Dealing with belly aches
Belly upset is a very common ailment for our dogs. Especially folks like us, who like to travel, camp, hike etc- where we are constantly on the move and exposing our dogs to new places, things, and smells. The car ride alone can make them feel a little nauseated. Sometimes this will lead to an oh so common complaint that is… “my dog doesn’t eat or drink as well on road trips.” If you would like further explanation as to why this could be check out last week’s post.
And know that you aren’t alone my friend. Here we share some basic concepts to help combat this and get your dog back up and running. In this post we provide three simple ideas to help get your dog eating, drinking, and back to his normal self. We have all felt nauseated… and, well, that feeling just plain sucks. We do not want our pups feeling under the weather! Here we share ways to help them along by feeding bland diets, feeding smaller and more frequent meals vs fasting, and keeping them hydrated.
Feeding palatable yet bland diets while your doggo is belly aching is a good way to calm his stomach and get him back on track. The tricky part is this is going to look different for every dog. Remember us talking about knowing what is normal for your dog and the importance of awareness and a physical exam? Taking inventory on what helps settle your dog’s stomach is very important before long road trips. For example, I know Walter LOVES canned Science Diet I/D. Any time he has had stomach issues this is his go-to. Also, it is specially formulated for gastrointestinal health, so I do not have to worry about it upsetting his stomach further. They do make it in a dry formula as well. – Just note… that this is a prescription formula so if you would like to try it for your dog make sure you ask your veterinarian!
If getting a prescription food to offer your dog on road trips isn’t feasible you can also try different bland human foods such as plain boiled chicken and rice (no seasoning), lean ground beef, sweet potatoes, cottage cheese, etc. I just strongly recommend trying this diet at home first before trying it out on a road trip- because each individual dog can react differently to different foods. So now you know what you can feed your dog to calm his stomach…. but make sure you don’t over load him at one sitting. Let’s talk about our next solution which is feeding small frequent meals vs fasting.
When your dog isn’t quite eating or drinking normal make sure you break it up into small and frequent meals. Sometimes overloading them with food when they are feeling nauseated creates further food aversion or distaste. Offering them 1/8-1/4 of what you would normally feed and spreading that over several meals at even intervals is a really good way to get their belly to settle. The other good thing we are doing here by breaking up meals is reducing the potential for stomach acid buildup which can cause reflux and inflammation of the stomach. Too much acid buildup when our dogs are not eating and drinking can perpetuate the cycle of nausea and compound symptoms.
On the flip side of this, if your dog has begun vomiting or is getting car sick, you might want to consider a short fasting period. I know this sounds counter intuitive after discussing acid buildup- but there are different types of nausea. If a dog has food in his stomach to potentially vomit and he is feeling nauseated, more often than not the cycle of nausea and not eating will continue. Really it depends on the dog and the scenario. And this is another plug to know your own dog well and know what is typical for him. For my dog Walter, he generally feels more nauseated when he goes for long periods of time without eating. Other dogs do better with a fast. It just depends on the dog, which takes us to the next topic which is keeping them hydrated through this whole process.
If our dogs aren’t eating and aren’t drinking you might begin to worry about hydration status. A really easy and obvious way to keep an eye on this is quite simple- simply measure the amount they are drinking and keep tabs on it through the day. If you are traveling, chances are you are giving your dog water from a Nalgene or a jug- keep note of water you waste vs water drank and write it down. Tally it up at the end of the day and you will have a rough idea of how much water your dog has drank. A few more tips- have a specific dog only Nalgene or jug so you know the amount Is accurate. This is obviously much easier when you have only one dog- but if one dog has a belly ache you might consider feeding and watering them separately, so you have a better idea on how much they are consuming. Another good tip- the travel bowls I carry for Walter are collapsible and, on the insides of the bowl there are lines that note the amount of liquid by fluid ounces.
If your dog isn’t drinking as much there are a couple good ways to ensure he or she stays hydrated. The easiest way for us is simply to feed a wet food. Wet food has a very high-water content, in fact- Walter constantly has to go out and pee when he is on a wet food. If your dog doesn’t like wet food this can be combated by adding low sodium chicken broth to his or her kibble. Also, similar to feeding bland food, try and offer small and frequent amounts of water so that you do not overload him or her all at once. This can increase chances of regurgitation or vomiting water. Finally, worst case scenario- if your dog absolutely refuses to drink you may take an oral syringe and syringe small amounts of water into the side of his cheek every 30 minutes until drinking on his own. If your dog gets to this point and is feeling that nauseated, I would caution you and consider seeking veterinary care at this point.
So, if you have found yourself 5 hours into a road trip and your pup isn’t quite feeling his kibble and not lapping up that water like he normally does… know you aren’t alone. Gastrointestinal upset is so common, and it can stem from a little bit of nerves, anxiety, motion sickness, and the excitement of exploring new places. Be sure to first try the concepts outlined above – bland diet- small and frequent meals vs fasting- and keep them hydrated. All the while realizing that the important concepts here are to monitor closely and keep an eye on him or her to make sure the symptoms do not progress. Also, while I want you to be aware, take note of changes or progression, and keep a close eye… do not let a little belly upset ruin your trip. Realize that MOST cases of GI upset will resolve on their own with some supportive nursing care.
Our dogs feed off of our worry and anxiety more than we know! So yes. It might seem far-fetched but know that stressing about your dog’s reduced appetite and drinking less can actually feed his anxiety and make his symptoms worse!! Keep tabs and use good judgement and don’t let it ruin your day. And certainly, do not let it keep you from exploring more!!!
And until next time, get out and explore more with your pup.
Libbie Fort, DVM