Dog upset stomach: causes, symptoms, and treatment options

May 17, 2024 - 6 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Rebecca MacMillan on May 17, 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

An illustration of a dog's stomach contents, featuring a green background and showing items like a bone, a piece of cheese, and an ice cream cone inside the stomach

One of the hardest parts of being a pet parent is dealing with a sick pup. And when your pup's dealing with diarrhea and vomiting, it amps up the stress even more.

We have plenty of stories about pups eating things they shouldn't—like garbage, toxic foods, and too much grass—resulting in gastrointestinal issues. These conditions often improve on their own, or get completely resolved by a veterinary procedure (like endoscopic removal). But sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea can point to a a more serious or persistent health condition.

While you might not be able to treat your dog on your own, you can arm yourself with knowledge about symptoms and take notes for your vet, which can help them with diagnosis and treatment. It's important to act fast, as you could also prevent more serious health issues from developing.

Let’s explore what might be upsetting your dog’s stomach, how you can spot the signs before they become more severe, and some common treatments your vet might use.

Common causes of upset stomach

While some dogs seem to have stomachs of iron, most pups have delicate tummies, and sometimes even a small change can upset their digestive system. We'll dive into what might be causing their discomfort, from diet mishaps to more serious health concerns.

Read on for some potential causes of diarrhea and vomiting in dogs, according to veterinarian Kirsten Ronngren, DVM, MRCVS.

Gastrointestinal causes of vomiting and diarrhea Non-gastrointestinal causes of vomiting and diarrhea
Parasites Kidney disease
Dietary indescretion (eating something they shouldn't have) Liver disease
Allergies Diabetes
Infectious causes (bacteria or viruses) Hyperthyroidism
Foreign bodies or gut obstructions Cancer
Toxins Addison's disease
Primary GI disease Vestibular issues (similar to vertigo in humans)
Pancreatitis Side effects of some medications
Abrupt changes in diet Stress or anxiety

Symptoms of an upset stomach

Recognizing the symptoms of an upset stomach can help your dog get the help they need, when they need it. Here are some warning signs so you can take quick action to comfort your bff:

  • Vomiting: Often the first sign that something's not right, vomiting can be occasional or frequent.

  • Diarrhea: This may manifest as loose stools or more severe watery diarrhea, which can rapidly lead to dehydration if not managed properly.

  • Lethargy: If your dog is less active, seems unusually tired, or is uninterested in usual activities, it could be a sign they're not feeling well.

  • Loss of appetite: A decrease in eating is a common indicator of gastrointestinal discomfort or other issues.

  • Abdominal discomfort: You might notice your dog whimpering, showing signs of pain during abdominal palpation, or displaying a hunched posture, indicating discomfort or pain in the stomach area.

Once you start noticing symptoms, write them down, along with any information about recent dietary shifts or potential triggers. Your vet will need all of these details when they're diagnosing the cause of your dog's tummy troubles.

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How to treat upset stomach in dogs

When your dog has an upset stomach, knowing the right steps to take can make all the difference (and could save your carpeting, too). We'll cover effective treatments and when it's time to call the vet for a little extra help.

Home remedies: what helps a dog's upset stomach?

Wondering if there's anything you can do to help your dog's stomach settle at home—or at least until you can get them into the vet's office? Temporarily feeding your pup boiled plain chicken, plain cooked white fish, or plain white rice can be easier on their tummy than their usual food. Ask your vet for advice first, because your dog could have allergies to these, which could make things worse.

There are also OTC remedies that include things like probiotics, charcoal, and clay to help firm up stool, but you should only use these under your vet's supervision (and there are no guarantees they'll work).

When to seek veterinary assistance

"If your dog vomits or has diarrhea once, it isn’t necessarily a reason to seek emergency veterinary care, especially if the problem resolves quickly and your dog remains otherwise normal," says vet Daniel Fonza.

You should seek professional help if diarrhea persists for more than two days (according to Cornell's Canine Health Center) or if your dog displays signs of severe distress, such as continuous vomiting, blood in their stool, or extreme lethargy. This could point to more serious issues.

"Chronic vomiting and diarrhea can indicate gastrointestinal disease (such as inflammatory bowel disease), an intestinal blockage, infection, or other serious systemic diseases," adds Fonza. "It is also possible that your dog ate something poisonous if they have persistent vomiting and/or diarrhea."

And of course, pay attention to your pet's vomit and diarrhea consistency and write it down. Here's a helpful reference for vomit colors and what they could mean:

dog vomit color guide showing potential causes and how to act

Of course, in any instance where you're worried about your dog's behavior or gastrointestinal upset, you should give your vet a call. Early intervention can be the key to a quick recovery.

