediate attention.

Additionally, unusual behavior or extreme lethargy could signal a more severe underlying issue. Examples of unusual behavior may include a dog hiding more than usual, showing aggression or irritability when approached, or not responding to commands or cues they typically follow. Extreme lethargy might look like your dog being too tired to stand, uninterested in going outside for bathroom breaks, or not getting up for meals.

During a veterinary visit for an upset stomach, you can expect the veterinarian to perform a thorough physical examination, possibly including palpation of the abdomen, checking for dehydration, and evaluating the gums. Diagnostic tests may include blood work, urinalysis, fecal examination, or imaging studies like X-rays or ultrasound to determine the cause of the symptoms. Treatment options could range from dietary management and hydration therapy to medications for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or infections, and in severe cases, hospitalization for more intensive care.

Persistent symptoms for more than 24 hours

If your dog's upset stomach symptoms do not improve within a day, it's crucial to seek veterinary care to address potential underlying issues.

Especially if symptoms worsen

Any escalation in symptoms, such as increased vomiting or diarrhea, underscores the need for immediate veterinary attention.

Signs of dehydration

Dehydration can quickly become life-threatening. Signs to watch for include dry gums, sunken eyes, and overall lethargy. Again, if your dog is losing more water than they are bringing in and dehydration has set in, get to the vet immediately. Dehydration is no joke. 

Dry gums, sunken eyes, lethargy

These specific indicators of dehydration require prompt action to rehydrate your dog and address the root cause of their condition.

Blood in vomit or stool

The presence of blood can indicate internal bleeding or severe gastrointestinal distress, necessitating an urgent veterinary evaluation.

Indicates possible internal bleeding

Blood in your dog's vomit or stool often points to internal bleeding, a condition that can rapidly deteriorate without intervention.

Unusual behavior or extreme lethargy

Changes in your dog's behavior or an unusual level of lethargy can be signs of a serious health issue, signaling the need for a veterinary diagnosis.

Could signal a more serious condition

Any of these symptoms, particularly if severe or persistent, could indicate a more serious underlying health problem, making veterinary consultation essential.

Prevent future upset stomachs

To safeguard your dog from future digestive discomfort, careful attention to their diet and lifestyle is essential. Monitoring your dog's diet closely helps to identify and eliminate foods that may trigger an upset stomach. Avoiding sudden changes in diet and steering clear of feeding table scraps can also prevent gastrointestinal disturbances, as many human foods contain ingredients that are harmful or irritating to dogs.

Ensuring your dog receives regular exercise aids in maintaining a healthy weight and promotes efficient digestion. Additionally, keeping up with routine veterinary check-ups enables early detection of potential issues that could affect your dog's stomach health. By adopting these preventive measures, you can help ensure your dog enjoys a happier, healthier life with fewer digestive problems.

Monitor your dog's diet closely

  • Food Diary: Keep a daily record of everything your dog eats, including treats and any table scraps. This can help identify any food that may cause an upset stomach.
  • Introduce New Foods One at a Time: When changing your dog's diet, introduce new foods gradually, over a period of 7-10 days. This helps you monitor their reaction to each new food.

Avoid sudden changes in diet

  • Gradual Transition: Mix a small amount of the new food with the current food, gradually increasing the proportion of the new food over several days.

Avoid feeding table scraps

  • Harmful Ingredients List: Keep a list of toxic foods (e.g., chocolate, onions, grapes, and foods containing xylitol) as a reminder of what not to feed your dog.

Ensure regular exercise

  • Exercise Plan: Tailor your dog's exercise routine to their age, breed, and health status. For example, young, energetic breeds may enjoy longer walks or play sessions, while older dogs may benefit from shorter, more frequent walks.
  • Interactive Toys: Use toys that encourage physical activity and mental stimulation, such as treat-dispensing toys or agility equipment.

Keep up with routine veterinary check-ups

  • Schedule Regular Visits: Aim for at least one veterinary check-up per year for healthy adult dogs, and more frequently for puppies, seniors, or dogs with health issues.
  • Discuss Diet and Exercise: Use these check-ups as an opportunity to discuss your dog's diet and exercise routine with your vet, ensuring they are on the right track for their age and health needs.

By implementing these strategies and monitoring your dog's health closely, you can significantly reduce the risk of future upset stomachs and contribute to a long, healthy life for your pet.

Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been feeding a raw dog food diet for over 13 years. He lives in Utah with his wife Arianne, his 11.5 year old german shepherd Wolken, and his 2.5 year old labradoodle Montu. Scott has been teaching others about raw feeding since 2013, started Raw Feeding 101 in 2017, and has been solely focused on simplifying the process of pet parents meeting their dogs’ daily nutrient requirements since 2018.

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