Dog, cat and rice. Bland gastrointestinal diets in dogs and cats.

Gastrointestinal diets for dogs and cats

Diarrhoea and/or vomiting are common in both dogs and cats. The problem usually occurs suddenly. An upset tummy in your dog or cat 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!

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What is gastrointestinal food?

For optimal healing of the intestinal tract, food is required to be physically present within the intestine itself to give nutrients to the intestinal cells and help with the healing process. For this reason, it is no longer recommended that animals with digestive upsets are starved. Historically, starving a dog or cat with a stomach 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, for example Royal Canin gastrointestinal.

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 fiber and prebiotics 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. However, if you do not have a prescription diet to hand you can also prepare gastrointestinal homemade dog food (see below).

When to feed gastrointestinal food?

If your dog or cat is bright and well in themselves 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 your pet is unwell or you are unsure about their 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 homemade dog food is simple. A good source of high quality protein and carbohydrates are needed. Suitable protein sources include: cooked chicken fillet, white fish (no bones), 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, but a general rule of thumb is the same volume as their normal diet split into multiple smaller meals. 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 over the course of 4-5 days, as a sudden change in diet can risk a 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

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

Symptoms of an upset tummy in your dog or cat can include vomiting, which can have different appearances, including vomit which appears; white, foamy, yellow (bile containing) and sometimes your dog or cat may just bring up undigested food. Some individuals may just vomit once, other dogs or cats may keep being sick many times, and these cases may require veterinary attention. Though appearance can vary, it doesn’t necessarily tell us what the initial cause of the vomiting was. Nausea associated with vomiting may cause loss of appetite in your dog or cat and they may not eat as well as usual. Diarrhoea can range from mildly soft stools, to watery diarrhoea in large quantities sometimes containing blood or mucus.

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.

Further reading

Vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs and cats

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