Digestive Dilemmas….what to do if your pet has an upset stomach

If your pet has an episode of vomiting or diarrhoea, it can be hard to know what to do! On the one hand, these symptoms are very common (usually showing up when you’re already late and about to head out the door!), and in many cases your four-legged friend will be back to their normal self in no time. But sometimes, the cause of the upset is more serious, and getting help from your vet at the right time can make all the difference. Read on for our lowdown on digestive dilemmas, what you can do to keep your pet comfortable at home, and when you should call in the cavalry!


What causes gut upsets?

There are a vast number of causes of vomiting and diarrhoea in pets, ranging from minor issues that will get better on there own, to much more serious problems requiring treatment from your vet; we’ve included some of the more common causes below.


Food fails

Food-related issues are among the most common causes of gut problems in our four-legged pals. Dogs are scavengers by nature, and no matter how well-fed your pooch is, the instinct to stick their nose in a bin and wolf down what they find is hard for them to resist! This puts them at risk of devouring something that really doesn’t agree with them, and an upset tummy is often a foregone conclusion. Hard-wired to hunt, our moggies can suffer a similar fate from eating the small creatures they’re preying upon! Sudden changes to our pets’ diets can also lead to gut upsets, and some pets can even be allergic to certain foods. 

And of course, food is not the only thing we have to worry about our pets swallowing! Stones and corks, golf balls and chew toys, tinsel and balled-up socks  – you name it and there’s probably a pet somewhere that has tried to eat it! If the offending item causes a blockage in the intestines, it can potentially be life-threatening, so if you suspect your four-legged friend may have gulped down something they shouldn’t have, have a chat with your vet sooner rather than later! 


Pesky parasites and other infections

Your pet’s guts can become irritated by infectious causes, too. Certain bacteria and viruses, for example, can replicate in the guts and result in sickness and/or diarrhoea, and pesky parasites are another potential cause. Worms  like roundworms and tapeworms can affect both dogs and cats; these wriggling creatures live inside an infected pet’s intestines, where they can cause a range of potential issues. Worm infestations are a common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in puppies and kittens, who can be infested with high numbers of roundworms, as this parasite can be passed on to them directly from their mums when they’re suckling her milk. 

digestive dilemmas


Other conditions

Sometimes the root of the problem is not actually with the intestines themselves, at all! Many other diseases (for example kidney and liver disease, hormonal issues and pancreatitis, to name a few) can indirectly cause vomiting and diarrhoea, along with other symptoms.

It’s safe to say that entire books are written on this topic, and it’s not always easy to know the cause from a one-off episode, so seeking your vet’s advice when you’re concerned is always your best bet!


What can I do to help my pet at home?

If your pet is otherwise well, and the incident was a one-off, there are some steps you can take to help care for them at home:

  • Make sure water is readily available (and keep an eye on whether your pet is drinking)
  • Don’t starve your four-legged one unless your vet has advised you to. The cells lining the gut need nutrients to work properly, and repair if they need to. This is especially important in young pups and kittens, who don’t have large reserves of energy
  • Offer small amounts of bland food, little and often (boiled rice, fish or chicken are good choices)
  • Encourage gentle exercise if your furball is up to it, but avoid too much excitement or stress while they’re recovering

If you’re at all worried about your pet, though, then always err on the side of caution and speak to your vet.


When should I call my vet?

There are some specific signs to watch out for that might indicate more of a cause for concern; if your four-legged friend is showing any of these, then we’d advise you speak to your vet for advice:

  • Blood in their stool or vomit
  • They’re quieter than usual, don’t seem themselves or have additional symptoms
  • They won’t eat or drink, or can’t keep water down (this can lead to dehydration, which, if untreated, can be very serious)
  • They seem to be in pain
  • The problem continues for over 24 hours
  • Their tummy changes shape, e.g. seems swollen or bloated (this can indicate a life-threatening condition that needs immediate attention)
  • Your notice any change in their breathing
  • You know, or suspect, that they may have swallowed something they shouldn’t (including items around the home, medication, or anything you’re concerned may be toxic)

When all is said and done though, you’re the one who knows your furry family member best! So even in the absence of the warning signs above, if you’re worried something isn’t right, or simply want some reassurance, your vet will always be happy to check your pet over, even if it’s just to give you some peace of mind.

digestive dilemmas


What should I expect from my vet visit?

If you do need to take your fur baby to the vet, they will give them a thorough check-over, and ask you questions about their general health. Depending on their findings, they might send you home with some treatment, or they might recommend some further tests. Bloods tests, x-rays and scans can all help pinpoint what the issue might be, and your vet may ask you for a stool sample from your pet to help with the diagnosis. If your furry friend is dehydrated or generally unwell, your vet might recommend keeping them in so that they can give them some intensive TLC and keep a close eye on them. 


Is there anything I can do to prevent stomach upsets?

Vomiting and diarrhoea are extremely common digestive dilemmas, and most pets will have the odd episode at some point! There are, however, some basic principles you can follow that can help prevent some of the more common causes:

  • Try and discourage your pet from scavenging! Keep bins closed (or even get a lockable bin if your pooch is especially persistent!), and keep food off counter tops if your pet can reach them
  • If you decide to change to your pet’s diet, do this gradually. Mix a small amount of the new food in with your pet’s current meal, then slowly increase the proportion of the new food over several days
  • Keep up with regular parasite treatment. Worming tablets such as Prazitel Plus for dogs and Prazitel for cats kill every type of intestinal worm affecting UK dogs and cats respectively, helping to keep them free from these gut-dwelling creatures!
  • Avoid the temptation of feeding your pet scraps from the table
  • Despite the popular image of cats lapping milk from a saucer, cow’s milk can often lead to stomach upsets in our feline friends, so stick to water for your moggy to drink!
  • Keep up to date with your pet’s vaccinations. Diseases like parvovirus in dogs, and panleucopaenia in cats can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea, and can be fatal, so protection against these and other diseases is really important.

Keeping up with preventative healthcare, feeding a good diet and trying to avoid scavenging are all great ways to help lower the risk of tummy upsets; but even with your best efforts, they can’t be avoided altogether. If you’re at all concerned about your pet or just want some reassurance that you’re doing the right thing by caring for them at home, your best bet is always to pick up the phone to your vet, who will offer you advice and do all they can to help you get your four-legged friend back on the road to recovery!