Digestive issues in dogs: Causes and how to help

Dogs often experience digestive issues that cause discomfort or more severe health hazards. Here’s what you should know and how to help.
Digestive Issues in Dogs: Causes and How To Help
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If you’re a dog owner, you already know the weight of the responsibility that comes with pet parenthood. It’s your job to care for your dog, look after their every need, and ensure they’re living a healthy lifestyle that will allow them to age gracefully and comfortably.

However, even the most conscientious dog owners can encounter challenges on this path, despite checking all the boxes for health and wellness along the way. Regardless of breed, gastrointestinal issues are common among dogs and can manifest at any stage of life. As diligent dog owners, we must be mindful of these intestinal issues and know the signs revealing deeper-rooted health concerns.

With the right background knowledge and willingness to adapt, you can save your dog from intestinal discomfort, even before the harshest symptoms take hold. This article will clue you into the most common types of problems that can impact a dog’s digestive system, and give you the tools you need to remedy them the right way.

What are the most common digestive issues in dogs?

Dog health might not seem as complex as human health, but there are still many possible issues that should be on your radar as an owner. Knowing all the possible health concerns that may impact your pet is part of the pledge that dog owners make, so start by understanding these potential threats and be prepared with a plan to address them. 

Additionally, knowing more information about your dog’s breed can help you anticipate certain issues ahead of time and be ready to implement changes or supplements more quickly. Stay tuned, because the sooner you can identify dog digestive issues, the better.

Dietary inconsistency

A dog’s diet is fairly straightforward on paper: a certain volume of dog food per day with the occasional healthy snack to reward good behavior. However, as all dog owners know from experience, the realities of a dog’s diet don’t always match this ideal.

When you’re out and about with your dog, they may be eager to eat anything in sight, edible or not, especially if they’re still in the puppy phase. Even older dogs can let their curiosity get the best of them and consume foreign objects like rocks, plastic toys, car keys, and more.

Blaming yourself for dietary indiscretions isn’t always appropriate, either. You can realistically keep an eye on your dog at every hour of the day, and unusual objects can still end up in your dog’s mouth. 

On the other hand, being too generous with treats or table scraps can yield a similar result, so taking responsibility here is important. This remains true no matter how much your furry best friend begs for a snack at the dinner table.

Food intolerance and allergies

You likely already know about the “no-go” foods that are toxic to dogs, such as chocolate. Still, if you suspect your dog is extra sensitive to human foods, it’s probably best to avoid feeding them scraps altogether.

It’s also worth noting that certain “dog-approved” foods won’t sit well with your dog based on their own sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies. 

Even if a dog food package claims to be best for a particular breed, it’s your job to monitor their tolerance and make changes if the food causes an upset stomach. 

Parasites, infections, and illness

Some of the most common dog digestion problems stem from viral infections, parasites in the small intestine, or other illnesses that range from minor and short-term to chronic and life-threatening. Pet owners must educate themselves on the most common types of parasites, viruses, and bacteria that can affect their dogs depending on breed, age, and environment.

Intestinal worms, for instance, can cause dog diarrhea, rapid weight loss, and even skin or respiratory issues. The parvovirus is highly contagious and possibly deadly in young dogs, causing vomiting and dehydration. Even some of the same bacterial infections that affect human gastro health can be harmful to dogs, including salmonella and Lyme disease. 

Finally, chronic issues related to pancreas health are common among certain breeds, and a dog’s symptoms can be hard to pinpoint in the early stages. As an owner, your role is to know these potential threats and be ready to take action when needed. 

Gut microbiome dysfunction

A dog’s digestive tract is relatively simple, but dogs share an important aspect of the digestive system in the role of the gut microbiome. This term refers to the vast population of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, helping to regulate functions such as enzyme production, nutrient absorption, and much more.

With a disruption in the gut microbiome, an animal’s digestive processes can be thrown off significantly, as harmful bacteria begin to outnumber good bacteria and take their toll. Dogs might show signs like flatulence, weight changes, or poor coat condition, even if they have an otherwise pristine diet and active lifestyle.

It can be difficult to detect issues with the gut microbiome in dogs, especially since this a relatively new component of veterinary medicine. Thankfully, as more vets and researchers catch on to the importance of gut health in dogs, owners can be more vigilant about this aspect of dog health and take appropriate measures to improve it.

Stress, anxiety, and lifestyle

If you’ve ever been through a stressful phase of life, you know firsthand that increased cortisol and tension can wreak havoc on the digestive system. The same thing happens for dogs, though it’s harder to pinpoint the sources and symptoms of these issues.

Do your best to support your dog emotionally by being present for them daily, communicating with them, and doing activities that support their health and well-being. Many owners have found that minor lifestyle improvements have helped clear symptoms of chronic digestive issues, whether that meant more exercise or a calmer home environment.

Stress can cause loss of appetite or other forms of digestive upset in dogs, so help your dog de-stress, and you may find their digestive issues subside on their own.

How to identify digestive issues in dogs

You now know the basics of the most common digestive issues in dogs, but now it’s time to take a practical perspective. Unless you’re a veterinarian, you probably don’t know what signs and symptoms to look for, and you certainly don’t want to jump to conclusions on a diagnosis.

With that said, let’s give you some straightforward ways to identify digestive issues with various behavioral and medical symptoms. This way, you’ll know when it’s time to visit a vet or adjust their diet, lifestyle, and more. 

Appetite and behavioral changes

Dogs love to eat, so lack of appetite is the first signal that something isn’t quite right with their digestion. If they’re picking at their food or not interested in treats, that’s a red flag — and a sign you should start looking into possible fixes and changes.