Veterinary examination and diagnosis

When it comes to gastrointestinal issues in dogs, veterinarians take a thorough approach to diagnosis and treatment. There are just SO. MANY. POTENTIAL. CAUSES.

Veterinarians will typically start with a detailed history to understand the possible causes of your dog’s symptoms. They will ask questions about:

  • Diet and recent changes: What and when your dog eats, including any new foods, treats, or human food scraps.

  • Behavior changes: Any alterations in your dog's behavior, appetite, or activity levels.

  • Symptom specifics: The onset, frequency, and nature of vomiting or diarrhea.

  • Exposure to potential toxins, stressors, or illnesses: Whether the dog might have ingested toxic substances or foreign objects, or possible exposure to illness (at a new boarding facility, for instance).

These questions help the vet pinpoint potential dietary issues, infections, or environmental factors that could be causing the upset stomach. Next, your vet will conduct a physical exam to check for:

  • Dehydration: Dehydration is a common concern with vomiting and diarrhea and can affect how treatments are administered.

  • Abdominal pain: Palpation of the stomach to check for tenderness, swelling, or unusual masses.

  • Overall health: General assessment of the dog’s condition, including checking the gums, coat, eyes, temperature, and body condition.

Depending on the initial assessment, your vet might order a range of diagnostic tests to further investigate the cause of the upset stomach. Here are some you might see on the chart:

  • Blood tests: To check for infections, inflammation, organ function, and blood count.

  • Fecal examination: To identify parasites or bacterial infections.

  • X-rays or ultrasounds: To reveal blockages, foreign bodies, or structural abnormalities in the digestive tract.

Based on the findings, treatment options might include:

  • Fluid therapy: Dehydration can be dangerous in dogs, and it can happen faster than you think if diarrhea and vomiting are severe in nature or continue on for several days.

  • Medication: Depending on the cause, treatment may include anti-nausea drugs, antidiarrheals, antibiotics, or other medications targeted at alleviating symptoms.

  • Dietary management: According to research, vets nearly always include diet changes in a treatment plan for acute diarrhea issues in dogs. A temporary switch to bland or prescription diets can help soothe the digestive system and aid in recovery. This might also be a permanent diet shift, in some cases.

  • Surgical intervention: If the diagnostic tests reveal an intestinal blockage due to foreign objects or severe internal abnormalities, emergency surgery will probably be in order.

The bottom line? While your vet's just as concerned as you are about alleviating the immediate symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea (and stabilizing your pup's condition), they're also super focused on figuring out the underlying causes.

That way, they can help you prevent future episodes and make sure your dog's not dealing with an untreated underlying health condition.

Prevention strategies

A person holds a stainless steel bowl full of dog food up to a yellow lab wearing a brown leather collar. The background is light and blurred.

Keeping your dog's stomach healthy is about more than just diet. Here are some preventive tips to help you avoid common pitfalls and keep your dog feeling their best!

Feeding a balanced diet

Feed your dog eats a balanced diet suitable for their age (puppies have different nutritional needs than senior dogs), health status, and activity level to prevent digestive problems. Just like humans, dogs can also suffer from allergies or intolerances to foods, which can upset their digestive system. Common culprits include beef, dairy, wheat, eggs, chicken, soy, and pork.

If you need to switch your pup's food, make sure you do it gradually. Most food bags will include information about transitioning your dog from one food to another, but if you're not sure, ask your vet. Your vet can also advise you on how to perform a dietary trial if allergies are suspected.

Avoiding table scraps and potential toxins

Keep your dog away from table scraps and potentially toxic foods like chocolate, grapes or raisins, and onions. This can be easier said than done, particularly if you have a countersurfer who knows you're cooking for a holiday party. In some cases, you might have to crate your pup or keep them gated in a separate safe room. (It's worth their potential protests for peace of mind.)

Monitoring your dog's environment and stress levels

Some pups are just a little more prone to anxiety. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to tummy troubles. But your dog's anxiety doesn't mean you need to resort to drastic measures.

For instance, if your once-only-child dog is having tummy trouble thanks to some new-kid stress, there are plenty of ways to help them get along with your child before you have to consider rehoming them. There are lots of strategies for addressing separation anxiety. And if your pup seems to get diarrhea every time your kid's friends come over, make sure they're not feeding them unsafe snacks, and maybe keep your pup in a separate calm space until the fun's over.

Regular veterinary check-ups

Navigating the signs of an upset stomach in your dog can be tough, but knowing the symptoms and potential causes can empower you as a pet owner. Remember, early intervention can prevent more serious complications. Always keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and physical health, and don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet if you're concerned!

And of course, in situations like these, dog insurance can help you take a load off (financially, at least). It's designed to reimburse you for your pup's accidents and illnesses*. Get your risk-free quote today!

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*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.