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Do You Know What to Feed a Sick Dog?

Golden Retriever eating out of a stainless steel bowl

If you’ve ever had nausea, diarrhea, or signs of a cold, then you know that it can be an unpleasant experience. We know that rest and fluids can make a big difference in how quickly we can return to normal, but is this the same recommendation for dogs? Should your dog get some of your grandmother’s famous chicken noodle soup? And how do you know if your dog is sick? These are important questions for dog owners everywhere!

Signs your dog is sick

Terrier Licking Lips after eating out of a bowl

Dogs can have some of the same clinical signs that humans can have when they’re unwell, and these signs can be subtle or obvious. Vomiting and diarrhea are the two most common clinical signs that are easily detected and can indicate mild to severe illness.

When dogs eat things that they don’t normally eat, such as food from our plates or scraps from the garbage, their bodies can respond in a few different ways. Some dogs have no problems eating things outside of their regular diet. Other dogs can develop soft stools and maybe vomit once or twice. The rest of this group can have severe watery diarrhea and can have excessive vomiting. It is difficult to predict what kind of a response your dog might have, and so it is important to limit foods outside of their regular diets when possible.

Vomiting and diarrhea can be indicators of many other underlying problems. Toxin ingestion, pancreatitis, intestinal parasites, food sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney disease, and liver disease are a few of the potential issues. Many of these illnesses can be detected by diagnostics and a good physical examination from your veterinarian.

Sometimes, your dog may not have obvious clinical signs to show that he isn’t feeling well. Some dogs can seem a little slow or lethargic, or maybe they ate only a small portion of their food where they would normally eat all of it. Dogs can feel warm to the touch when they have a fever. If they are nauseous but haven’t vomited yet, then you might see your dog lip-smacking very frequently. More subtle yet severe signs of illness include a painful belly, faster breathing, and pale white gums.

If you’re unsure about what you are seeing, make sure to give your vet’s office a call. Many offices are more than happy to discuss what you’re seeing and let you know if you should come in for an exam or go to an emergency clinic.

What to feed your dog to help them feel better

Black Beagle Eating Food Out Of A Green Bowl

If you’re not able to get to your vet’s office right away, and your dog is not on a restricted diet, then there are some food items that you might be able to give him. Certain food items can be easy to digest, and the flavor may entice him to eat because it’s a new treat!

Chicken and rice are the most common food items, and they are already major ingredients in many of the commercially available dog foods on the market. When giving these foods, they should be in small amounts. The chicken should be white meat with no bone or skin, fully cooked (preferably boiled) and with no added seasoning. The rice should also be steamed and without seasoning. Broth can be an easy way to add flavor to your dog’s regular diet, especially bone broth, but be sure to keep away from broths that are high in sodium.

Though it cannot directly help with vomiting per say CBD oil is a great option to help out with many pains and anxiety faced by dogs who are ill.

CBD oil for dogs

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There are a few other foods that can be given to your dog, but these should be given sparingly and have their limitations in certain situations. Eggs are safe for feeding in small portions but should be without seasoning and should be fully cooked to decrease the risk of exposure to Salmonella. Canned pumpkin is a soft and tasty treat but be sure to avoid the kind used as pie-filling because it contains a lot of sugar. Baby food is also soft and comes in meat flavors to which your dog may already be accustomed. However, it is important to avoid baby foods with garlic and onion flavorings as part of their ingredients list. Boiled sweet potato is an excellent source of fiber but should be avoided by diabetic patients. Coconut oil has also been know to help out with digestive issues as well.

Tips to help your sick dog eat

Golden Retriever Laying in front of a glass door eating out of a bowl

When dogs are sick, most veterinarians recommend a bland diet, meaning that the food is easily digestible and can help get your dog’s digestive tract back to normal. Most commercially available bland diets have fiber, lower fat content, and sometimes additional ingredients like prebiotics and probiotics. It is best to start out with small portions of these foods and then gradually increase the portions over time, especially if your dog tolerates them well and doesn’t experience vomiting or further clinical signs. Most dogs will eat these foods on their own, and there are always a few dogs who need a little extra care by being hand-fed by their owners!

Coconut oil can also benefit a dogs gut health which will reduce some symptoms of a sick dog.

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Some dogs might not feel well enough to eat anything. This could be due to nausea, or maybe they don’t like the food provided, which is an opportunity to try a little bit of something different. You could try switching from a dry diet to canned food and vice versa. If your dog is still not eating and nausea is suspected, then your veterinarian can give your dog a medication to help with nausea and vomiting. In certain cases, they might prescribe an oral appetite stimulant like mirtazapine or cyproheptadine, and your vet might discuss additional supportive care like intravenous fluids and antacids.

Once your dog’s clinical signs begin to improve, you can gradually switch back to their regular diet by slowly reintroducing it. This can be over the span of a few days. In some cases, like with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome, your vet might suggest that you keep your dog on a prescription diet for the long term.

It can be worrisome to have a sick pup on your hands, and it can be difficult to get them to eat when they are unwell. Knowing which foods to give to your dog is important, and if you’re still not sure what to do, then make sure to talk to your veterinarian. They want to make sure that your dog is well again just as much as you do!

What to feed a sick dog By: Erica Irish

Dr. Erica Irish
Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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