Other dogs will maintain a strong appetite, however, even if they’re experiencing digestive discomfort that manifests in other ways. Dogs might appear to be lethargic, have trouble moving around, or not want to join you on walks or trips in the car. 

These behavioral changes might mean your dog is experiencing abdominal pain, or that they aren’t fully absorbing the nutrient content of their food. Keep an eye on even the slightest behavioral shifts and consider all the possibilities for improvements and adjustments.

Changes in bowel movements

Bowel movements in dogs should be consistent, both in frequency and quality of the feces itself. Pay attention to the regularity of your dog’s bowel movements, as less frequent bathroom trips could signify digestive problems related to constipation or other digestive disorders.

Dogs with sensitive stomachs may have the occasional loose stool or constipation, so this doesn’t mean you need to rush to the animal hospital immediately. However, ongoing problems, especially when combined with vomiting or regurgitation, suggest that you should probably look into a medical intervention sooner rather than later.

Keep in mind that bowel movements might seem different when you introduce a new type of food or supplement, and this isn’t always a bad thing. Simply use your best judgment and be mindful of other symptoms that align with possible digestive problems, analyzing every aspect of your dog’s behavior and health.

Persistent or severe symptoms

Every dog goes through ups and downs in health and wellness, and not every symptom is cause for alarm. On the other hand, persistent and severe symptoms should be taken seriously, especially if you notice these symptoms worsening over time. 

Day one or day two of a particular symptom should be a matter of observation and attentiveness, but by days three and four, consider contacting a vet to investigate further. Also, take note of symptoms that may not be related to digestive issues, as an animal doctor will want to know the full picture to take the proper course of action.

What are some ways to help your dog with digestive issues?

By knowing the signs, symptoms, and common issues that affect doggy digestion, you’re already way ahead of the game as a dog owner — but when it comes to actually treating or outright fixing these digestive issues, the answers might not be as intuitive. 

While you should always consult a professional to address serious health issues for your dog, there are some things you can do in the short term to provide comfort and treat some symptoms. Stay tuned to these recommendations so you’ll have a tool kit to address digestive problems as soon as signs start to show.

Diet and hydration management

Dogs develop quickly and go through phases in their lifespan, meaning the same foods might not agree with them as they age. If you notice digestive issues developing despite your dog eating the same food for years, it might mean that a dietary adjustment is in order.

Look for an alternative type of food with different ingredients or a brand developed for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Also, consider changing the time of day when your dog is scheduled to eat, or adjust serving sizes so that they eat smaller amounts across more meals.

Finally, keep an eye on your dog’s hydration habits and ensure they’re drinking fresh, filtered water out of a clean bowl. Staying on top diet and hydration will make a big difference in your dog’s digestion, even if they aren’t showing signs of illness or discomfort from day to day.

Preemptive veterinary care

Every dog needs an annual checkup, even if they appear to be totally healthy with abundant energy. For young dogs in particular, these preemptive vet visits are key, since you won’t be as familiar with their behavioral patterns as a new owner. 

Your dog might not show the typical symptoms of discomfort because they’re young, so you don’t have the same frame of reference to compare to as you would with an older dog.

Remember that many dog digestion issues won’t show symptoms right away, so a well-timed visit to the vet can pinpoint problems before they worsen. It might seem like a hassle for you and your dog, but preemptive care is simply part of the deal for smart dog owners.

Probiotic and prebiotic supplementation

A dog’s microbiome and gastrointestinal tract are strong, but still subject to disruption and dysfunction just like humans. That’s why giving your dog a probiotic supplement can be highly effective in fending off digestive issues by maintaining a healthy, diverse colony of good bacteria.

The best probiotic supplements for dogs are made with care and feature an array of beneficial probiotic species, ensuring dogs maintain gut flora without too much extra acid. Probiotics are just one side of the coin — prebiotic compounds and essential nutrients also play a role.

Our Broad Spectrum Probiotic CBD Chews features all these ingredients and more, giving your dog a complete probiotic and prebiotic foundation for their gut. These chews are formulated by veterinarians and made with all-natural ingredients, so you know they’re getting the best and nothing less.

Even healthy, active dogs can benefit from a well-rounded probiotic supplement, so consider giving your dog a head-start on great gut health with these best-selling pet chews.

Stress reduction and cannabinoids

We covered the effects of stress and how they can impact a dog’s digestive system and general well-being. But busy pet owners can’t control every variable that might cause stress for dogs, whether they’re out of the house or occupied with work.

That’s why we included a generous serving size of high-quality hemp extract in our Broad Spectrum Probiotic CBD Pet Chews. This provides your dog with soothing, calming cannabinoids that will help with every aspect of digestive discomfort.

Dogs have a similar endocannabinoid system as humans, and the right amount of CBD can go a long way in combatting stress. Whether your dog is overcoming digestive problems or just needs some extra soothing benefits, these chews can truly help.*

The bottom line

Pet owners have a lot on their plate regarding care, attention, and overall health for their dogs. We can’t expect to control every variable in our dogs’ well-being, but we can make some meaningful adjustments that have a beneficial impact on their quality of life.

From dietary changes to hydration, stress management with CBD for pets, and probiotic support, you can do a lot for your dog’s digestive health in just a few steps. Let Sunmed help you be the best dog owner you can be so that you make the most of every minute with your dog from now on.*


Prevalence of common canine digestive problems compared with other health problems in teaching veterinary hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University, Egypt | NIH

The Nexus of Diet, Gut Microbiota and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in Dogs | NIH

Gut Probiotics and Health of Dogs and Cats: Benefits, Applications, and Underlying Mechanisms | NIH

MU study supports strong link between respiratory and digestive diseases | University of Missouri