Puppy Tummy Troubles

Upset tummies are fairly common in puppies, here are some of the common causes.

Created: 21/01/2022 Updated: 25/01/2022 - Vicky Payne

diet, digestion, dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, new pet, parasite, puppy

Digestive upsets are quite common in puppies. Most episodes of vomiting or diarrhoea are mild and self-limiting, requiring no special treatment. Persistent or recurrent stomach problems may need veterinary attention. This article covers some of the most common causes of upset tummies in puppies, as well as how to spot the signs of more serious illness.

Newly rehomed puppies often develop mild diarrhoea which can be related to the stress of rehoming or changes to the food and water. Vaccinations, while essential for preventing serious disease, may also trigger mild diarrhoea: especially when you consider that both the car journey and the visit to the vet can be stressful.

If your puppy has diarrhoea, don’t panic. If your puppy remains bright and cheerful, give a diarrhoea paste which will help to dry up the motions, bind gut toxins, and usually contains probiotics to help rebalance the gut flora. Make sure that your puppy drinks plenty of water to avoid dehydration; flavouring the water with a little unsalted chicken stock or using a dog electrolyte drink can help. Do not starve a puppy with diarrhoea, instead offer small meals of an easily digested fish or chicken-based food.

Black and brown puppy dog sat on grass

Puppy food

Changing your puppy’s food

Your breeder or rescue centre should supply at least 1 week’s supply of the food that your puppy has been raised on. Abrupt changes of diet can upset the gut microbiome and should be avoided. If you want to have your puppy on a different food long term, make the change over several days by mixing more of the new food with the old food each day.

As there are so many changes that can be stressful in your pup’s first few weeks, it is best to feed the same diet that the breeder has been using for several weeks. Some puppies refuse to eat their usual diet when they come to their new home as they don’t have their brothers and sisters to compete with! Try to avoid changing your pup’s food frequently as trying to find something they like often causes diarrhoea.

OSCAR puppy foods

OSCAR offer nutritionally complete dried foods for puppies, including one for large breeds who need a slightly different balance of key nutrients to support strong growth. The OSCAR Puppy and Junior foods are chicken and rice based, and gluten free – providing an easily digested diet with less chance of triggering digestive issues.

Feed your puppy according to the guidelines on the pack and split the daily requirement into 3 or 4 smaller meals to avoid a bloated and sore tummy. Overfeeding is a common cause of soft stools in dogs of all ages. If your puppy seems thin or hungry and is eating the maximum recommended amount of food seek advice from your vet.

There is no need to add any extras to your puppy’s diet and doing so can lead to dietary imbalances and digestive disturbances. If your puppy is reluctant to eat, try hand feeding, scatter feeding, or feeding toys to make the meal more interesting. Some puppies prefer their dry food with a little warm water added to soften it and increase the aroma.

Close up of labrador puppie from puppy food bag

Feeding your puppy treats

If you want your puppy to grow up into a well-behaved adult dog, you will need to do lots of reward-based training! Although play can be used as a reward, and dogs will learn that certain words or touches mean you are pleased, the easiest and fastest way to reward a young puppy is with tasty treats. Treats should be small, tasty, and should make up no more than 10% of your puppy’s daily calorie intake to avoid obesity and dietary imbalance.

When you introduce a new behaviour for your puppy to learn, use a high value treat. OSCAR chicken liver training treats and chicken with yoghurt treats are ideal for training.

You can also use some of your pup’s daily food allowance for training. This will not be as high value but is good for practising behaviours your puppy already knows and can be made more exciting if the reward is thrown for chasing.

For very difficult training, such as recalling away from another dog, you might need to use human food such as cooked meat or cheese. Limit the use of human foods as they can be high in fat and salt. Some dogs and puppies really enjoy vegetables and might find small cubes of carrot or broccoli stalk a rewarding treat.

Grey puppy with blue eyes looking up at owner for treat.

