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Like a person, a dog can develop a sensitive stomach at any point in its life. This intolerance -- which differs from an allergy -- is most likely to manifest in the form of gastrointestinal symptoms, with loose stools and excessive gas. Below, veterinarians Amy Dicke and Katy Nelson weigh in on how to identify, feed and care for digestively-sensitive dogs versus caring for a dog with a food allergy.
Allergy or Intolerance?
An allergic dog’s immune system mistakes a substance (say, a protein) for a damaging invader, and then produces antibodies to attack the invading material, causing the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Food allergies most often emerge very differently than food sensitivity, with the primary symptoms of the former being itching and skin problems rather than GI distress. Food allergies account for approximately 10 percent of canine allergies, and are the third most common after fleabites and inhalants. According to Dicke, who is a technical services veterinarian for Iams, dogs that develop signs of allergic skin disease for the first time at less than 6 months or greater than 6 years of age are more likely to have true food allergy.
In contrast to allergies, food intolerances more often result in diarrhea and vomiting. Not a lot is known about what causes this, but food intolerances may develop because of an enzyme deficiency. Think of lactose intolerance in which adult humans do not produce the enzyme that helps to digest milk. Food intolerance may appear, as Nelson explains, because the body is suddenly not able to process the protein or carbohydrate source. It’s “a fancy way of saying no one can explain it,” she adds.
The most thorough approach to determining whether your pet is sensitive to a particular ingredient is to eliminate it from your dog’s diet for six weeks, and then phase it back in to see if the symptoms return, says Nelson. During the six-week detox period, substitute a sensitive stomach formula, ideally one that contains a novel protein like fish, an uncommon ingredient in commercial foods and one your dog has probably never tasted before. If a pet responds well to the new formula, many owners skip step two: reinstating the old protein source to see if the symptoms come back.
Selecting a Food
A quality sensitive stomach formula should have either fish or chicken (a bland protein) listed as its first ingredient. Other beneficial ingredients include:
- Fructooligosacchararide (FOS). FOS feeds the good bacteria in the gut that help prevent the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or other signs of GI distress, says Nelson.
- Omega fatty acids. Pets with or without sensitive stomachs can benefit from a switch to a higher quality food in general. Important components are these acids, which can help to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy.
- Antioxidants. High levels of antioxidants like vitamin E, from fruits and vegetables including carrots, tomatoes, apples and spinach, help keep the immune system functioning at its highest possible level.
More than just diet impacts your dog’s stomach. Both Dicke and Nelson emphasize that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and limiting stress will contribute to your dog’s GI well being. Follow these, and the other instructions, and your dog’s stomach should be manageable in no time.
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