How to Feed a Pet Who Has Health Issues

Leigh - The Paw Sitter blog, Pet Food, Pet Health & Safety 14 Comments

Recently, some readers have asked me what’s the best dry food to feed a pet who has chronic diarrhea, or what food to feed a cat that vomits often. Of course when these readers look to the internet for some answers, the first thing they hear is “take them to the vet!” And it’s true that these symptoms could be any number of serious problems. But some pet owners are pretty sure they have a healthy pet on their hands, EXCEPT for the diarrhea, or the vomiting, or a skin or ear or eye issue. And if that’s true, the key might be diet.**


If you think you need to change your pet’s food, here are some tips.

1. If your pet is currently experiencing a bout of diarrhea, give their digestive system a break by fasting them for the rest of the day. That’s right, skip supper for the dog and pick up the free-fed kibble for the cat. Resist giving in to those pleading puppy dog eyes and pitiful cat meows. They will be ok. And their butts will get a break.

2. When it’s time to feed them again (at least 12 hours later), give them a bland meal of boiled chicken and rice. This won’t upset their system and will digest easily. Feed them this meal for a day or two and hopefully the diarrhea will clear up.

3. Gradually start introducing the food you want to try. For recurrent diarrhea, vomiting, and chronic skin issues, if you really want to stick to kibble, give GRAIN FREE pet food a try. Troubling symptoms like these are often caused by grains in commercial pet food. For thousands of years, dogs and cats ate what they were created to eat: raw prey, protein, bones, organs, etc. In the 1900s, commercial pet food started being manufactured for convenience, and it was made cheaply with fillers, carbs and empty calories. Dogs and cats were meant to eat meat and protein. It’s no wonder they often suffer a myriad of problems when they are fed dry cereal day after day. Grains are often the culprit; our pets sometimes become *allergic* to their food. Start feeding grain-free and see if it helps. My favorites are Nature’s Variety and Wellness.

4. Don’t feed just dry food, and don’t feed one food forever. Your pet should get some canned food every day, alone or mixed in with dry. You might even want to try feeding more canned than dry or all canned. There are a few reasons for this:

A) It is a myth that dry food keeps your pet’s teeth clean. You need to brush their teeth and take them to the vet for teeth cleanings regardless of what you feed them. Both of my kibble-fed cats lost their teeth and had to have teeth removed as they aged.

B) What is the main piece of advice that any doctor give you when you are sick? Get more fluids. This is true for pets, too, and the best way to get them more moisture is to FEED them more moisture. Canned food delivers more nutrition, more efficiently. It is great for prevention and helping during illness.

C) Kibble-only diets are notorious for causing carb addiction, which can lead to obesity and diabetes (just like in humans who love their cookies and bread and chips!). They also can cause kidney problems because of the lack of moisture, especially in cats who aren’t as keen drinkers as dogs are. I cringe when I hear that a cat had a UTI and is now to strictly only eat Science Diet kibble. There are better foods for pets with UTI’s than that food, and treating a bladder infection with only dry food does NOT make sense.

D) Pets need variety in their diet. Feeding only one food over time can cause allergic reactions and their body can start to “reject” the food. If you rotate their foods carefully, their system will not only get used to the variety but it will thrive. I often read about how the oldest living pets, such as Baby the cat, who lived to be well over 35 years old, and Chanel the 20 year old Dachshund, were fed a large variety of food throughout their long lives, including whatever their humans were having. Of course you need to do your research about what NOT to feed your pet, but variety is the spice of life.

5. Some pets with compromised digestive systems cannot sufficiently break down and process dry kibble. Often these pets have Irritable Bowel Disease. You might find, as I did with my cat, that even grain free kibble does not end the diarrhea. The only cure for him was raw food, and I hope you’ll consider looking into that option if nothing else helps. (You can also try home-cooked meals; just do your research on the nutrients pets need. Dogs and cats have different needs.)

In response to my blog post about how raw food cured my cat’s vomiting and diarrhea, a representative from Nature’s Variety sent me the following email:

“I work as a demonstrator for Nature’s Variety and am absolutely ecstatic that our food helped your kitty so much! I also wanted to pass along some nutritional information that applies to both cats and dogs. There are four main things you want to avoid when purchasing any pet food. Check the ingredients for CORN, WHEAT, SOY and BY-PRODUCTS. Any food without those 4 should be an excellent food.

Corn, wheat and soy have little to no nutritional value and are used as inexpensive proteins (fillers). They can cause terrible digestive problems and also excess shedding and skin problems. By-products are what’s left after animals are processed for human consumption. It’s deemed unacceptable for humans but some companies think it’s ok to use as another source of cheap protein in their pet foods.

Another great tip is to use rotational feeding so pets don’t develop allergies or other problems associated with feeding the same food regularly. Plus they won’t get bored with their food!”


More info on this topic can be found at, a very helpful web site written by a Veterinarian Lisa M. Pierson. I hope it helps you as much as it did me!

**Note: I’m not saying not to take your pet to the vet. But if you have and you can’t find a problem,
or you don’t want to go on yet another round of antibiotics just yet, trying some of these ideas
might hit the gold mine. It did for me and my cat Oscar when I put him on raw food!

Comments 14

  1. C in Ontario, Canada

    Very helpful info. Anyone who has a cat or is thinking of
    getting one needs to be aware of this important info.

    Cat food ads on TV and elsewhere advertise “wholesome,
    natural grains” in their product, and it makes me angry!
    So many people believe this to be true and their cats
    end up sick! When will this false advertising finally become illegal?

    I think your site is a huge help.
    Because I believe this is also an animal welfare issue,
    I think we need to be proactive. Does anyone know if there an
    organized education campaign or petition we could view?

