Best Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs and Digestive Issues

October 3, 2023
Dr. Amanda Chambers, DMV
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In This Article:

Key Takeaways:

1. If your dog is having digestive or skin issues that may be related to their diet, consider a trial with a limited ingredient, grain-free or hydrolyzed protein diet.

2. A gradual transition period is recommended for dogs when making any change to their diet.

3. If your dog is experiencing frequent symptoms that could be related to a diet sensitivity, such as vomiting or diarrhea, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to rule out medical conditions that can also cause these symptoms.

Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs and Digestive Issues

Dogs are known for their hearty appetites and enthusiastic eating habits. However, for some dogs, mealtime can be a distressing experience if they have a sensitive stomach. These sensitivities can lead to digestive issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, and flatulence. In this article, we will explore dog food options designed specifically for dogs with sensitive stomachs, giving you the best chance to limit or eliminate digestive issues in your pup.

We will also delve into the most common causes of a sensitive stomach in dogs, as well as tips to follow when introducing either a new brand of food or a new type of food from the same brand. We understand the worry and frustration that comes with witnessing our animal friends struggle with gastrointestinal issues which is why we have researched and compiled a list of the gentlest ingredients for dogs with sensitive stomachs. From grain-free options to limited ingredient formulas, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to help dog owners make an informed decision when it comes to selecting the right dry dog food for their beloved pets.

Understanding the Canine Digestive System

Before exploring the best dog food options for animals with sensitive stomachs, it's important to understand the anatomy of a dog's digestive system. Dogs have a relatively short digestive tract, which means their food is processed quickly. While this trait is convenient in some ways, it can also make them more susceptible to digestive issues. (3)

The most common digestive issues in dogs include general stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and, while rare, even skin issues due to food allergies. These issues can cause discomfort and affect a dog’s digestive health and overall well-being.

All dogs are unique and there is no one-size-fits-all “best” option for treating digestive issues, but there are several best practices that can help mitigate their discomfort.

Identifying Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs

Clinical signs of a sensitive stomach in dogs can vary, but may include: (1)

  • vomiting 
  • diarrhea
  • excessive (loud or foul-smelling) gas
  • bloating 
  • changes in mood, behavior, or activity level
  • excessive salivation
  • frequent swallowing
  • poor appetite
  • skin rashes or itching

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it's important to consult with a veterinarian for proper examination and diagnosis. A veterinarian will be able to determine whether your dog's digestive issues are due to a sensitive stomach or if there is an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed. Consulting with an animal nutritionist could also help understand if the issue could be rooted in the particular food you’re feeding rather than with your dog.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Dog Food

Choosing the right dog food is very important for dogs with sensitive stomachs. It's essential to meet their specific nutritional requirements while avoiding common allergens and irritants that can trigger digestive issues. When a dog continuously eats a diet that upsets his or her stomach, the frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea tends to rob the animal of essential nutrients. 

You may notice that if your dog’s digestive issues persist, he or she may appear lethargic or generally unwell. Their coat may look and feel coarse, dry, or brittle, and they may lose weight. These are all common signs of malnutrition.

To combat this, an owner may consider looking for dog food brands that offer limited ingredient formulas or are free of low-quality, processed grains. Grain-free or single-source protein options are often easier for dogs with sensitive stomachs to digest and can help alleviate their digestive troubles. Grain-free diets should only be fed long-term if a relief of digestive or dermatologic symptoms is observed on such a diet. If you feel your dog’s symptoms improve on a grain-free diet, it is recommended to talk to your veterinarian about finding the optimal grain-free long-term diet for your pet.

Top Dog Food Characteristics for Sensitive Stomachs

When it comes to selecting the best dog food for dogs with sensitive stomachs, there are several ingredient options to consider: (2)

  • As mentioned above, a single source of protein, such as salmon, duck, venison etc or even a hydrolyzed protein if your pet has multiple food allergies.
  • High-quality grains rather than standard wheat; opting for food with barley, oats, brown rice, etc. is a safer alternative
  • Vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, and beets
  • Fruits like blueberries and cranberries
  • Vitamins and minerals, or good sources of these, like flaxseed, alfalfa, iron, vitamin C, and numerous B vitamins

Ingredients to Avoid

If you’re shopping for dog food labeled for sensitive stomachs, this specially-formulated food will not likely contain ingredients that could worsen your dog’s stomach issues, but it’s good to know what to look out for. Avoid these ingredients:

  • Corn, Soy, and Wheat (common “Filler” ingredients)
  • Dairy products
  • Preservatives
  • Some by-products

It’s also worth mentioning that while these ingredients aren’t always the cause of stomach issues, some of the most common culprits that exacerbate digestive upset and skin issues can include proteins like beef and chicken (particularly if low quality) as well as dairy and wheat.

Tips for Transitioning to a New Dog Food

Transitioning your dog to a new dog food formula is important.Simply switching your dog’s food to another brand without slowly tapering them off of their current food can lead to further digestive upset. Unless instructed to do so by your dog’s veterinarian, you’ll want to slowly transition your dog to the new brand of food. Follow these steps for a smooth transition:

  1. Gradual Transition Approach: Start by mixing a small amount of the new dog food with the old food. Gradually increase the proportion of the new food while decreasing the proportion of the old food over the course of a week or two until your dog is only eating the new dog food. For example, consider using 25% new food to 75% old food for 3-5 days, then use 50% of each new and old food for 3-5 days, then use 75% new food to 25% old food for 3-5 days before switching to 100% new food.
  2. Monitoring Your Dog's Response: Keep a close eye on your dog during the transition period. Monitor their stool consistency, appetite, and overall well-being. It’s not uncommon for symptoms to worsen for a short time when the dog is getting used to the new diet, but this should not persist. If you notice any lasting negative changes, consult with your veterinarian for further guidance.

Other Considerations for Sensitive Stomachs

In addition to choosing the right type of dog food, there are other considerations to keep in mind when it comes to managing sensitive stomachs in dogs. Consider incorporating the following:

  • Supplements: Certain supplements, such as digestive enzymes or probiotics, can help support a healthy digestive system. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if any supplements would be beneficial for your dog. Avoid starting any new supplement plan until discussing the idea with your pet’s medical provider, as any quality or specialty dog foods (like those for sensitive stomachs) are supposed to be balanced, meaning that your pet should have all the nutrition they need from their food. While supplements can make a world of positive difference in some cases, too much of a vitamin or nutrient can be detrimental as well. (4)

  • Exercise and Stress Management: Just like humans, a dog can experience digestive issues due to stress and anxiety. Regular exercise and stress management techniques can help mitigate these issues and contribute to a healthy digestive system. Engage in activities that your dog enjoys and create a calm and stress-free environment to promote his or her overall well-being.

Dogs with sensitive stomachs deserve to enjoy their meals without any discomfort or digestive issues, and you as an owner deserve to feel good about what you are feeding your pet. By selecting the right brand and formulation of dog food and taking additional considerations into account, you can help alleviate your dog's digestive upsets. Remember to consult with your veterinarian for personalized advice and recommendations. With the right approach and a well-balanced diet, your canine friend can say goodbye to most, if not all digestive issues and enjoy a happy, healthy life.


  1. Stott, D. (2023a). Sensitive stomach in dogs. Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost.
  2. Slaughter-Cerven, T. (2022, September 14). Best Ingredients for Dogs with Sensitive Stomachs. Health Extension.
  3. Kerns, N. (2021). The canine digestion process. Whole Dog Journal.
  4. Weinfurter, M. (2023). 7 Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements For Dogs.

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