Your puppy may be a fast eater

Once puppies get over the shock of coming to their new home and the lack of competition at food time, they often turn from reluctant eaters to greedy feeders! Eating food too quickly can cause stomach pain, bloating, wind, and vomiting. Hand feeding part of the meal during training sessions and feeding the daily ration as several smaller meals can help.

Active feeding is a great way to slow down your puppy’s dinner time, and to add extra entertainment value. Scattering food on the floor, in the garden, or on a special snuffle matt is an easy game for all ages and breeds of puppy. Interactive dog feeding toys (where the puppy has to roll, shake, or otherwise manipulate a toy to get food out) can provide hours of entertainment.

OSCAR stock a fantastic range of interactive feeding toys, but you may want to try making your own! Cardboard boxes, empty toilet rolls, and plastic bottles can all be adapted into activity feeding toys. Always supervise your puppy when using interactive feeding toys and puzzles.

Alfie the springer spaniel outside enjoying eating from his Buster interactive feeder toy

Food allergies

True food allergies are rare in dogs but result in severe signs soon after eating a food. Common symptoms of a food allergy include an itchy skin rash (like hives), vomiting, and diarrhoea. The allergic reaction happens within a short time (minutes to hours) of eating the food.

Food intolerances are more common and can show up as recurrent or chronic skin disease as well as diarrhoea. Dogs can develop an intolerance to a food ingredient, usually a protein source, after a bout of vomiting or diarrhoea. It is possible for dogs to develop a food intolerance even if fed the same food for a long time.

If you suspect your dog has a food intolerance or food allergy, make an appointment with your vet. Changing foods often appears to have a short-term effect, but symptoms usually return. True food intolerances can require specialised diets.

Puppies can be stressed

Finding yourself in a new home with a new family is a potentially stressful experience for any puppy. A good breeder will help to minimise the stress by ensuring your puppy is used to time away from their mother and siblings, as well as giving you a toy or blanket which smells of the puppy ‘nest’. Toileting on the journey home is quite common, and this may be soft faeces or diarrhoea rather than the firm stools your puppy has been passing with the breeder.

Anxious puppy with worried eyes lying down in bed

Consider a dog appeasing pheromone plug in and collar to help your puppy settle. Try to resist the urge to have all your friends over to meet your new puppy, instead allow your puppy several days to become comfortable with their new immediate family and new home. Hand feeding can help establish a bond with your puppy and will help get them over the first few days when they often don’t feel like eating.

A change in routine can lead to diarrhoea in puppies so ask your breeder or recue centre what your puppy’s routine has been. Try to stick as closely as possible to the old routine for the first week before gradually making changes. Accidents will happen indoors to begin with, but never punish your puppy for these.

As your puppy grows up there will be more stressful life events which can trigger an episode of diarrhoea or even vomiting. Going to a puppy class is essential for controlled socialisation around people and dogs but seeing so many dogs can be overwhelming at first. Avoid sickness or diarrhoea episodes by feeding at least 2 hours before a class or other socialisation event.

Signs of stress

Most puppies bounce back quickly from slightly stressful events, but signs your puppy is not coping well may include being off their food, vomiting, diarrhoea, poor sleeping, biting, and poor weight gain. If you have any concerns about how your puppy is settling in or coping with socialisation and training seek help from a pet professional as soon as possible.

Worried looking white fluffy puppy lying down on a tiled floor

Puppies chew things that they shouldn’t

Puppies need to chew. Chewing helps with teething but it is also an activity that most dogs find innately rewarding. If you don’t provide safe chew toys for your puppy, they may make their own chew toys from things lying around the house! Chewing unsafe objects can lead to damage to the mouth and teeth, but your puppy might also swallow something undigestible. Safe chew toys can include rope raggies and rubber chew toys.

If your puppy gets hold of something they shouldn’t have, do not chase them or try to grab the object as this often leads to swallowing. Instead, get out a delicious treat and call your puppy over for a swap. If they do swallow something don’t panic; dogs are very good at vomiting or pooing out undigestible things! As long as the object is not dangerous it is usually fine to monitor for signs of a blockage.