    PS – site updated March 2009.

    1. Post
      Go Fetch Gifts

      Good question, C. I did a little searching and here’s what I found.

      The Humane Society of the United States has a page with updates regarding recalled food. Not exactly what you and I are discussing, but good to watch anyway. has a petition started but I don’t know the current status of it. There isn’t much happening at their forum, but they do have some links on the main page under the “Get Involved” heading that offer some good ideas.

      And finally, I doubt this would help, but the FDA web site has info on how to complain to them.

  2. Anlina Sheng

    I agree with C, it really is unethical (if not downright criminal) the way pet food manufacturers and advertisers tell people that grains and other species-inappropriate foods are good for our cats.

    Whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies and fresh meat may look like a great meal to us. Too bad cats don’t have the same dietary needs as humans. They exploit people’s perceptions of what a balanced diet looks like and the fact that most people don’t have a clue about cat nutrition.

    Not to mention how misleading the quality of the ingredients portrayed is. Pet food manufacturers would have us think that their food is made from fresh picked fruit and veggies, freshly harvested grains and the most choice cuts of Grade A meat… not industry by-products, foods unfit for human consumption and 4D carcasses.

    It’s really unfortunate that the pet food industry is so profitable and therefore powerful. I suspect any real change would be a challenge to get pushed through.

  3. Yvonne Hastings

    I have a 15 year old cat from a Houston Shelter. She has hyperthyroid. Pull her long hair out and cain”t get it out of her mouth, swallows and then throws up. She never seemed to get enough food. You could pick her up like a bucket by her spine. The Dr. wanted to put her down and I asked to take her home for one more night. She gave me a bottle of medicine to give her 1/2 dropper twice a day. She is now healthy and chasing my other two cats, eating tuna and has put on two lbs. She still pull her long hair out and it is all over the house . She eats probably a hand full everyday. I know that I have seen a miracle but I almost let her be put down.

    1. Post
      Go Fetch Gifts

      Two pounds! That’s great. So all she is eating is tuna? Have you offered her any raw to see if she likes it, like a little piece of raw chicken breast, or a piece of chicken liver?

    2. Paula Malik

      I heard that feeding tuna to cats is not good at all. Too much mercury and other nasties. Also cats don’t like getting their paws wet so it’s really not their natural food. Check out Michelle Bernard’s book, “Raising Cats Naturally”. It’s very informative.

      1. Post
  4. Yvonne Hastings

    Up date on Zoe I took her to my old vet who had moved to another town and took her records with me. He took blood test which the other Dr. had not done. Her thyroid count was 40. He gave her a cortisone shot and with in an hour she had stopped pulling her hair out was chasing my other two cats and eating me out of house and home. I have gone to just giving her the most expensive cat food that I can find. Funny how we think some thing is better if it cost more. Feeding three cats on a dollar a can cat food gets difficult. Zoe stays hungry and wants to eat every hour. After reading the above article it looks like I have some research to do. She is very old and has only a few teeth so it is hard to feed her chicken. but I think tuna is a mistake. If any one has any words of advice I will welcome them. Thanks for this website I am going to forward it to all of my kids and friends.

    1. Post
      Go Fetch Gifts

      Yvonne, price doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but quality protein is not cheap. Grains, fillers, and corn is cheap, and that is what is in low-quality pet food. You should try a grain-free variety like Wellness. I believe it is now sold a PetsMart. There are so many places online to turn to for advice. I love Catster because you can always find people there who have gone what you are going through. Being picky about food is very common in old age, however. Some have to resort to force-feeding with a syringe. Good luck Zoe, I’m thinking of you!

  5. Karan

    My kitty was very sick last week; vomiting/diarrhea/lethargy; took him to see the vet and they prescribed some antibiotic and something to soothe his tummy. All good in theory, but my kitty would not let me administer the meds. I got the meds into for maybe 2 days, and then he seemed back to his normal self since – e.g., lots of energy and eating regularly. The problem is, his diarrhea has not abated and he seems to be eating more than he ever did before! I am worried, but the vets in my city charge like you would not believe….for instance, when I brought him in last week, just the exam and the 2 meds cost me $185 – no tests of blood/urine/feces included. Of that $185, they charged me $63 dollars to inject some water/fluid underneath his skin to combat dehydration. That is ridiculous.

    Like I said, he seems well except for ongoing diarrhea and an increased appetite. Any suggestions? I am not going to give him his meal tonight in order to give his butt and stomach a rest. Of course I will leave out plenty of water.

    1. Post
      Go Fetch Gifts


      You really need to continue to antibiotic. Just as with people, if you don’t complete the course, the infection can come back. This isn’t to say the antibiotic will help, however. An antibiotic only helped my cat for 2 days and then his diarrhea returned as I finished the meds. I don’t know what your cat eats, if he is overweight, or how old he is so it’s hard to give you advice, other than to try the bland chicken and rice meal for a few days to see if the diarrhea goes away. If your cat eats dry food and is overweight, diabetes could be an issue especially with the increased appetite. But there are many other things it could be. I agree the $63 for fluids seems overboard. I just got two days of fluids for my cat from a holistic vet for nothing.

  6. Michelle

    I too have switched over to Raw food for my 15 year old persian kitty. I started about 2 weeks ago and it did stop her cronic diarrhea. However, now she seems to vomit after eating. I dont know what to do. Could she be allergic to the Raw food now? I personally think she has IBD. Any suggestions out there?

    1. Post
      Go Fetch Gifts

      Michelle, oh no! Your kitty wouldn’t be allergic to “raw food,” but she could be allergic to chicken or whatever type of meat you have been feeding. What were you feeding before the switch, and what did you switch to?

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