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When to Feed a Dog With Diarrhea
OK, you’ve ruled out a medical emergency and you’re ready to feed your dog. But is your dog’s body ready for food?
Whether your dog has a single bout of diarrhea or has had multiple episodes, the recommendation remains the same: You need to rest your dog’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Resting the GI tract by withholding food for a short period of time allows the intestines to heal because they aren’t busy digesting food.
So how long should you withhold food after an episode of diarrhea? The answer depends on several factors, including the overall health, age and size of the dog, the underlying cause of diarrhea and any medications that are being administered.
For healthy, adult dogs, try withholding food for around 12 hours. So, if your healthy, adult dog has a single bout of diarrhea in the morning, withhold food for the day and offer a small amount of bland food at dinner time. (More on that below.) If your dog has diarrhea in the evening, withhold food for the rest of the evening and offer a small, bland meal in the morning. It is OK to offer water as long as your dog can hold it down and it doesn’t trigger more bouts of diarrhea.
There’s one important exception to this rule: Do not withhold food from dogs who need regular feeding to survive. These include:
- Toy breeds like Chihuahuas and Maltese
- Senior dogs
- Dogs with health issues
Withholding food from these dogs can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels and other emergencies. For these pups, consult your veterinarian at the first sign of diarrhea.
Is My Dog’s Diarrhea an Emergency?
Before we can even talk about what to feed a dog with diarrhea, you need to rule out a medical emergency that needs immediate veterinary attention. Diarrhea in dogs is sometimes no big deal, but it can sometimes be severe or life threatening. Signs that your dog needs to see a vet include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea that has digested blood, which looks like coffee grounds
- Diarrhea that has lasted longer than two days
- Signs of dehydration, including dry gums and skin tenting (aka skin that doesn’t snap back into place when you pull it)
- Loss of appetite
- Signs of abdominal pain (bloating, groaning, panting rapidly, not wanting to be touched, or “prayer position,” aka a stance with the dog’s rear up in the air and their front legs and head on the floor)
- Acting excessively tired or weak
In some dogs, diarrhea is always an emergency. For these pets, call your vet at the first sign of diarrhea:
- Senior dogs
- Dogs who are already sick or debilitated due to a pre-existing condition such as diabetes or heart disease
- Dogs on new medication (which could be causing the diarrhea)
If your dog fits any of these criteria, call your vet for advice immediately.
What to Feed a Dog With Diarrhea
It’s finally time to for your dog to have a small meal—but what do you feed a dog with diarrhea? Look for bland, easily digestible food that is soothing to the GI tract. (We’ve got six tried-and-true suggestions below.)
No matter which of these foods you choose, you should start with a small amount:
- For small breeds, start with a tablespoon of food
- For large breeds, start with a golf ball-sized portion of food, around 2 tablespoons
Here are a few great foods to try:
1 Lean Protein
Low-fat meats are gentle on your dog’s stomach, while still providing important protein. Try meats like:
- Chicken breast (no skin)
- Lean ground hamburger
2 White Rice
4 Canned Pumpkin
5 Prescription Dog Food
Many dog food brands have therapeutic lines that target specific health issues, including diarrhea. Therapeutic diets are formulated to specifically address the cause of diarrhea and resolve it, and typically require a prescription from your vet. Some widely used therapeutic foods for dogs with diarrhea include Hill’s I/D and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EN Gastroenteric Formula.
Depending on the cause of your dog’s diarrhea, your dog may benefit from a food made for specific health conditions. For example, feeding a hypoallergenic food or a novel protein food (food made from a type of protein your dog has not eaten before) may help dogs who suffer diarrhea due to allergies. Read more about food allergies here.
6Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs
Other commercial dog foods are formulated to help dogs with GI problems and do not require a prescription from your vet. These include Hill's Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food, which includes prebiotic fibers to assist in digestion; and Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Lamb & Oatmeal Formula Dry Dog Food, which contains live probiotics to regulate your pup’s gut.
These foods may not help all dogs, but they can be helpful in some cases. If you don’t notice any improvement within a day or two of feeding this food, consult your vet.
Continue feeding your dog a bland diet until their stools have been normal for two to three days. In the meantime, you can slowly increase the amount of food you give them, if your dog will tolerate it. Remember: If your dog’s diarrhea has lasted longer than two days, call your vet.
When it’s time to transition back to your dog’s normal diet, make the switch slowly to avoid upsetting your pup’s stomach yet again. Start by mixing a small amount of your dog’s usual food with the bland food. Over the course of three to five days, slowly increase the ratio of regular food to bland food, until your dog’s diet is 100 percent back to normal. Find out more about switching your dog’s food.
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Other Dog Diarrhea Solutions
Sometimes, bland food is not enough to heal the gut and stop the diarrhea. Additional support, such as medications or supplements, may be required to resolve the problem. But before you offer any of the below to your dog, consult your veterinarian—they’re in the best position to assess your dog’s condition and determine what treatments will most effectively treat it.
Think of probiotics as the “good guys” in your dog’s GI tract. When “bad guys” like e. Coli or salmonella overgrow inside your dog’s gut, they can throw the whole system out of whack, resulting in diarrhea. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help resolve diarrhea by restoring that internal balance.
If your dog is on an antibiotic, separate administration of probiotics and antibiotics by at least one hour to prevent the antibiotic from killing the probiotics, and choose a probiotic that has guaranteed live bacterial colony forming units, or CFUs. Many products list a CFU count right on the label of ingredients. Zesty Paws Probiotic Pumpkin Chews, for example, comes packed with 3 billion CFUs.
See the best probiotics for dogs as rated and reviewed by dog parents like you.
Kaolin Clay and Pectin
Kaolin clay and pectin and bismuth subsalicylate—as found in OTC products Kaopectate and Pepto Bismol—are protective of the intestinal lining, and may resolve diarrhea and help heal the gut. Vetoquinol Pro-Pectalin Medication for Diarrhea for Cats & Dogs contains both to treat diarrhea caused by stress, dietary changes, and other non-medical causes.
What to Feed a Dog With Diarrhea: Frequently Asked Questions
Can fruits help a dog with diarrhea?
Can vegetables help a dog with diarrhea?
What should I not feed a dog who has diarrhea?
- Determine whether your dog’s diarrhea is a medical emergency, and consult your vet if needed.
- Withhold food for 12 hours to let your dog’s GI tract rest and heal. (Consult your vet before withholding food from puppies, small breeds, senior dogs and dogs with health issues.)
- Serve a bland diet in small amounts.
- When your dog’s stools have returned to normal for two to three days, gradually reintroduce their usual diet.
- Call your vet if your dog’s diarrhea does not resolve within two days.