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Expert-Recommended Bland Diet for Dogs: A Complete Overview

Is your furry friend experiencing tummy troubles? A bland diet might help your best friend get back to their happy, healthy, tail-wagging self. Read on for expert-provided information on bland diets for dogs.

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Why do vets recommend bland diets for dogs?

When a person's stomach is upset, they'll likely eat soup, crackers, or lightly buttered toast, so when a dog's stomach is upset, a bland diet is best.

Bland diets are recommended for dogs experiencing acute gastroenteritis, which typically means vomiting and/or diarrhea. Acute gastroenteritis is short-term stomach and intestinal upset from various causes such as eating spoiled food, contracting a gastrointestinal (GI) infection, recovering from pancreatitis, experiencing a sudden dietary change.

Bland diets are highly digestible, reduce peristalsis (contraction of the intestines), and are usually low-fiber and low-fat diets. The primary goals of a bland diet are to rest the gastrointestinal system and provide caloric energy while your pup recovers from its stomach upset. Veterinarians generally recommend simple carbohydrates as opposed to high-fiber foods for your dog's bland diet to help reduce the urge to defecate in an already diarrheic dog. Similarly, dogs with diarrhea may experience increased peristalsis, meaning things are moving through their intestines more quickly. A bland diet for a dog with diarrhea slows peristalsis to decrease diarrhea.

Bland diets provide energy to your dog while allowing its gastrointestinal tract to recover from gastroenteritis. A bland diet shouldn't be given to your dog for an extended time without consulting your veterinarian, as the diet may not meet all of your dog's nutritional needs. The idea is to feed the bland diet until your pet’s GI signs improve and then slowly transition back to a normal diet.

If you need a long-term, balanced, bland diet recipe for your dog, you must work with a veterinary nutritionist to develop a plan that meets all its nutritional needs or purchase a prescription bland diet from your veterinarian.

Preparing bland diets at home

A bland diet usually involves one protein source and one simple carbohydrate source. Options for protein and simple carbohydrate sources which your veterinarian may recommend are included in the table below. When choosing commercially prepared or canned items, choose an item low in sodium unless your veterinarian recommends otherwise.

Protein sources

  • Boiled or baked skinless, boneless chicken
  • Boiled or baked skinless, boneless turkey
  • Boiled or pan-fried lean ground beef
  • Boiled or pan-fried lean ground turkey
  • Unseasoned scrambled eggs
  • Commercially prepared turkey baby food
  • Commercially prepared chicken baby food
  • Low-fat cottage cheese

Simple carbohydrates

  • Steamed or boiled white rice
  • Steamed or boiled brown rice
  • Baked sweet potatoes, cubed
  • Canned sweet potatoes (no sugar added)
  • Cooked oatmeal
  • Boiled noodles

The most common home-prepared bland diet is boiled chicken and boiled rice, but other options are included in the table above. Make sure to get your veterinarian's approval before committing to a specific bland diet. Once you pick a protein source and a simple carbohydrate, you should stick to those items for the duration of the bland diet feeding. You should prepare two cups of the carbohydrate for every cup of the protein source for a 2:1 ratio.

Generally, you will want to match how much food your pet normally gets. For example, if your pet usually gets a cup of kibble in the morning and a cup of kibble in the afternoon, you'll want to give your pup two cups of the bland diet spread out across several meals. If your veterinarian recommends a different amount per meal, make sure to follow your veterinarian's recommendations.

When boiling or pan-frying, use water only. Do not add butter, oil, salt, or spices to the recipe. Remove visible fat from meat sources and discard any grease that develops during cooking. Remember, this is an intentionally bland diet.

If your pet is having diarrhea, you could consider including pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) in the meal. Pumpkin is a good source of potassium, absorbs water, and slows the peristalsis in the GI tract. Similarly, pureed bananas can be a good option.

