Helping Your Pet’s Digestive Issues Naturally

Posted on November 2nd, 2020 to Dogs

Your pet’s digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. It breaks down large, complex molecules into smaller parts. Once the digestive system has done the job of breaking down what your pet is eating, it then converts the nutrients into energy or fuel to keep the body functioning well. Undigested material, waste, and toxins are then released via urine and feces. Understanding how the digestive system works is important in understanding how to maintain your pet’s digestive health.

How the GI System Works

Digestion starts in the mouth when your dog or cat takes that first bite of food. Enzymes in your pet’s saliva start breaking down food before it’s swallowed. Once it’s swallowed, the food enters the stomach. The stomach releases gastric acid to break it down even further, resulting in a sort of liquid substance. The ‘liquid food’ then travels into the small intestine where the gallbladder and pancreas start doing their job of shooting it with digestive enzymes. This allows the nutrients from your pet’s food to be absorbed by the small intestine. The nutrients then enter the bloodstream. Material that wasn’t absorbed passes into the large intestine to be excreted (1). 

The GI tract houses approximately 70 percent of the immune system’s cells and can’t function without help from microorganisms. The microorganisms are known as the gut bacteria, intestinal bacteria, or gut microbiota if you want to get scientific.

The bacteria help the body breakdown nutrients before they are absorbed fully by the body. They’re also necessary for the body to obtain vitamin B and K. Plus, they are the frontline against bad bacteria. 

When the gut bacteria aren’t balanced properly, the intestines can easily become inflamed and irritated (1).

Conditions Affecting the GI Tract

GI disruption is most often caused by inflammation. The symptoms your pet feels vary widely based on the location of the irritation (1). The most common GI conditions include:

  • Gastritis: The stomach becomes inflamed resulting in a change in appetite and/or vomiting.
  • Stomatitis: Inflammation of the mouth resulting in lack of appetite and oral pain.
  • Colitis: Inflammation of the large intestine resulting in bloody and/or mucous-like diarrhea.
  • Enteritis: Inflammation of the small intestine leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of nutrient absorption.

The cause of the inflammation could be parasitic, food-related, and/or an imbalance of good gut bacteria. Since there are so many causes, this can prove difficult to treat for veterinarians.

Recommended Additions 

Of course there are a large number of good ingredients that are healthy to feed your pet, but the list below focuses on those that are recommended for pets with GI conditions.

  • Probiotics: Probiotics improve immune function and support the GI tract. Results of a good probiotic include better digestion, improved absorption of nutrients, and decreased inflammation. 
  • Whole Foods: According to Dr. Gary Richter, “the declining nutritional value of foods is well-documented. Even a home-prepared, whole-food diet can be improved with additional nutrients (1).”
  • Bovine Colostrum: A cow’s colostrum, provided to calves at birth, is known to reduce inflammation in the GI tract.
  • Clay Powder: A study published in the International Science Review showed bentonite clay and montmorillonite clay are excellent supplements when it comes to chronic diarrhea. The clay works by binding to the toxins normalizing the stool.

Good Herbs

There are many herbal remedies for GI inflammation. It’s critical to note before continuing, you should never try more than one herb at once. You could end up doing more harm than good. Instead, review your options, discuss with a holistic veterinarian or alternative veterinarian, and choose one (or two if your veterinarian recommends). Or, you may want to consider finding a supplement that combines appropriately (7). 

  • CBD: Cannabis sativa has been shown to significantly improve gut health.
  • Aloe: Aloe increases the rate of healing and may be beneficial in case of a GI ulceration.
  • Digestive Enzymes: Enzymes are helpful in cases of diarrhea. Appropriate dosage is critical here. Too many enzymes will worsen GI irritation. 
  • Ginger: Used to aid digestion and reduce nausea.
  • L-glutamine: Helps protect mucosal lining of the GI tract.
  • Licorice: Known to have anti-inflammatory properties and protect mucous membranes in the GI tract.
  • Marshmallow: Protects mucous membranes in the GI tract.
  • Slippery Elm: Helps soothe the stomach lining and and treat symptoms associated with IBS.

Fecal Transplant

Yes, this is a real thing. According to research, fecal transplants have been proven to be safe and effective. In a study published by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, “the procedure proved to be safe with no adverse effects on the animals studied, which is in agreement with other studies. No discomfort was identified during the procedure with the volume used, and there was no need for physical restraint, sedation, or analgesia.”

If your pet has an incredibly imbalanced gastrointestinal tract, locating a healthy patient to do a fecal transplant may be a good option. This increases the sick pet’s beneficial gut microbes therefore reducing inflammation. This is also an option in the human medical world.

The Bottom Line

Fortunately, when treating pets with chronic GI conditions, veterinarians have a wide range of options. On the other side of the coin, it’s difficult to determine what is best without running tests (and it’s still difficult then) to pinpoint what the exact cause of inflammation is. Success is slow here so it’s important to remember it’s a work in progress if you have a pet with GI problems. 

According to Dr. Gary Richter (1), his go-to protocol is the following:

  • Treat symptoms with Western medicine if needed
  • Begin moderate, careful use of supplements and probiotics
  • Transition the pet to a fresh, whole-food diet
  • Look further into cannabis oil
  • Introduce other supplements on an as-needed basis

About Angela Ardolino

Angela Ardolino is a holistic pet expert who has been caring for animals for over 20 years and operates a rescue farm, Fire Flake Farm, in Florida. She is also the owner of  Beautify the Beast a natural pet salon and shop. After getting her certificate in Medical Cannabis Biology and Therapeutic use from the University of Vermont School of Medicine, she founded CBD Dog Health to provide high quality, all-natural medical cannabis products designed specifically for pets. Angela has seven dogs, Odie a 12-year-old mini-schnauzer, Nina an 8-year-old Doberman. Jolene a 7-year-old mutt, Maza a 7-year-old mutt, Rhemi an 8-year-old poodle, Potato a 15-year-old shih-tzu, and Miss Daisie a 15-year-old black lab, plus 4-10 more at any time she is fostering or boarding. She uses Full Spectrum Hemp Extract on all her pets at her rescue farm every day, and has since 2016. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, the Veterinary Cannabis Association and has trained hundreds medical doctors and veterinarians about the therapeutic uses of medical cannabis on animals. Visit for more information.


  1. Richter, Gary. DVM. The Ultimate Pet Health Guide. (2017).