DIY Choosing the Best Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs

Dog foods formulated for sensitive stomachs play a major role in maintaining the health and comfort of our canine companions. As responsible pet owners, we want to provide our dogs with high-quality nutrition that agrees with their individual digestive needs. 

Understanding Digestive Sensitivities in Dogs

Before diving into specific food recommendations, it’s helpful to understand what can cause stomach issues in dogs and the clinical signs of intolerance. A sensitive stomach often stems from one or more underlying medical conditions:

Food Allergies

Common food allergens that can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract include beef, dairy, chicken, eggs, fish, wheat, corn, and soy. As with humans, food allergies trigger an inflammatory immune response in dogs.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

This occurs when the pancreas produces inadequate enzymes to break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates during digestion. Undigested food particles then cause inflammation and discomfort.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Dogs with IBD have chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract due to autoimmune or genetic factors. Symptoms parallel Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis in people.

Gastrointestinal Parasites

Worms like roundworms, hookworms and whipworms live in the intestinal tract and can damage the lining. This facilitates other infections and leads to malabsorption issues.

Dietary Intolerances

While not true allergies, some dogs may be intolerant to specific carbohydrates like corn, wheat, or soy that are poorly digested. This causes loose stools, gas, and bloating.

The most common signs of an upset tummy include vomiting, diarrhea, soft or loose stools, abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence. Dogs with more severe GI diseases tend to exhibit weight loss, poor appetite, and lethargy as the condition progresses.

Ingredients to Avoid or Limit

When formulating special diets, manufacturers strategically select high-quality proteins and carbohydrate sources that are gentle on canine digestion. The following ingredients are commonly associated with digestive upset:

Wheat, Corn, and Soy

These low-cost grains and legumes are fillers that some dogs simply cannot tolerate well. They lack certain nutrients, too, unlike meat-based proteins.


As carnivores, dogs do not possess significant lactase enzymes to break down lactose in milk. Dairy can cause gas, bloating, and soft stools.

Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives

Red dyes #40 and #3, BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin may worsen food allergies or sensitivities in pets predisposed to them.

Fat Content

High-fat diets stress the pancreas and lead to excess gas in dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or IBD. A balanced fat ratio is preferable.

Grains in General

While some dogs handle oats, barley, or rice without issue, removing grains altogether simplifies the diet for those with multiple food triggers.

Keeping these common irritants low or absent from commercial foods can make a noticeable difference in symptoms for dogs with tummy troubles. Veterinarians may also recommend hydrolyzed protein diets as a novel source.

Hydrolyzed Protein Diets

Hydrolyzed protein diaries contain proteins that have been pre-broken down into smaller peptide fragments through an enzymatic process. This improves digestibility and makes the proteins virtually hypoallergenic. Some of the top hydrolyzed protein dog foods are:

Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d Ultra Allergen-Free

Made with hydrolyzed soy and chicken, z/d provides complete nutrition while avoiding common food allergens. Its simple formulation supports the healing of the intestinal lining.

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein

This dry kibble contains hydrolyzed fish and egg proteins along with prebiotics for balanced digestion. It addresses food intolerances, IBD, and GI issues associated with stress.

Purina HA Hydrolyzed

Formulated for dogs and cats, this canned food is convenient and palatable. The premium proteins undergo extensive hydrolysis to remove allergenic properties.

Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d

For dogs requiring intestinal support, i/d contains easily digested hydrolyzed casein for gentle nutrition. It manages symptoms of IBD, colitis, and food sensitivities.

The hydrolysis process breaks protein chains into amino acids and dipeptides, bypassing the allergic response. These prescription diets solve multiple digestive issues at once through novel protein sources and specialized formulations.

Limited Ingredient Diets

An alternative to hydrolyzed proteins is limited ingredient diets (LID), which strictly limit the formula to a single novel carbohydrate and protein. This isolates any dietary triggers that may be causing GI upset. Top LID options include:

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Sensitivity Control

With a sole protein of duck and a single carb of potato, this hypoallergenic kibble targets food sensitivities, digestive issues, and skin problems.

Hill’s Science Diet Sensitive Stomach & Skin

Made from a single novel protein (salmon) and carb (potato), this dry food supports skin and coat health through calming digestion.

Purina Pro Plan sensitive skin & stomach

This salmon and potato recipe contains prebiotic fiber to aid bowel regularity. The limited ingredients make it ideal for food trial diets.

