How to Treat Indigestion in Dogs
Many dogs get notoriously excited about eating. Their tails wag, they paw and they may even give a little howl of excitement. Even the most well trained dogs will heartily wolf (or dog?) down a bowl of chow when they are hungry. Like all of us when our eyes get bigger than our belly, we might eat too much, too fast. If this happens with your dog, then they can have some of the same issues as you might have. There are some other signs unique to our canine companion which we'll need to look out for as well. With oneHOWTO, we'll show you when you need to take notice, what you need to treat and how you can prevent in this article on how to treat indigestion in dogs.
Symptoms of Dog Indigestion
Indigestion in dogs is not completely dissimilar from indigestion in humans. If we have eaten too much, overindulged in rich food or even added a little too much spice to the jambalaya, we might feel the symptoms of indigestion. You can feel bloated, nauseous and excess gas in your system can make things uncomfortable to say the least.
As with humans, a dog's reaction to indigestion will rely on certain factors. If it has a strong constitution or is a particularly big dog, it will be better able to cope with indigestion than others. Your dog might also get low level indigestion on a quasi-regular basis, you just might not notice. Similarly, you might notice some symptoms, but not realize it is indigestion.
Indigestion is an umbrella term for a group of gastrointestinal (meaning your digestive system) issues which result in impaired digestion. This could be acid reflux (gastritis) where stomach acid comes back up the esophagus or something more internal like heartburn. If your dog is suffering from acid reflux, it might be easier to tell. If it is suffering from heartburn, the dog's inability to communicate sufficiently with humans can make it difficult to tell.
Indigestion, scientific term is dyspepsia, has many symptoms in dogs and include:
- Belching with a foul odor (from stomach acid)
- Bad breath
- Diarrhea or other stool problems (such as blood in stool)
- Bloating and stomach pain
- Loss of apetite
- Loss of desire to exercise/lethargy
- Gas (belching and flatulence)
Most indigestion will only show temporary symptoms. Once the stomach and intestinal tract have settled, the symptoms of indigestion should abate. However, one important reason for treating indigestion in your dog is that you want to make sure there is not underlying condition which is resulting in indigestion. This could be anything from a stomach or esophageal ulcer to something more serious such as cancer.
Another concern, however, is whether your dog has a general gastrointestinal issue, like a sensitive stomach. If this is the case, then you may need to treat indigetion in your dog over the long term. This can mean changing type of food, quantity of food or even introducing supplements to reduce levels of gastritis.
According to a 2012 study, one less common symptom of indigestion in dogs might be something called 'fly biting'. This is when the dog bites at something as if there were an invisible fly at its mouth, even though there evidently is not. The research is limited, but does suggest that "fly biting may be caused by an underlying medical disorder, GI [gastrointestinal] disease being the most common".
From the same study, it claims that fly biting and raising the head and neck in discomfort is likely from esophageal pain or irritation. This means if you see your dog moving its head abnormally or erratically, then it is possible they are suffering from some sort of indigestion issue.
Causes of indigestion in dogs
Dogs do not have the most distinct sense of taste. While that big slobbery tongue might look like it's capable of detecting a newly opened Slim Jim at 300 yards, they actually only have about 1,700 taste buds. While this may sound like a lot, human beings have around 9,000, so a dog's sense of taste is much more impaired than we might originally think. When we see our pets eating their own regurgitation, perhaps this makes a little more sense.
This means that they often eat things they shouldn't do, being unaware of the bacteria they are ingesting which can lead to GI issues. If your dog has any of the above symptoms, and particularly if it has a mixture of them, then you might want to see if it has indigestion. Causes of dyspepsia in dogs include:
- Eating too much
- Eating too much fatty or rich food
- Ingestion of toxic substances (e.g. chocolate)
- Eating spicy food
- Ingestion of non-food objects which can get stuck in the digestive tract
While dogs might behave similarly to humans when they have indigestion, they do have a much more robust digestive system than we do. While our saliva is generally used to break down food, dogs have saliva which contains bacteria killing enzymes. They also have a more acidic stomach than humans, so they can better kill harmful substances which they have ingested.
Obviously, some of these causes are more concerning than others. If you have treated the symptoms of your dog's indigestion, but they persist, it is posible they have a more serious underlying condition. If this is the case, you must bring them to a doctor and diagnose the issue in case it needs specific medical attention.
You should also take your dog to the veterinarian if they are experiencing some of the more severe symptoms listed above. These include persistent diarrhea, persistent vomiting, blood in stool and lethargy. If your dog has lost its usual vim and vigor, then this is a pretty good sign that something is up and medical intervention may be required.
You might be able to tell from some specific behavior that indigestion is likely. These can include:
- Eating something they shouldn't: depending on its size, your dog may have easier reach of the trash than others. Some items may seem tempting, but will not be good for the pooch.
- Have recently changed foods: some pets are needlessly picky when it comes to their favored brand of dog food. However, some might enjoy it, but it might not be the best for them. Different dog food might react badly with your pet.
This will indicate that your dog probably only has mild indigestion, even if it seems a little agitated. If this is the case, keep reading to see the steps you need to take to treat indigestion in your dog.
Check for dehydration
Before you actually start treating the indigestion, you also should check your dog's hydration levels. Your dog might be dehydrated while still drooling, so you need other ways to check. You can first do this by checking the gums.
