Soft, easy-to-digest foods will help your precious pooch feel better.

By Debra Steilen
August 24, 2020
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Urp. URP. URP! Most pet parents know the sound of a dog vomiting. You’ve been to that particular rodeo. If your dog has an upset stomach, you want to help him feel better fast—for his benefit and the benefit of your carpet. That often means feeding him a bland diet. In this article you’ll learn why a dog may be vomiting or experiencing an episode of diarrhea, how to prepare and serve a bland diet, and when you should call the vet about your pup’s tummy troubles.

Why is My Dog’s Stomach Upset?

Your dog could have an upset stomach for lots of reasons. He may have eaten too quickly or gobbled up spoiled food. You may have changed his food or given him a new treat that doesn’t agree with him. Or he may have intestinal parasites. These reasons typically cause short-lived symptoms. 

Or the causes of vomiting and diarrhea may be more serious. Your pooch may be suffering from a viral or bacterial infection (such as gastroenteritis), pancreatitis (when the pancreas become inflamed), kidney disease, by eating something toxic, or from an intestinal blockage caused by eating rocks, tree bark, mulch, paper towels, toys, or something else.

If you think your dog has eaten something toxic or that something could be lodged in his gastrointestinal tract, seek veterinary care immediately. Even if you suspect a new food or treat is the problem, call your vet—who may recommend serving your dog a bland diet.

What Is a Bland Diet for Dogs?

Do you remember—back in the day—when your mom or dad fed you bananas or white rice because your tummy was upset? Dogs benefit from the same loving care. When feeling nauseous, they need a bland diet made up of soft foods that are easy to digest. Bland diets are boring by design so they can soothe the digestive system until your dog’s normal appetite, digestion, and bowel movements have been restored.

What Kinds of Foods Suit a Bland Diet?

According to the Arlington Animal Hospital in Virginia, bland diets usually include a single source of carbohydrates and a single source of lean protein. The basic bland diet is made of boiled white rice and boiled chicken breast with skin and bones removed.

As an alternative to boiling meat, you can pan-fry lean ground beef or ground turkey—but make sure you drain it thoroughly to remove as much fat as possible. As an alternate protein source, you can serve unseasoned scrambled eggs, cottage cheese (but watch the sodium content), baby food, or commercially prepared turkey or chicken. Combine the protein with a starch such as steamed or boiled white rice or baked sweet potato that has had the skin removed and has been cut into small cubes. Or try cooked oatmeal or pasta. Just don’t add any spices or seasonings, though. 

No matter which ingredients you choose, combine them in a 2:1 ratio of starch to meat. For example, mix 2 cups of baked sweet potato chunks with 1 cup of drained, pan-fried lean ground beef. (BTW: This choice would qualify as a grain-free bland diet for dogs.) Meats like chicken or turkey should be chopped into small pieces. Make sure the foods have cooled to room temperature before serving them. You can refrigerate the cooked food for several days or freeze it for long-term storage.

The American Kennel Club suggests these five meal ideas that are intended for dogs with mild stomach upset, nausea, constipation, and/or diarrhea. These ideas include easy-to-find ingredients such as chicken and rice, shredded chicken, pumpkin (which helps regulate mild constipation), bone broth, and Stage II meat-based baby foods that do not include garlic or onion powder.  

Can I Buy Bland Dog Food Instead of Cooking My Own?

Yes, you can purchase dog food made specifically for your dog’ s upset stomach, says Jessica Romine, DVM, DACVIM, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Southfield, Mich. She recommends Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d, Purina EN Gastroenteric, and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal dog foods for your sick dog.

When Do I Start Feeding My Dog a Bland Diet?

Take a cue from your veterinarian regarding how and when to give your dog a bland food diet. Generally speaking, you’ll want to wait a while after your dog shows symptoms of tummy trouble. Arlington Animal Hospital suggests that pet parents wait 12 to 24 hours before feeding your dog anything, but notes that young dogs should not fast for more than 12 hours. Fasting will help give the dog’s intestinal system a chance to rest. Feel free to give your dog small amounts of water or ice chips while he’s fasting.

Once your pet can hold down water, it’s time to gradually introduce solid bland food. VCA Hospitals recommends that you start by offering 1–2 tablespoons of food every two to three hours. If your dog seems to tolerate this approach, gradually increase how much food you give him and feed him less frequently. For example, offer ¼ to ½ cup of bland food every four hours.

How Long Do I Keep My Dog on a Bland Diet?

Your dog may love his bland diet, but your vet will probably recommend that you only keep him on it for two or three days after he has stopped vomiting or the diarrhea has stopped. That’s because a bland diet is not nutritionally complete. Once your dog’s stool has returned to normal, start mixing your dog’s regular food with bland food in even amounts. Give your pooch a little more each day over five days until he’s completely back on his normal food.

Should I Put My Dog on a Bland Diet After Surgery?

Again, take your veterinarian’s recommendation about this. But it’s likely your vet will suggest a bland diet after surgery because most surgeries require anesthesia, which will leave your dog feeling a bit woozy, with a temporarily reduced appetite and slower gastrointestinal motility. Something bland like cooked chicken and boiled rice will be easier for your dog to digest. Your pooch will likely regain his appetite in a day or two, at which time you can begin reintroducing his regular food. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns during your dog’s recovery.

Will a Bland Diet Help a Dog With Food Allergies?

If your dog is itchy all over, or he focuses his scratching on his ears and feet, he may have a food allergy. “Most dogs with food allergies are allergic to proteins from animal sources: beef, eggs, dairy, and chicken,” Theresa Entriken, DVM, a veterinary consultant based in Leawood, Kan., says. But dogs can be allergic to any ingredient, such as wheat or a specific vegetable, so a bland diet won’t necessarily help—unless the diet also lacks the ingredient that triggers the dog’s immune response, she says. Work with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to get help coming up with the best diet—bland or otherwise—for your dog.

Will a Bland Diet Help a Dog With a Sensitive Stomach?

If your dog’s stomach seems persistently sensitive, it’s important to identify the underlying cause. “This sensitivity typically manifests as frequent vomiting, diarrhea, or flatulence,” Entriken says. Signs of gastrointestinal distress can be caused by a variety of medical problems such as pancreatitis, bacterial or viral infections, or obstructions, she says. Or they can be caused by intolerance to a specific component in your pet’s diet, or, less commonly, related to a food allergy. 

So when you’re trying to address the symptoms of a sensitive stomach, always have your vet evaluate your pet to determine the appropriate next steps. And if a bland diet or other dietary change is needed, consult with your vet or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure the new diet meets all your dog’s nutritional needs. These are the same professionals you would consult about a vegan bland diet for your dog. Please don’t go it alone.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Needs to See a Vet?

Unfortunately, bland diets don’t magically cure all GI problems. Romine says to call your vet if your dog can’t keep anything down or he continues to vomit even though there’s nothing left in his stomach. If you notice blood in your dog’s vomit or stool, or he becomes weak or pale, get him to the vet right away.