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Digestive Problems in Cats and Dogs

While cats and dogs are very different animals, they both experience digestive problems just like us humans. Whether they ingest a virus, or eat something that they shouldn't, the resulting effects on their digestive system can be disastrous. 

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

Just like in humans, you can figure out when your dog or cat is feeling unwell based on these symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite, weight loss, or mood changes
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or abnormal stool
  • Bloating or excessive gas

Common causes of digestive problems

1. Food doesn't sit well for your pet

Just like in humans, food quality is imperative for your pet’s health. Cheap food 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. Try mixing some wet food or food toppers into your pet’s dry food each meal.

Dogs in the Kitchen Grain-Free Pooch Pouch Party! Variety Pack Wet Dog Food Pouches
Weruva
Dogs in the Kitchen Grain-Free Pooch Pouch Party! Variety Pack Wet Dog Food Pouches
$18.99

Cats in the Kitchen Grain-Free Kitchen Cuties Variety Pack Canned Cat Food
Weruva
Cats in the Kitchen Grain-Free Kitchen Cuties Variety Pack Canned Cat Food
$44.99

Just like people, cats and dogs can have food allergies or sensitivities. Try different brands until you find one that sits well with your pet. If your pet has a sensitive stomach, ask your vet for recommendations.

2. Portion size is too large

Feed your pet appropriate portion sizes 2-4 times per day (depending on your pet). Eating too much food can contribute to digestive upset. You might find that the recommended food portion on the bag is actually too large for your pet, especially if they are inactive or older. Reduce the portion and monitor your pet's weight to determine the best serving size.


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

Pets need access to fresh water throughout the day, just like we do. 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 wet 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. We have a couple of favorite fountains for our pets in this article about pet water fountains.

Drinkwell 360 Stainless Steel Pet Fountain
PetSafe
Drinkwell 360 Stainless Steel Pet Fountain
$69.95

4. Being fed table scraps, dairy, or eating something they shouldn't

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. This includes cats!

Perhaps you're good about not feeding your pets human food, but they've found something else to eat anyway. Many of us have had a pet get sick from eating something they shouldn’t at some point or another. If you suspect your pet has swallowed something poisonous or something they won't be able to pass, call your vet or 24-hour animal hospital immediately.

5. Contaminated pet food

Occasionally, pet food brands can have issues with contamination, usually by bacteria. You can call the food company to check if there has been a recall. But, if your pet is having symptoms and you suspect contaminated food, call your vet to make sure they get the medical care that they need.


6. Playing or exercising right after eating

Just like the old saying about waiting to swim after you eat, you should also wait to have play or exercise time with your pet after they eat. By waiting an hour, you'll be sure that their food has safely begun digesting, and you can avoid any accidents.

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. To prevent these issues, be sure to stay up to date on your pet's vaccinations, and prevent them from drinking natural sources of water, like in puddles, ponds, or streams. 

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, as evidenced by lethargy, delirium, trembling, or other mood changes
  • Excessive panting or shaking, muscle tremors, or seizures
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea lasting more than a few hours, or dry heaving
  • Inability to keep water down, excessive drinking, or excessive drooling

Remedies for digestive upset in dogs and cats

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. 

Pumpkin Digestive Canned Supplement for Dogs and Cats
Fruitables
Pumpkin Digestive Canned Supplement for Dogs and Cats
$47.88

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!