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Does Your Dog Have a Sensitive Stomach? Understanding Tummy Troubles in Dogs - PawSafe

Does Your Dog Have a Sensitive Stomach? Understanding Tummy Troubles in Dogs

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

does your dog have a sensitive stomach

As loving dog owners, we know that our furry friends rely on us for their health and well-being. When your dog shows signs of digestive distress — such as vomiting, diarrhea, or frequent stomach pain — it can be concerning and confusing. Understanding the causes of a sensitive stomach in dogs and finding the right solutions can make a world of difference in their quality of life.

Dogs can suffer from a sensitive stomach for various reasons, including food allergies, intolerances, or underlying health conditions. These issues can lead to unpleasant symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, causing discomfort for your pet and stress for you. Fortunately, with the right knowledge and resources, you can help your dog feel better and thrive. In this article, we will explore the signs of a sensitive stomach in dogs, potential causes, and the best foods and treats to support their digestive health. 

We’ll also refer to valuable research by experts like Dr. Mickaël Patrick Weber, a researcher at Royal Canin, whose study provides insights into managing and improving canine digestion. By understanding your dog’s specific needs and making informed choices, you can ensure they receive the best care possible. Let’s dive into the details and find ways to ease your dog’s digestive issues, bringing back their happy and energetic self.

My Dog’s Stomach Seems Upset: Could It Be Sensitive?

Dog pooping in field with sensitive stomach

A sensitive stomach in dogs is more common than you might think. If your dog frequently has digestive issues like vomiting or diarrhea, it could be a sign of a sensitive stomach.

Understanding the difference between acute and chronic symptoms is crucial. Acute symptoms, which appear suddenly, often result from your dog eating something it shouldn’t have or an underlying health issue like an infection. These episodes are usually short-lived and may resolve once the offending substance is out of your dog’s system.

On the other hand, chronic symptoms persist over time. If your dog’s stomach seems upset regularly, it may indicate a more persistent digestive sensitivity. This means their stomach has trouble handling certain foods or ingredients, leading to ongoing discomfort and digestive problems.

Recognizing these signs early and understanding the possible reasons can help you manage your dog’s sensitive stomach and improve their overall health. Before we get into the different reasons a dog may have a sensitive stomach and what to do about it, we need to first look at why sensitive stomachs in large dogs are different from the same issue in small dogs.

Stomach Sensitivity: Large vs. Small Breed Dogs

Understanding why large breed dogs often have more sensitive stomachs than small breed dogs can help you take better care of their diet and health. 

Sensitive Stomachs Large Breed Dogs

Large breed dogs, like German Shepherds, are more likely to have stomach problems. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Large dogs often have softer stools with more water. This makes them more prone to diarrhea.
  2. Their large intestines produce more gas and fermentation by-products, like ammonia and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). This can also make their stools softer and smellier.
  3. Large dogs have higher intestinal and colonic permeability. This means their intestines let more water into their stools, making them softer.
  4. Large dogs need highly digestible proteins, like wheat gluten, for better stool quality. Proteins that are harder to digest, like venison, can make their stomach issues worse.
  5. They also have a longer colonic transit time. This means food stays in their intestines longer, leading to more fermentation and softer stools.
  6. More insoluble fiber like cellulose  is better for them than soluble fiber like pectin. For the  same reason, they do better on highly digestible proteins and starches.
  7. They often absorb minerals like sodium and potassium less effectively, which can also cause digestive issues.

Sensitive Stomachs In Small Breed Dogs

Small breed dogs usually have fewer stomach problems. Here’s why:

  1. Small dogs generally digest food more efficiently and absorb nutrients better.
  2. They usually have firmer stools and better stool quality, but they can still have food sensitivities and allergies.
  3. Small dogs can handle higher levels of fermentable fibers, like fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and beet pulp, without having soft stools.
  4. They are less affected by different types of starch in their food compared to large dogs.
  5. Small dogs are more prone to pancreatitis, which can cause digestive upset. So, it’s important to choose dog food with the right amount of fat.
  6. While small dogs benefit from highly digestible proteins, they are generally less sensitive to protein digestibility variations than large dogs.