A healthy dog's gums should be somewhere between salmon and bubblegum pink. If there is discoloration, the gums are tacky to the touch or they look obviously tender, then your dog is likely dehydrated. Bear in mind, some dogs will have darker pigmentation on their gums thanks to breeding.
You can also check the dog's nose. While a wet nose might not be great for brand new white T-shirt, it is a sign that your dog is hydrated. If dehydrated, their nose can go dry. This might be accompanied by excessive panting. Dogs will pant for many reasons. As they don't have sweat glands, it is a way they can cool down on a hot day. However, if your dog looks like it can't catch a breath, then this may be a sign of dehydration.
Overall sluggishness and tiredness in the eyes can also be signs of dehydration, but as we stated before, they can be signs of something more serious, so taking your dog to the vet is necessary for a check-up.
If your dog is not dehydrated, then it is likely the case of indigestion is mild. With mild indigestion, you don't actually need to do very much other than give your dog some love and maybe a belly rub. Dogs often eat too much which is why they have an active gag reflex. They will often eat too much and then vomit it up. This is their body rejecting the load of food because they have eaten too fast.
Your dog may be chastened if they vomit it up, but equally their eyes might be bigger than their belly. It is not uncommon for dogs to eat the food they have just regurgitated.
Treating indigestion in dogs
If there is dehydration along with the other signs of indigestion, you will need to take some steps to getting your dog back to feeling better. If we have indigestion we are (usually) able to stop our food intake until our stomachs and bowels settle. Unfortunately, dogs are not as good at holding back, so you will have to withhold food.
Fast your dog for 12 to 24 hours after their first vomit. If they were to eat, they would be likely to vomit again. While many dogs will vomit semi-regularly anyway, vomiting too much can cause damage to their esophagus, so you need to be careful. Also, more food can upset stomach acid further and maintain diarrhea if this is also a symptom. You may feel bad about ignoring pleas or plaintive looks, but it will be better in the long run.
If your dog is dehydrated, then you will need to replenish fluids. However, you shouldn't give them too much. If you do, they might vomit again and exacerbate the dehydration rather than curing it. Your dog's tummy problems might make it want to lap up water, but you should give them only little splashes at a time.
A good way to make sure you don't over water your dog is to let them lick at ice cubes. This will slow down how quickly they might drink and cool them down if they are uncomfortable. Do not let your dog eat grass. Your dog's upset stomach or acid reflux might make the dog want to purge. However, eating the grass can make things worse by inducing more vomiting.
If you see that your dog still vomits during the fast, then this is a sign something else is up other than dyspepsia. Take your dog to the vet immediately if this is the case.
Puppies and very small dogs will need slightly different treatment. They should only fast a maximum of 12 hours and will need water more regularly as their system tries to heal itself. However, still only give them some in small doses, perhaps from a bottle cap or similar receptacle.
Returning your dog to food
If you have an upset stomach, then you know to be careful when eating again. This is the case especially if you have eaten too much rich food. You may eat something simple like a piece of toast or similar.
The same works for dogs overcoming indigestion. Their vomiting and diarrhea has abated and their fast is over. They might want to go back into eating a big meal quickly again, but this can be counterproductive. You will need to give them bland food and give them smaller portions, increasing portion size incrementally.
The best plain food for treating your dog's indigestion is white rice and boiled chicken. While this might sound like the base for a tasty human soup, it is all your dog should need. Some sources say to offer your dog stock or bone broth to provide nutrients. However, this will not provide much more than what you are giving here.
More importantly, dogs can't eat onion and garlic, something many (if not most stocks and broths contain). Feeding your dog these is pretty unnecessary. Make sure you don't add anything else to the chicken and rice such as seasoning or oil, this can bring indigestion back again.
Depending on the size of your dog, start with one or two tablespoons of the plain food once an hour for two hours. After this, increase the portion size to about 1 cup per medium sized dog. If your dog refuses to eat the bland food you provide, then you should take them to a vet. The same goes if they are not themselves and remain lethargic.
Do not give human based indigestion relief such as Pepto-Bismol. Though it shouldn't be toxic in small doses, they are not designed for canine consumption. You can give a tablespoon or two of plain probiotic yogurt, if your dog's diarrhea needs to be firmed up. This should help with the good bacteria in their gut. Chamomile tea can also help your dog settle tummy problems and not make their indigestion worse.
After your dog recovers from indigestion
Once your dog is rehydrated and their symptoms of indigestion have gone, they should be back to normal. This may take a couple of days, but if by the third day they are not feeling better then this may be cause for concern. Seek a vet's advice so they can run some tests.
When your dog has some strength again, you can reintroduce their regular food. Do this slowly again by giving them smaller portions. If they are looking healthy and are full of energy, you know your treatment for dog indigestion has worked.
As with most health related issues, prevention is better than cure. To prevent indigestion in dogs you should follow some tips which should improve your pet's overall health. Take note of these tips:
- Give them healthy food and in the amounts recommended for the breed of your dog; in this article we tell you how much food to feed your dog.
- Try to prevent the dog from eating in an anxious way: you can do this by dividing the portion of food into two meals, so they eat it in a more leisurely way which is better for their stomach. It should help prevents hiccups and other indigestion related symptoms from occurring.
- Do not give them bones or leftover food as they can be harmful to their stomach. If you need more info, we can help by providing a list of foods which are toxic for dogs.
- After eating, rest. Try to stop your dog from running right after eating, they may suffer from reduced digestion and therefore, suffer from stomach pains.
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