Gastrointestinal Diets for Dogs and Cats
Diarrhea and vomiting are common in both dogs and cats. These problems often occur suddenly. Sometimes gastrointestinal upset can be treated at home with the help of dietary management, as long as your pet is otherwise bright and well hydrated. In this article, you can read more about what gastrointestinal food is, when it should be given, how to make your own, and when it’s time to see a vet!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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If your dog or cat is having vomiting or diarrhea but is otherwise well, you can often start by scheduling a video call with a vet for an initial consult. 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 your pet needs additional medical care, the vet will recommend a visit to a clinic for a physical exam, further diagnostics, and treatment.
What is Gastrointestinal Food?
The purpose of a gastrointestinal (GI) diet is to help the intestine get back to normal as quickly as possible. These diets are highly digestible and specially formulated for this purpose. Prescription GI diets are available from your vet. However, you can also make GI food at home.
Ready-made GI food contains highly digestible ingredients to make it easy for the intestine to absorb. They contain increased electrolytes and fatty acids, as well as dietary fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics that promote a normal intestinal flora and intestinal mucosal function. These diets also protect the intestine and help 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. That way, you know all of your pet’s nutritional needs will be met.
When to Feed a Gastrointestinal Diet
If your dog or cat is bright, alert, and behaving normally, many cases of vomiting/diarrhea can be helped by providing GI food for a few days, until the pet has fully returned to normal. However, if you’re unsure about your pet’s general condition, please contact a veterinarian. The vet can help you determine whether it’s appropriate to start feeding a GI diet at home, or if your pet needs additional medical care.
How to Make Your Own Gastrointestinal Diet
Making your own GI food at home is simple. A good source of high-quality protein and carbohydrates are needed.
Suitable protein sources include:
- cooked chicken breast
- white fish
Carbohydrate options include:
- boiled white rice
- cooked pasta
Cool and serve each carbohydrate option in small portions. The liquid from the rice cooker can be included in the food to add extra fluid intake for your pet. Always store cooked rice in the fridge. Try not to cook more than what is needed in one day so that it remains fresh and palatable (tasty) for your pet.
To start, feed ⅓ protein to ⅔ carbohydrates in small meals. We recommend feeding 3-5 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 1 cup. Consult a vet about how much of the GI diet 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’s important to make this change back slowly, to minimize the risk of stomach upset occurring again.
When to Seek Veterinary Advice
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
- Decreased appetite, refusing food, or not drinking water
- Vomited several times in one hour
- Cannot keep down food or water
- Have swallowed something that could cause an intestinal blockage
- Stomachache 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, kittens, and old pets. Just like humans, they can get worse more quickly than adult pets.
If your pet has had chronic or recurring problems with vomiting and/or diarrhea, it’s a good idea to contact a vet, even if they seem to be fine otherwise.
Book a video appointment to speak with one of our vets.