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Gastrointestinal diets for dogs and cats

Diarrhoea and/or vomiting are common in both dogs and cats. The problem usually occurs suddenly. It can often be treated at home with the help of dietary management, as long as your dog or cat is otherwise bright and well hydrated. Here you can read more about what gastrointestinal food is, when it should be given, how to make your own and when it is time to see a vet!

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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If your pet is otherwise well, you can often start by booking a video call with a vet for an initial assessment. The vet will ask you questions about your pet, review their clinical signs, examine your pet with you, and provide advice about how to proceed. If the animal is in need of additional clinical care, the vet will recommend a visit to a clinic for a physical examination, further investigation and treatment.


What is gastrointestinal food?

For optimal healing of the intestinal tract, food is required to be physically present within the intestine itself. For this reason, it is no longer recommended that animals with digestive upsets are starved. Historically, starving a pet with a digestive upset was believed to allow the intestine time to recover.

The aim of a gastrointestinal diet is to help the intestine to get back to normal as quickly as possible. The diet is highly digestible and specially formulated for this purpose. Prescription gastrointestinal diets are available from your vet. However, you can also prepare gastrointestinal food at home.

Ready-made gastrointestinal food contains highly digestible ingredients to make it easy for the intestine to absorb. It contains increased electrolytes and fatty acids, as well as dietary fibre, prebiotics and probiotics that promote a normal intestinal flora and intestinal mucosal function. It also protects the intestine and helps to restore normal bowel movements.

If your dog or cat is going to need a gastrointestinal diet for a prolonged time, a prescription diet from your vet is recommended. In this way, you know that all of your pet’s nutritional needs will be met.


When to feed gastrointestinal food?

If your dog or cat is bright and well in itself otherwise, and behaving normally, many cases will be helped by providing gastrointestinal food for a few days, until the pet has fully returned to normal. However, if you are unsure about your pet’s general condition, it is useful to get advice from a vet. The vet can then assess whether it is appropriate to start by feeding a gastrointestinal diet at home, or if your pet needs additional clinical care.


How to make your own gastrointestinal food?

Making your own gastrointestinal food at home is simple. A good source of high quality protein and carbohydrates are needed. Suitable protein sources include: cooked chicken fillet, white fish, turkey or egg. Carbohydrate options include: boiled white rice or pasta, which you can cook, cool and serve in small portions. The liquid from the rice cooker can be included in the food as it adds extra fluid intake for the animal. Always store cooked rice in the fridge. Do not cook more than what is needed in one day so that it remains fresh and palatable for your pet.

To start, feed ⅓ protein to ⅔ carbohydrates in small meals little and often, so as to make digestion easier for the intestine. We recommend feeding 6-8 small meals evenly distributed throughout the day. The size of the portions depends on the size of the animal; it may vary from 1 teaspoon up to 100 grams. Consult a vet about how much gastrointestinal food is right for your pet. As your pet recovers, their meals can gradually become larger and less frequent.

When your cat or dog has completely returned to normal for a few days, you can gradually move them back to their original food. It is important to make this change back slowly, as there is a risk of stomach upset again.


When to seek veterinary advice?

There are really no set rules about when to contact a vet but here are some things to look out for in dogs and cats as a guide to seeking further help:

  • Blood in the vomit or stool
  • Dull or lethargic
  • Dehydrated
  • Inappetent, anorexic or not drinking
  • Vomited several times in one hour
  • Cannot keep down food or water
  • Have swallowed something that could cause an intestinal blockage
  • Stomach ache or abdominal discomfort
  • Bloated stomach or abdomen
  • No improvement despite feeding a gastrointestinal diet for 3-4 days
  • If you have any other concerns or questions about your pet

Please note: seek help earlier for puppies, young and old pets, as they, just like humans, can get worse more quickly than adult pets.

If your pet has had chronic or recurring problems with vomiting and/or diarrhoea, it is a good idea to contact a vet, even if they seem to be fine otherwise.

Read more: Vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs and cats


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