Home cooking their food is a great way to show love and care to your pet. But when your pet has a sensitive tummy, gently cooked food can become essential to their well-being.
Research shows that most pets with sensitive stomach symptoms respond to easily digestible, hypoallergenic diets.1–5 Whether the tummy issues were caused by food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, or another cause, most dogs and cats responded well to diet for management of this condition.
A review study on colitis in dogs concluded that “The results of these dietary challenges strongly suggest a dietary role in the pathogenesis of this disorder, and also illustrate the importance of dietary therapy in the management of idiopathic chronic colitis.”1
If an inappropriate diet can cause these symptoms in pets, it makes sense that a high-quality healthy diet can be the solution.
Signs your pet may have a sensitive stomach
When taken alone, or happening occasionally, all the signs below can be harmless. But when happening together, they often point to a sensitive stomach issue. There are also many other reasons for these symptoms in dogs and cats, especially when additional symptoms are present. We recommend always checking in with your vet first to determine what’s causing any sudden changes in your pet because it could be a more serious health issue.
Occasional vomiting is not necessarily a cause for concern, because pets can vomit for many reasons. Vomiting is a mechanism for the body to get rid of harmful substances from the GI tract like spoiled food, toxins or chemicals. But if occasional vomiting is coupled with diarrhea and gas it could be from a sensitive stomach.
Most often, the symptoms you really start to notice in your pet are poop related. Because your pet cannot tell you they have stomach pain, you may not realize until you see things like diarrhea, difficulty passing stool, or excessive gas.
Some gas is normal; we’ve all been through stinky gas bombs from our pets! Dogs especially, can get gassy when they gulp down food too fast, taking in a lot of air with the food. But when passing gas is excessive, and over a period of time, it’s a sign that a sensitive stomach could be the culprit.
In addition to these symptoms, you pet can show certain behavioral changes when they have stomach issues. For example, chronic GI pain can cause your pet to not absorb essential fatty acids and nutrients from their food leading to a dry, dull skin and coat and weight loss. A dog with IBD can show food hesitancy and a reluctance to approach their food bowl because they associate food with pain.
Appetite changes, when present with vomiting, diarrhea and gas, can also point to stomach pain in your pet. If your pet’s behavior has changed along with changes in appetite, check in with your vet because it could be something more serious.
What can cause sensitive tummies in cats and dogs?
One of the most common causes of sensitive stomach in dogs and cats is an allergy or intolerance to certain ingredients in their diet. If your pets GI symptoms are accompanied by itchy skin it’s a strong sign that a food allergy is at play. An elimination diet using limited ingredient homecooked pet food is the best way to determine if your pets stomach issues are caused by a pet food allergy.
Dry food only diet
Dry pet food such as kibble can expand in a pet’s stomach soon after eating. Especially in cats, and dogs with a small stomach (i.e small dogs), this can lead to vomiting soon after eating. Over time, regularly vomiting up food cause stomach or GI tract irritation. Adding wet food to pet’s dry diet can make sure they fill up slower and lessen the chances of vomiting.
Preservatives, additives & fillers
Many pets are sensitive to chemicals and undigestible fillers like corn hulls present in pet food. These ingredients are not easily digested and can cause GI irritation in pet.
Because of the label regulations in pet food, certain additives and preservatives may not even be declared in the back label of your pet food. Ingredients like chicken meal usually contain 10 to 14 percent fat and need a preservative to be kept shelf stable. The amount of preservative used in protein meals is generally considered low enough to be an “incidental additive,” and is not required to be on the product label. 6
Your pet’s sensitivity could therefore be caused from a declared or undeclared additive in their pet food.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Veterinarians Dr. Arguelles and Dr. Rondeau say that food intolerance, food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly lead to an upset cat stomach.
Irritable bowel syndrome in pets is a condition that causes inflammation in the lining of the bowels resulting in upset of the stomach or intestines. It can lead to symptoms like nausea, upset stomach, or diarrhea. there are several possible factors that may affect the condition, including diet, allergies, bowel obstruction, or stress.
Continued treatment of IBS often involves dietary changes, and homemade food for dogs with ibs can be made with higher fiber content. Diets that are high in fiber help maintain normal function of the digestive tract. A homecooked diet with a good source of fiber like sweet potatoes can help relieve IBS symptoms caused by too little fiber in your pet’s diet.
