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Digestive Problems in Cats and Dogs

Posted by Leah Laucher on

While cats and dogs are very different animals, they both experience digestive problems that have similar causes and symptoms, such as a virus, eating something they shouldn’t, or being fed a poor-quality diet.

Because pets are often resistant to receiving treatment, digestive upsets can be an unpleasant experience for both you and your pet. It’s easy to feel helpless when your beloved pet is vomiting or seems to be in pain.

One of the best things you can do as a caring pet owner is keep a close eye on your pet to watch for signs that he or she may need medical attention.

Symptoms of digestive upset in cats and dogs

  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Abnormal stool
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability

Common causes of digestive problems

1. Being fed a diet (or portion-size) that isn't optimal for your pet

Many pet owners have the misconception that animals are perfectly fine eating a diet consisting only of dry food -- or poor-quality food. Just like in humans, food quality is imperative for your pet’s health. Cheap food that’s poor quality can directly cause digestive upset as well as early health issues. Ask your vet for healthy food recommendations, or visit a pet health food store.

A diet consisting of only dry food can also cause digestive upset and early health issues. Can you imagine eating only dried, crunchy food every day for the rest of your life? No, right? Well, it’s not that enjoyable for animals either, and it’s 

not good for them in the long run. If you can’t feed your pet primarily wet canned/packaged food, try mixing some wet food into your pet’s dry food each meal.

Also just like people, cats and dogs can have food allergies or sensitivities. Try different brands until you find one (or more) that sits well with your pet. If your pet has a sensitive stomach, ask your vet for a good recommendation of a food brand that’s specially formulated for GI problems.

Feed your pet appropriate portion sizes 2-4 times per day (depending on your pet). Eating too much food can contribute to digestive upset.

Black Lab Red Room

2. Not having access to fresh, clean water at all times

Pets need access to fresh water throughout the day, just like we do, particularly if your pet is fed primarily dry food. Cats and dogs are genetically used to eating animals, which are typically made up of 70%-80% water, so they will struggle with chronic dehydration when fed a diet that’s partially or fully dried food. 

Even if you feed your pet entirely canned food, never skimp on daily fresh water!

A good way to entice pets to drink is by putting their water in an appealing water fountain that keeps the water moving.

See a couple of the water fountains that Pets On Broadway carries below!

3. Being fed table scraps or dairy

Table scraps and dairy can cause or contribute to your pet’s digestive problems. Their systems are not able to handle many of the foods we eat, especially when they are high in additives, fats, or spices. Avoid feeding your pets dairy, especially milk or cream, as it affects them similarly to a person who is lactose-intolerant.

4. Eating something they shouldn’t in or out of the house

Many of us have had a pet get sick from eating something they shouldn’t at some point or another. Sometimes curiosity gets the best of them, and unfortunately, some of things they get into can cause a fatal reaction, especially if it’s poison or a foreign object that gets stuck. If you suspect it could be either of these, call your vet or 24-hour animal hospital immediately.

5. Contaminated pet food

Sadly, many of the food brands we choose to trust and feed to our pets can have issues with contamination, usually by bacteria. You can call the food company to check if there has been a recall, but the only way to really tell between something like a bacterial infection and a cold virus is to take your pet to the vet for testing right away.

Cat Kibble

6. Playing or exercising right after eating

This one’s simple. Wait at least an hour after eating to have play or exercise time.

7. Viruses or parasites

Like people, dogs and cats can get a virus like the stomach flu and exhibit symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. They can also acquire parasites by drinking dirty water or eating something outside. Your vet can run a test that will quickly find out if this is the cause of your pet’s digestive issues.

8. Illness, disease, or digestive disorders

Pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), gastritis, colitis, ulcers, and many more conditions could be the cause of your pet’s digestive problems. Your pet will need to undergo testing by your veterinarian to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.  

When to go to the vet

If your pet’s digestive upset lasts longer than a day or two and seems to cause your pet pain and distress, it could be something serious -- like food poisoning or a blockage that can cause death -- and you should take your pet to see the vet right away.

The following are extreme symptoms that would constitute an emergency visit to the vet:

  • Blood in your pet’s stool or vomit
  • Severe pain
  • Excessive panting or shaking, muscle tremors, or seizures
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea lasting more than a few hours
  • Vomiting but nothing is coming out (dry heaving)
  • Inability to keep water down or excessive drinking of water
  • Lethargy or delirium
  • Excessive drooling

Drowsy Black Lab Puppy


On the other hand, if the digestive problem is temporary and doesn’t seem to cause your pet much discomfort, you can try a few things at home and see if they’ll make a difference.

If your pet’s stomach is upset, don’t encourage it to eat. Instead, remove the food and wait several hours before feeding again. This will help an irritated digestive tract calm down a bit. Offer plenty of fresh water, and when your pet feels well enough to start eating again, gradually increase the amount of food given over a period of three days.

Unless you have used pesticides, fertilizers, or poison on your grass, it’s okay to let your pet eat a little. Cats and dogs instinctively eat grass when they have an upset stomach. If you don’t have grass accessible, pick up some wheat grass at the pet store.

For dogs, pumpkin puree can help calm digestive upset. Try offering it in little bits or mixing it into their food.

See a couple of the pumpkin purees Pets On Broadway carries below!


Your pet may benefit from taking supplements that contain glutamine, fiber, probiotics or enzymes, but check with your vet first. Probiotics can help populate the gut with beneficial bacteria, but be sure to only use a reputable formula for your kind of pet. Never give your pet probiotics while it’s on antibiotics! And never give your pet yogurt since pets don’t tolerate dairy well.

See a couple of the probiotic supplements Pets On Broadway carries below!

It’s difficult to see our beloved pets in pain or distress, no matter the physical issue. As a general rule, the longer it takes for a serious ailment to receive treatment, the more critical your pet’s condition will become -- and the more expensive to treat! If you notice your pet is exhibiting any serious symptoms for longer than a day, play it safe and take your pet to the vet!