Practical Tips

When feeding a large breed dog like a German Shepherd, choose foods with highly digestible proteins, lower fermentation potential, and the right amount of fiber. For small breed dogs, focus on a balanced diet that avoids too much fat and includes fermentable fibers to support their efficient digestion.

Signs and Symptoms of a Dog with a Sensitive Stomach

Black dog vomiting has sensitive stomach

Recognizing the signs of a dog with a sensitive stomach can help you address their discomfort and find suitable solutions. Here are some common symptoms to watch for:

  • Your dog may vomit occasionally due to something they ate, but frequent vomiting can indicate a sensitive stomach or a more severe underlying health issues.
  • Like vomiting, diarrhea can be a one-time issue or a persistent problem. Chronic diarrhea often points to digestive sensitivity.
  • Excessive gas and a bloated belly are common signs of a dog with digestive issues. You may also hear your dog’s stomach gurgling a lot. 
  • A dog with a sensitive stomach might eat less or show less interest in food.
  • Frequent excessive drooling or eating grass after eating can mean your dog feels sick after eating
  • Itchy skin or recurring ear infections can sometimes be linked to digestive problems.
  • You might notice your dog’s poop is softer or harder than usual, indicating an issue with their digestion.

If you notice any of these “signs of a dog sensitive stomach,” it’s important to consult with your vet to determine the best course of action to help your furry friend feel better.

What Causes a Sensitive Stomach in Dogs?

A sensitive stomach in dogs can be triggered by various factors. Understanding these potential causes can help you manage your dog’s digestive issues effectively.

Food Allergies or Sensitivities

One common cause is food allergies or sensitivities. Dogs can be allergic or sensitive to certain protein sources like beef, chicken, or grains. Identifying and eliminating these allergens from their diet can help alleviate symptoms.

Dietary Indiscretion

Dietary indiscretion, which means eating something they shouldn’t, such as garbage, table scraps, or non-food items, can cause acute digestive upset.

Change in Diet

An abrupt change in diet can disrupt your dog’s digestive system. Gradually transitioning to a new diet over a week or two can prevent this issue.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites, such as Giardia or worms, can also cause ongoing digestive problems. Regular fecal exams and deworming can help prevent and treat these issues.

Underlying Health Conditions

Underlying health conditions, like Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), can impair digestion and cause chronic symptoms. EPI prevents the pancreas from producing enough digestive enzymes, leading to nutrient malabsorption.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or Colitis

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), colitis, or gastroenteritis can cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, leading to persistent vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms of a sensitive stomach.

Stress or Anxiety

Stress or anxiety can also exacerbate digestive issues due to the strong mind-gut connection in dogs.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Higher intestinal permeability can lead to “leaky gut syndrome.” In this condition, the gut lining becomes more permeable, allowing harmful substances like toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to pass into the bloodstream. This can cause inflammation, allergies, and other health problems, contributing to a sensitive stomach.

What to Feed a Dog with a Sensitive Stomach

Feeding a dog with a sensitive stomach can be a challenge, but the right diet can make a big difference in their digestive health. Here’s how to choose the best foods to calm your dog’s tummy.

Highly Digestible Proteins

Start with highly digestible proteins. Dogs with sensitive stomachs often do better on proteins that are easy to digest, such as chicken, turkey, or lamb. Fish is another good option, as it is gentle on the stomach and provides beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Limited Ingredient Diets

A limited ingredient diet (LID) can help you identify and eliminate potential food allergens. These diets contain fewer ingredients, making it easier to pinpoint what might be causing your dog’s digestive issues. Look for LID options that focus on a single protein and a single carbohydrate source, like duck and potato or venison and sweet potato.

Novel Proteins

If your dog has food allergies, consider feeding them novel proteins they haven’t eaten before. Proteins like rabbit, kangaroo, or bison are less likely to cause allergic reactions because they are not commonly found in standard dog foods.

Easily Digestible Carbohydrates

Choose easily digestible carbohydrates such as white rice, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin. These can help firm up your dog’s stools and are gentle on the digestive system. Avoid grains like corn and wheat, which can be harder for some dogs to digest.