Iams Perfect Weight Smart Puppy

For growing pups, Iams uses a limited protein (chicken) and carb (rice/oat) mix to gently support their developing GI systems.

The advantage of LIDs lies in their purity—by isolating one protein and carb source, owners can more easily identify any dietary triggers if symptoms persist. They simplify the diagnosis of underlying food allergies or intolerances.

Grain-Free Options

Going completely grain-free avoids wheat, corn, and soy fillers that irritate some canine stomachs. Notable grain-free choices centered on animal proteins include:

Horizon Legacy

With high-quality proteins like chicken, lamb, salmon, and eggs, this kibble relies on nutrient-dense veggies and delivers balanced nutrition.

Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream

Containing trout, salmon, chicken meal, and sweet potatoes, this diet nourishes with a single protein and carb source but in dry form.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness

This dry food comes in recipes highlighting protein-rich ingredients like chicken, salmon, or duck paired with potatoes or peas/lentils.

Merrick Backcountry

Made with buffalo, lamb, salmon, or other meat-based proteins alongside pumpkin, berries, or other wholesome carbs, it caters to carnivore needs.

Going grain-free doesn’t automatically suit every dog but removes the top food triggers for many. Choose fish- or meat-focused recipes with nutrient-rich carbohydrate alternatives in place of fillers.

Raw Diets

For extremely sensitive dogs failing other options, an ideally balanced fresh food or commercially prepared raw diet may provide the simplest form of nutrition. Raw feeding supporters cite numerous benefits:

  • Closely mimics a dog’s natural carnivore digestive anatomy and enzymes
  • Food is in its most bioavailable, easy-to-digest form
  • Heating during kibble processing destroys nutrients like Vitamin C
  • Reduces risks of food allergies and intolerances from novel ingredients
  • Supports dental health through consumption of raw meaty bones

However, raw diets require careful planning under veterinary guidance to avoid nutritional deficiencies or health risks from pathogens. Quality commercial raw options include:

  • Primal Frozen Raw Frozen Nuggets (beef, chicken, or lamb)
  • Steve’s Real Food Frozen Raw (various protein recipes)
  • The Honest Kitchen Dehydrated Raw (preserved powders/mixes)
  • Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw (frozen patties/nuggets)

A homemade raw diet prepared with raw meat, bones, organs and vegetables provides the most nutritious whole food option when balanced properly. But it’s not for every pet parent or budget.

Supplementing the Diet

In addition to carefully selecting the main diet, certain supplements help promote gastrointestinal health and manage sensitive stomach symptoms:

  • Probiotics like Fortiflora restore beneficial gut flora and control dysbiosis.
  • Prebiotics like yogurt provide fermentable fiber for probiotic bacteria to feed on.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or krill oil reduce intestinal inflammation.
  • Digestive enzymes aid in breaking down proteins, carbs, and fats during digestion.
  • Slippery elm or marshmallow root acts as soothing demulcents for the intestinal lining.
  • L-glutamine supports GI cell regeneration and the integrity of the gut barrier.
  • Zinc & vitamin B12 deficiencies commonly occur with GI issues and malabsorption.

Consistent use of targeted supplements helps support dietary and lifestyle management of gastrointestinal health. Speak to your veterinarian about the best supplementary plan tailored to your dog’s individual needs. With diligent monitoring and multi-pronged care, sensitive stomach symptoms can often be minimized or resolved.

Making the Transition Gradually

Abruptly switching to a novel protein diet risks provoking further GI upset due to changes in gut bacteria and enzyme levels. Introducing new ingredients slowly over 5-7 days allows easier adjustment:

  • For the first 24 hours, feed 75% of the original diet and 25% of the new food.
  • Days 2-3, 50-50 mix of each.
  • Days 4-5, 25% original and 75% new.
  • Day 6 onwards, 100% new diet as tolerated.

Going even more gradually by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of the new kibble per meal for a few days first is advisable if symptoms are severe. Monitor for signs of intolerance like vomiting. Adjust proportions at your pet’s individual pace.

Consistency is also key when trying different foods. Stick to the same diet for at least 4-6 weeks before deciding if it’s truly unsuccessful to allow time for the GI tract to adapt. Mixing various proteins hinders the accurate diagnosis of troublesome ingredients.

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