Some breeds such as the Scottish Terrier and the Yorkie are more prone to sensitive stomachs. Older dogs, puppies and small dogs are also more susceptible. More serious causes, such as gastrointestinal cancers, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, can also result in vomiting and sensitive stomachs. If you are worried that your cat or dog is sick, seek veterinary care immediately.
In all these cases, a nutritionally balanced homemade diet can work to relieve symptoms or provide natural immune support.
Why freshly cooked whole food is the best option for a sensitive stomach
There are 3 treatment options that a vet most commonly recommends for cats and dogs with sensitive stomachs or GI issues. These are:
- A change of diet
- Immune suppressive drugs
Of these, only dogs responding to a diet change have a long-term response, and the most effective treatment seems to be through diet.
“Although the data available are limited, most studies support a good to excellent long-term response in dogs that have a successful food trial, whereas the response is poor with antibiotics or on-going treatment is required to retain remission. There is a risk of antimicrobial resistance developing with inappropriate use of antimicrobials such as in these situations.” 7
Ongoing GI issues like a sensitive stomach leaves your pet’s GI tract inflamed. In the immediate term, the goal is to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms. This will make your furry bestie happy and feel good about eating their food again.
Homemade dog food is a great solution to a sensitive stomach diet. In the long-term, it’s important to feed high quality preservative-free food that’s easy to digest. Freshly cooked food can be a great solution because it’s easy to digest, made with clean whole ingredients, and retains immune-boosting nutrients from fresh food.
How their dog or cat food is processed is a huge factor for pets with sensitive stomachs. Gently cooked food is easier on sensitive stomachs because it makes pet food highly digestible. High pressure and high temperature extrusion used to make kibble can change the molecular structure of certain ingredients, making it completely different from the natural form. These processed and modified ingredients can be hard to digest.
Gently cooking at low temperature (the way you cook your own food on the stove) still retains most nutrients in vegetables and meat without significantly changing the molecular structure. The result is easily-digestible food. Think raw meat vs. cooked meat, which is easier for a pet with a sensitive stomach?
Grain free sensitive stomach cat food like Kafka's can help cats with upset stomachs recover faster because it's gentler on the digestive tract.
Clean, whole ingredients
At Kafka’s Organic, our limited ingredient diets are made with highly nutritious ingredients like sweet potatoes, and slow-simmered bone broth, human-quality meats, and vegetables like organic kale and carrots. Clean, whole ingredients minimize the chances of developing allergies or intolerance to food. Because they are not heavily processed, homemade pet food and fresh pet food make it easier on your pet with a sensitive stomach to absorb nutrients from this type of food.
No preservatives or additives
Certain preservatives and additives in commercial dog foods and canned cat food are only added to make pet food shelf-stable for years on end. They serve no nutritional purpose and should not be a part of your pet’s diet. Over a long period of feeding, these chemicals can impact the health and well-being of your pet.
Homemade pet food or freshly cooked food that’s frozen eliminates the need for potentially harmful preservatives and additives. Instead, you can serve your pet fresh food that’s healthy and hearty.
Immune-boosting vitamins and minerals
A nutritionally balanced homemade pet food contains all the nutrients your dog or cat needs in the right amounts. Kafka’s DIY Homemade pet food kit was designed to provide all the essential nutrients for your pet while making it easy to make balanced pet food at home.
A note on Probiotics
As of right now, there is little to no evidence that probiotics are useful for irritable bowel syndrome or other GI issues in dogs and cats7. However, we will keep reviewing this information and consider adding a vet-approved probiotic to our diets. Stay tuned!
Gently cooked pet food for sensitive stomachs
For these reasons and more, the best food for cats with sensitive stomachs and dog food for upset stomach will be homemade. Most pets love homemade foods (when done right) not just because they are made with fresh ingredients, but because watching their owners prepare it for them seems to stimulate their appetite. Not to mention the amazing smell filling up the kitchen as homemade food is being cooked!
By the time the food is ready, you will have a dog licking his lips in anticipation and a cat meowing and rubbing up against your legs. Giving your pet with stomach issues a homemade diet that is lovingly prepared, easy to digest, and is healthy and fresh may be the very best thing you can do for them.
Nutritional management of idiopathic chronic colitis in the dog. - PubMed - NCBI.
Ballauf, B. [Feed allergy in dogs and cats--not only a gastrointestinal problem]. Tierarztl Prax 21, 53–56 (1993).
Diet and large intestinal disease in dogs and cats. - PubMed - NCBI.
Problems With Artificial Preservatives in Dog Food - Whole Dog Journal.