Prescription bland diets for dogs

If you do not want to prepare your pet’s bland diet at home and would prefer a veterinarian-prescribed diet for gastrointestinal issues, there are options, including:

  • Hill's Prescription Diet Digestive Care i/d
  • Purina ProPlan Veterinary Diets EN Gastroenteric
  • Royal Canin Veterinary Gastrointestinal
  • Blue Natural Veterinary Diet GI Gastrointestinal
  • Hill's Prescription Diet Gastrointestinal Biome

Many of these diets are specially formulated to meet your pet’s nutritional requirements and are easy on the gastrointestinal tract. A prescription bland diet is often the best option for pets needing long-term bland diets. Variations of these diets, such as lower fat or higher fiber versions, are available. If your pet needs a long-term bland diet and you still want home-cooked, you should work with a veterinary nutritionist to develop a balanced diet plan.

Does pet insurance cover bland diet?

Of course, you may ask if pet insurance covers special dog diets. If you’re interested in prescription diets for gastrointestinal issues, the short answer is maybe. Some insurance companies do not cover prescription foods, some only cover these foods under specific plans, and others only cover a certain amount. Make sure to look into what your insurance plan covers regarding prescription foods. Pet insurance would not cover a home-prepared bland diet, though some plans may cover consultation with a veterinary nutritionist if you are looking for a long-term home-cooked diet.

Feeding schedule for dogs on bland diets

A bland diet is typically intended to be fed for 3–5 days. When your dog first has an episode of vomiting or diarrhea, you'll want to withhold food and treats for a couple of hours. Keep water available at all times so your pet can try to stay hydrated.

While most people feed their pets twice daily, it’s important to remember your pet is recovering from GI upset. Two large meals aren't in your pet's best interest. It’s best to feed your pet multiple smaller meals, so if you can feed your pet 3–4 small deals in a day, this would be preferred.

Transitioning back to a regular diet

Once your pet has been free of vomiting and diarrhea for two days, you can begin transitioning back to a regular diet. The transition should take 5–7 days. Below is a sample schedule for returning to your pet’s regular diet.

Days post-GI signsAmount of bland dietAmount of regular diet
1100%0%
2100%0%
375%25%
450%50%
550%50%
625%75%
70%100%

Your veterinarian may recommend a different schedule for transitioning your pet. When in doubt, follow your veterinarian’s guidance. If your pet appears to relapse and starts having GI signs again, contact your veterinarian for advice.

Bland diet mistakes to avoid

  • Excessive seasoning. A bland diet is recommended because it is gentle on the gastrointestinal tract. Some seasonings can alter water absorption from food, contributing to diarrhea. Some ingredients, such as garlic or onion powder, are toxic to dogs.
  • Incorrect ratios. Higher amounts of simple carbohydrates are recommended because they are easy to digest, gentle on the stomach, and provide a quick energy source. Increasing the amount of meat in the bland diet may increase the fat ratio.
  • Feeding bland diets for too long. Bland diets for acute gastroenteritis are not balanced diets. If your pet's signs are not improving after two days or signs recur after reintroducing regular food, speak with your veterinarian.
  • Suddenly switching back to regular food. Sudden dietary changes can cause gastroenteritis. When going back to normal food, do so slowly over 5–7 days.
  • Inconsistency in ingredients. Once you find a blend your pet will eat, do not switch foods between meals. Sudden dietary changes contribute to gastroenteritis.

Tips for picky eaters

If your pet isn't eating or only eating very little, here are several tips that can help encourage your pet to eat:

  • Add a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth to add moisture. Make sure broth does not contain any toxic ingredients like onions or garlic.
  • Top the meal with a small amount of turkey or chicken baby food.
  • Try separating the protein and carbohydrate vs. mixing them together.
  • Add canned pumpkin.
  • Add flavored probiotics like Fortiflora.

When to call your veterinarian

Always consult with your veterinarian before implementing dietary changes. If you’re feeding your pet a bland diet and notice any of the following signs, you should contact your veterinarian:

  • Worsening vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Blood in the vomit or feces (can be bright red or tarry black)
  • Decreased urination
  • Inability to keep food down
  • Signs continue for more than two days without improvement
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Known consumption of a foreign object

You should seek emergency attention if your pet is weak, sluggish, or pale. If your pet cannot keep water down, they will quickly become dehydrated. Seek prompt veterinary attention if your pet is not drinking water or is immediately vomiting after drinking.

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