No matter what species we are—dog, cat, or human— stomach issues hurt. Pets can’t tell us they’re suffering, but the signs are obvious: flatulence, vomiting, diarrhea, and or constipation. If tummy troubles are chronic, they can make sufferers moody and irritable, whether they walk on four legs or two. Happily, there are numerous natural remedies that offer relief for pets.
What to do when your cat or dog has digestive issues
Stomach upset is a form of inflammation, so an anti-inflammatory, grain-free diet is the first line of defense against indigestion. Make sure fresh, clean water is available at all times to keep your pet hydrated. Don’t overfeed your dog or cat, as eating too much food can lead to stomach issues, just as it does in people. If your pet has chronic flatulence, for example, think about what may be causing it. Did you treat your pet to cheese? Many dogs react to these foods the same way lactose-intolerant people do, so eliminating dairy is a good idea.
At the first sign of stomach issues, the first thing to feed a pet is … nothing. “Don’t give your dog or cat food for 12 hours,” advises Diane Snyder, DVM, who practices at Reservoir Veterinary Hospital in Shokan, N.Y. “Offer them ice chips to keep them hydrated while they get back to their regular routine. This brief fast allows the digestive tract to calm down.” Do let dogs and cats munch on grass; pets who have access to grassy spaces outdoors will graze on the green stuff when they feel queasy, because they know instinctively that it helps. “Animals eat grass to make themselves throw up,” Snyder explains. “If your urban dog or indoor cat doesn’t have access to grassy outdoor space, they might start munching on the house plants in an effort to self-medicate. It’s easy to prevent this by cultivating a container of wheatgrass indoors so pets can help themselves to nature’s great green digestive aid anytime, day or night. (For cats, fresh wheatgrass also helps prevent hairballs.)
Cultivate a container of wheatgrass indoors so pets can help themselves to this natural digestive aid anytime.
Sweet potato, squash, and pumpkin puree are soothing to dogs suffering digestive upset and are easy to obtain in canned form at supermarkets. The fiber in these orange veggies is what does the trick to firm up a dog’s stool, and every dog I’ve known has loved the taste, especially when sprinkled with cinnamon, a carminative spice that also assists digestion. (Cats, being highly motivated by protein, are generally not good candidates for this remedy.) Vegetables that are safe to share with dogs and cats include leafy greens, broccoli, squash, and sweet potatoes, preferably boiled, steamed, roasted, and/or pureed. “Cooking breaks down vegetable cell walls so dogs can digest them more easily,” says Snyder.
Supplements for digestive issues in dogs and cats
Coconut oil is a superfood that promotes regularity and digestive health in dogs, cats, and people. I recommend that big dogs be given a teaspoon of coconut oil every day, while smaller dogs and cats get a quarter to a half teaspoon daily. It’s also great for cleaning pets’ teeth. A major positive side effect of this routine is sweeter breath.
Probiotics are also excellent for digestion in dogs and cats, and the best way to deliver these beneficial bacteria to dogs and cats is via a probiotic supplement. Probiotics help to populate the gut with beneficial bacteria, especially important if your pet has taken prescription antibiotics. Look for a probiotic that’s formulated especially for animals. However, if a pet is taking an antibiotic, never give the probiotic at the same time, as they will, in effect, cancel each other out. And although yogurt contains probiotics, never give yogurt to your pet, Snyder advises: “It doesn’t contain enough cultures to help a dog or cat with tummy trouble, and many animals are lactose-intolerant, so feeding them dairy could actually make the problem worse,” she says.
Snyder also recommends two more remedies to ease digestive distress: slippery elm in capsule—not tincture— form (simply combine the capsule contents with food), and colloidal silver, administered by squirting directly into the mouth. Following the directions on the package, give medium to large dogs half the human dose, and one quarter the human dose for cats or small dogs.
Food-grade diatomaceous earth for diarrhea in dogs
For diarrhea in dogs, I’ve had success sprinkling the food bowl with a spoonful of food-grade diatomaceous earth, a fine white powder made from the fossilized remains of diatoms (a species of hard-shelled algae). Give a tablespoon for large dogs, and a teaspoon for small dogs and cats. Diatomaceous earth also comes in handy for cleaning up the smelly messes that accompany digestive distress. And it has a variety of other uses: diatomaceous earth safely eliminates fleas and ticks when applied topically to the coat, and it’s a non-toxic parasiticide that kills intestinal worms when ingested without harm to your pet.
Timing Is Everything
Often, it’s not just what a pet companion eats but when. Never exercise dogs immediately after eating, especially large, active breeds with large chest cavities. Big dogs are prone to gastric dilatation and volvulus, a too-often fatal condition in which the gut bloats and literally torques. This is a particular hazard with dry food. Here’s what happens: the dog inhales his meal, then chases it with big gulps of water. Ever seen kibble get wet? It expands to several times its size, sitting like a 10-ton weight in a dog’s gut. Exercise can swiftly cause the gut to twist, strangling the animal’s insides in the most painful way possible. To reduce this risk, don’t feed your large dog too soon before a walk no matter how much he begs; delay feeding by at least an hour. It will be well worth the wait.