How do I know if my dog's stomach hurts (and how can I help)?
March 03, 2021
It’s a struggle that every dog owner will go through at some point. Your pup will be acting strange or sick, and you’ll be worrying over what’s wrong and how you can help. Most often, it’ll come down to an upset stomach. Knowing the signs that your dog’s stomach hurts will make it easier to soothe both their discomfort and your fears.
This blog covers the common causes of upset stomach (aka gastroenteritis), signs to watch out for, and the steps you can take to treat it.
What causes gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is the technical term for an upset stomach. It refers to irritation in the stomach or gut that leads to a variety of symptoms including pain, nausea, bloating and vomiting. There are many causes for gastroenteritis, with some more common than others. A few of the more frequent causes are:
- Changes in diet or eating something they shouldn’t have
- Food allergies
- Parasites including worms and microorganisms
- Viral or bacterial infection
- Blockages in the digestive tract
- Organ failure
While gastroenteritis can be due to serious internal problems, it’s much more likely to be traced to something your dog ate.
Signs your dog has an upset stomach
The hardest part of knowing when your dog feels sick is that they can’t tell you directly. Instead, dog owners have to pay close attention to body language and behaviors. While some behaviors are obvious (e.g., vomiting and diarrhea), others require owners to pay a bit closer attention.
Here are seven indicators your dog’s stomach may be bothering them:
- Bad breath – While dog breath will never smell like roses, particularly acidic smelling breath can be a sign of stomach acid build-up.
- Acting lethargic or uncomfortable – There are a few behaviors that may indicate stomachaches. First, they may lose energy. A dog acting lethargic may be trying to minimize discomfort. They may also stay in a scrunched-up or tense position, similar to how humans will clutch their stomach. Finally, your dog may start stretching its front paws out repeatedly in a doggie bow.
- Excess gas – If your dog is releasing more flatulence or burping more than usual, that indicates gas building up in their stomach.
- Swollen or distended stomach – Bloating or swelling of the abdominal cavity can also indicate gas build-up. A belly that has bloated to the point of feeling hard or tight is a serious medical emergency.
- Gulping, gagging and lip smacking – All of these behaviors indicate your dog is struggling with nausea. They may be trying to hold back an urge to vomit.
- Vomiting and diarrhea – These are the most obvious and immediate signs of upset stomach. Repeated vomiting or diarrhea can have serious health consequences resulting from dehydration.
- Weight loss – If you notice your dog’s appetite dropping off, or if they begin to lose weight unexpectedly, this may be due to stomach pain. Prolonged loss of appetite always warrants a visit to your vet.
What about eating grass?
Longtime dog owners might wonder why the list above doesn’t include eating grass. Many people believe that eating grass is a sign of an upset stomach in dogs; however, research has proven inconclusive.
While some grass eating may be an attempt to settle the stomach, it’s not the only plausible explanation. Your dog may simply enjoy the texture and taste of grass. They may also be bored, and eating grass gives them something to do.
If your dog suddenly begins to eat a lot of grass, this is more likely an indicator that they’re not feeling well. It could also mean they feel they’re about to vomit.
How to help your dog feel better
It’s understandable that dog owners want to take action if they know their pup is feeling sick. However, the vast majority of gastroenteritis cases will clear up on their own in a day or two. If symptoms are mild, the best course of action is usually to wait around 24 hours and see if symptoms improve. In the meantime, there are a few at-home remedies you can try.
A short fast may be all the stomach needs to right itself. You can try keeping food from your dog for 12 to 24 hours, to allow their gastrointestinal system time to process whatever’s causing the trouble.
Giving ice instead of liquid water will keep your dog from overdoing it. After they’ve thrown up, dogs often want to drink excessively. This may cause further upset, though. Providing ice chips will ensure they continue to stay hydrated, while also forcing them to slow down a bit.
Providing soothing foods can help to relieve symptoms. Canned pumpkin is a great choice for settling a dog’s stomach, and veterinarians recommend providing 1 to 4 tablespoons per meal to help provide relief. Other popular choices include small portions of white rice, unsweetened yogurt and bone broth.
Soaking kibble in water to soften it can help ease the digestion process, soothing discomfort for some dogs.
Another angle to consider is whether your pup is getting enough probiotics. Probiotics are ideal for keeping a dog’s gut healthy, and can be found in certain high-quality dog foods, such as NutriSource dog food.
What to do when symptoms don’t resolve
If your dog continues to have signs of upset stomach for more than a day or two, a visit to the vet may be warranted. You’ll want to bring your dog to the vet even sooner if they have severe symptoms, such as frequent vomiting and diarrhea or signs of blood in their vomit or stool.
A vet will start with a physical exam. If they suspect a serious health problem, they may recommend further tests. Those tests might include:
- A stool sample to check for parasites
- Imaging via X-rays or ultrasounds
- Blood tests
- An endoscopy, where a tube is inserted through an orifice to look for internal problems.
Depending on what the vet finds, treatments may include prescribing an anti-sickness medication, antibiotics for certain infections or admission into urgent care.
How to prevent an upset stomach
While you cannot eliminate the risk of gastroenteritis, there is one easy step you can take to minimize the possibility. The most common cause comes down to what your dog eats.
Dog food that is made with low-quality grain fillers and zero probiotics is likely to cause upset stomach over time, due in part to the fact that 70% of a dog’s immune system is located in their gut microbiome. As we’ve talked about before in When does your dog need a change in diet, NutriSource is a terrific choice for keeping your dog’s stomach feeling good.
Its recipes incorporate healthy gut ingredients like prebiotics and probiotics, organic selenium yeast and essential trace minerals. Just remember to switch foods gradually, since sudden diet changes can also lead to sour stomach.
You can use our find a store tool to locate your nearest independent pet supply retailer. Their professional expertise can help you make diet decisions for your dog that will keep them happy and their gut healthy!