Key signs to look out for:

  • vomiting

  • struggling to defecate

  • low energy

  • belly pain

If you see these symptoms contact your vet immediately. You should also contact your vet if your puppy has eaten magnets or batteries as these can cause serious internal damage.

The following blogs cover chewing and stealing in more detail:

Young puppy stealing a blanket off the sofa

Puppies might eat something toxic to them

Although some human foods such as lean meat, white cheese, and many vegetables can make safe training treats when used in moderation, some human foods are very dangerous for pets.

Toxic foods include:

  • chocolate

  • alcohol

  • grapes and raisins

  • onions, leeks, and garlic

  • products containing xylitol

  • mouldy food

For an extensive list of toxic foods, plants and household substances here is a handy pdf from Dogs Trust.

If your puppy gets hold of human food, rescue any packaging to help your vet estimate how much was eaten and how dangerous that might be. VetsNow have a handy chocolate calculator. If you have any concerns about something your puppy has eaten contact your vet immediately for advice.

Illness in puppies

Limiting infection

Your puppy’s immune system is still developing when you bring them home. They will have some protection from their mother’s antibodies, but this declines between 8 and 16 weeks of age. We can vaccinate puppies against the most dangerous viral gastrointestinal infection, parvovirus, but you should avoid public places with your puppy until they have full protection (1 to 2 weeks after their last vaccination).

Unfortunately, the period of time when you need to protect your puppy from bacteria and viruses in the environment is the same time that you need to introduce them to their new environment. The following blogs are packed with handy advice on how to socialise your puppy safely until they are fully vaccinated:

Parvovirus in dogs

Parvovirus remains a killer of puppies and older dogs. The virus is hard to destroy in the environment and can remain infectious for some time. Ensure your pup’s mum was up to date with her vaccinations and get your puppy vaccinated following your vet’s advice.

Symptoms of parvovirus:

  • abdominal pain

  • watery bloody diarrhoea

  • loss of appetite

  • vomiting

  • lethargy/collapse

Do not ignore foul smelling, bloody, or watery diarrhoea in puppies. Parvovirus can be treated through intensive supportive care, but many puppies won’t pull through.

Golden retriever puppy being checked over by a vet using a stethoscope.

Parasites in puppies

Worms in puppies

Most puppies will come with worms, even if the breeder has treated them, because worm pass to the pups through the placenta and mother’s milk. Puppies also like to explore the environment with their mouths so can pick up worm eggs from grass, contaminated toys, fleas… just about anywhere.

Puppies have low immunity to worms so need more regular treatment than adult dogs. Speak to your vet about a suitable worming programme for your puppy. Make sure you always pick up your dog’s waste as this reduces environmental contamination both with worm eggs and with worming products (which may harm some insects).

Symptoms of worms include:

  • a poor coat

  • constipation

  • diarrhoea

  • poor weight gain

  • pot-bellied appearance

  • lethargy

  • in some cases, puppies will vomit roundworms or pass them in the faeces

For more information on worms in puppies try this blog:

close up of puppy in the garden looking at camera

Giardia in puppies

Another cause of persistent or intermittent diarrhoea in puppies and young dogs is Giardia. This is a microscopic parasite which attacks the lining of the gut. In humans it often causes vomiting, cramps, and watery diarrhoea but in dogs the symptoms can be variable and intermittent.

Symptoms include:

  • watery, pungent diarrhoea – in some cases with blood

  • soft faeces, sometimes intermittently

  • eating less

  • weight loss/poor weight gain for a puppy

  • vomiting

  • gas

  • bloated stomach

Some dogs show no signs at all, and the severity of symptoms can differ. Although most cases of diarrhoea in puppies are not serious you should seek veterinary advice for any watery or bloody diarrhoea, foul smelling gas or faeces, or if your puppy has diarrhoea regularly.

You should always practice good hand hygiene if you have a dog or puppy, but particularly if your puppy might have Giardia as this infection can be passed to humans.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.