Fiber is important for digestive health, but the type and amount matter. Soluble fibers like those found in oats and barley can help regulate digestion, while insoluble fibers like cellulose add bulk to stools. Fermentable fibers like beet pulp can be beneficial but should be used in moderation, especially for large breed dogs who are more sensitive to them.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support a healthy gut microbiome. Adding a probiotic supplement to your dog’s diet can improve their digestive health and reduce symptoms like diarrhea and gas. Prebiotics, which are fibers that feed these good bacteria, can also help maintain a balanced gut flora. Look for dog foods that include prebiotics like chicory root or inulin.

Avoid Sudden Diet Changes

Abrupt changes in diet can upset your dog’s stomach. When introducing a new food, do it gradually over a week or more. Start by mixing a small amount of the new food with your dog’s current food, gradually increasing the proportion of new food while decreasing the old.

Hypoallergenic and Hydrolyzed Diets

For dogs with severe food allergies or intolerances, hypoallergenic or hydrolyzed protein diets can be very effective. These diets contain proteins that are broken down into smaller molecules, making them less likely to trigger an immune response.

Monitor and Adjust

Keep an eye on your dog’s response to any dietary changes. Monitor their stools, energy levels, and overall health. If symptoms persist or worsen, consult your veterinarian. They may recommend specific tests or a customized diet plan to address your dog’s unique needs.

By selecting the right foods and introducing them carefully, you can help soothe your dog’s sensitive stomach and ensure they get the nutrition they need to stay healthy and happy.

Treat Time for Sensitive Stomachs

Finding the right treats for a dog with a sensitive stomach can be challenging. Many commercial treats contain ingredients that may upset your dog’s tummy. However, with a bit of care, you can find or make treats that your dog can enjoy without causing digestive issues.

Homemade Treat Options

Homemade treats can be a great alternativ-e-archive, as they allow you to control the ingredients. Here are a few simple ideas, but always check with your vet before offering them to your dog:

  1. Cooked Sweet Potato – Sweet potatoes are gentle on the stomach and easy to prepare. Simply cook and cut them into small, bite-sized pieces.
  2. Frozen Banana Slices – Bananas are a mild treat option. Slice and freeze them for a refreshing snack on warm days.
  3. Plain Pumpkin – Canned plain pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) can be given in small amounts. It’s good for digestion and can be made into small frozen treats.

Commercial Treats for Sensitive Stomachs

If you prefer store-bought treats, look for those specifically designed for dogs with sensitive stomachs. These “dog sensitive stomach treats” are often made with limited ingredients and avoid common allergens. Read the labels carefully to ensure there are no hidden ingredients that could trigger your dog’s symptoms.

Monitor and Adjust

Always introduce new treats gradually and monitor your dog’s response. If you notice any signs of digestive upset, discontinue the treat.

How Do Dogs Act When Their Stomach Hurts?

When a dog’s stomach hurts, they often show specific behaviors indicating discomfort. Recognizing these signs can help you take action to relieve their pain and address the underlying cause.

  • Lethargy or Lack of Energy – If your dog seems unusually tired or unwilling to move, it could be a sign of stomach pain.
  • Loss of Interest in Play – A normally playful dog may lose interest in their favorite activities and toys when experiencing stomach discomfort.
  • Excessive Licking of Lips– Dogs often lick their lips excessively when they feel nauseous or have stomach pain.
  • Whining or Pacing – Vocalizing through whining or restless pacing can indicate that your dog is in pain.
  • Hiding or Seeking Isolation –  Dogs with stomach pain may hide or seek out quiet places where they can be alone.

Living with a Dog with a Sensitive Stomach

Managing a dog with a sensitive stomach requires careful attention to their diet and overall health. Here are some tips to help you care for your dog:

  • Stick to a consistent, high-quality diet that meets your dog’s nutritional needs. Avoid sudden changes in their food, as this can upset their stomach.
  • When you need to introduce new foods, do so gradually over a week or more. This helps your dog’s digestive system adjust without causing discomfort.
  • Stress can exacerbate stomach issues. Create a calm environment for your dog and provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them relaxed.
  • Schedule regular vet visits to monitor your dog’s health and catch any issues early. Your vet can provide personalized advice on managing your dog’s sensitive stomach.


If your dog has a sensitive stomach, it’s essential to consult a veterinarian. They can help diagnose the cause of your dog’s discomfort and create a personalized treatment plan. By working closely with your vet and following a careful management plan, you can help your dog live a comfortable and healthy life.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.