Blah, Blah, and More Blah! Bland Diet Instructions for Dogs and Cats
Bland. What a descriptive word! It’s as if a wordsmith tossed 'beige' on top of 'blah' with a dull thud. Bland has no zip, no flair, no flavor. When it’s combined with the word diet, bland is still beige and blah. But this underappreciated dining option does serve an important purpose for our pets and, therefore, deserves a little respect.
Why do I need to feed a bland diet?
Why would we feed a 'blah' diet to our pets when we delight in making them happy? Well, we also delight in keeping them happy and if they are feeling poorly, a 'bland' diet may help them feel better. Veterinarians often recommend bland diets for pets when their digestive tracts are upset or need a rest. So in some cases, 'blah' is best!
The two most common signs of gastrointestinal (GI) trouble are vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually short lived and can be caused by many things. Eating too quickly, eating spoiled food, or even an innocent change in diet can upset the GI tract. Intruders can also upset the digestive tract. For example, when unwanted intestinal parasites or hairballs invade the stomach and intestines, the GI system may respond with vomiting and diarrhea. Some causes of vomiting and diarrhea are more serious. Intestinal blockage, viral or bacterial infections, kidney disease, and cancer require thorough medical diagnostics and treatment.
If your pet has vomiting and/or diarrhea, call your veterinarian for advice. After a medical assessment, it’s likely you’ll hear the words “bland diet” as part of the treatment plan. A few 'beige' meals may help soothe the intestinal tract until the pet stops vomiting, has normal bowel movements, and feels better.
How do I feed a bland diet?
Bland diets help calm the revolt going on inside your pet’s stomach and intestines. Low in fiber, bland diets slow stool production so the urge to go to the bathroom is less frequent, easing diarrhea. These diets are also low in fat, are gentler on the stomach, and reduce vomiting. Moreover, they are highly digestible and reduce peristalsis (intestinal contraction) giving the GI tract a needed rest.
What exactly is in a bland diet?
Not the exciting topic of TV cooking shows, bland diets have boring ingredients. They consist of foods that are low in fat and fiber and are easy to digest. Effective bland diets usually have a single protein source (no surf and turf) and a simple carbohydrate. Sometimes, bland diets include ingredients that will help the formation of solid stool. Bon appétit!
Bland diets are also boring to prepare. No grilling or pan searing here! The meat source is usually boiled (yuk). Boil boneless, skinless pieces of chicken or turkey in non-salted or lightly-salted water until done. Drain the boiled meat and allow it to cool to room temperature before dicing into small pieces. Even with these very lean protein sources, there will be a little fat produced with boiling, so skim the broth to remove the fat floating on top. Save the skimmed broth to add moisture to the food which may improve palatability. Bland is not appetizing. Bland AND dry….even less so!
As an alternative to boiling meat, you may pan fry lean ground beef or turkey. Drain thoroughly to remove as much fat as possible. Unseasoned scrambled eggs are another good protein source for tummies in turmoil. Protein rich poached fish might appeal to the feline diners. You can also use commercially prepared turkey or chicken baby food or cottage cheese as a protein source, but be aware of the sodium content.
The source of starch in a bland diet can be rice or sweet potato. Steam or boil white or brown rice until tender. Bake the sweet potato, peel it, and cut it into small cubes. Canned sweet potatoes may be used if not too high in sodium. Alternative starches also include cooked oatmeal or pasta.
Regardless of what’s on your menu, combine ingredients in a 2:1 ratio of starch to meat (e.g., 2 cups rice to 1 cup meat). Cooked diets may be refrigerated for several days or frozen for long term storage.
Pets with diarrhea only, often respond to a bland diet that includes pureed pumpkin or bananas. The fiber in pumpkin and bananas is very soluble so it doesn’t overtax the GI tract. Both are good sources of potassium, absorb water, and slow down peristalsis which helps decrease bowel movements. While they may not be a fan of bananas, cats and dogs will usually eat pumpkin quite readily. Just make sure you buy regular canned pumpkin….not pie filling. It’s not dessert time!
When do I feed my pet a bland diet?
It’s best to consult your veterinarian if your pet is experiencing GI difficulties because the causes and treatments can be complex; however, here are a few general guidelines for pets that have minor upsets.
The first thing to do if your pet vomits is nothing! It’s best not to feed anything for 12-24 hours. But it’s important to prevent dehydration so offer water. Wait 2-3 hours after a vomiting episode and offer ¼ cup water. If your pet holds this down, offer a little more water every 2-3 hours. Your veterinarian may also suggest a supplement to manage electrolyte balance. When your pet can drink and hold down water, it’s time to move on to more solid bland food.
The goal is to rest the GI tract, so reintroduce bland food gradually. Several small meals per day are better than one or two large ones. Start by offering a very small amount, 1-2 tablespoons of food every 2-3 hours. If your pet tolerates this, you may gradually increase the amount and decrease the frequency of food, (offer ¼ to ½ cup every 4 hours).
How long do I need to feed my pet a bland diet?
It’s usually good to keep the pet on a bland diet for 2-3 days after the vomiting has stopped and the stool has returned to normal. When things stabilize, you can start mixing the bland diet with your pet’s normal food. Start by mixing ½ regular food and ½ bland diet. If tolerated, you can gradually increase the regular food and phase out the bland diet. Total transition time from bland diet to regular diet after upset tummy signs are gone takes about 5 days.
It’s often scary to revert back to normal food. No one wants a relapse, right? But the transition has to occur eventually because a bland diet is not nutritionally complete and isn’t designed to be fed long term. A bland diet is meant to provide some of the calories and nutrients a pet needs while it allows the intestinal tract to recover.
Is there anything else I need to know about bland diets?
While bland diets are great, they don’t solve all GI problems. Call your veterinarian if the vomiting and/or diarrhea continues or worsens. If urination decreases, pick up the phone. If you note blood (bright red or tarry) in the vomitus or stool, call right away. If your pet becomes weak or pale, seek emergency aid.
Your veterinarian can monitor your pet’s hydration status. You can help keep your pet hydrated by encouraging him to drink water or prescribed electrolyte supplements, but some pets require IV fluids. Keep water bowls clean and filled.
Vomiting and diarrhea disturb the normal balance of healthy bacteria in the GI tract. These bacteria aid digestion rather than serving as a source of infection. Your pet’s doctor may also recommend probiotic supplements or live culture yogurt to replace healthy bacteria and minimize further digestive complications
And, one final note…you can always feed a commercial bland diet and avoid food prep altogether! Both ready-made and home cooked bland diets are 'blah' and 'beige'. But when your pet has an upset tummy, appearances really don’t matter!
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