Bland Diets for Dogs: A Comprehensive Guide

Brindle French bulldog eating from a food bowl

“Feed your dog a bland diet.” It's probably something you've been told once or twice by your veterinarian, but what exactly is a bland diet? When should you feed it and why would it be beneficial?

Simply put, a bland diet is food that you can give that isn't likely to upset the stomach and can help relieve a dog suffering from vomiting and diarrhea.

What is a Bland Diet for Dogs?

A bland diet should be easily digestible by your dog's GI tract. It allows your dog to obtain nutrition without further aggravating their already upset stomach.

Bland diets are most often composed of just a single protein and carbohydrate. Sometimes vegetables can be added to the mix as a fiber source, but they aren't necessary.

Typical Protein Sources

The protein should be low fat. Things like chicken, ground turkey, and lean ground beef are all suitable options. High-fat proteins, such as ham, pork, and bacon, should be avoided. The most commonly utilized protein source is chicken. Some integrative veterinarians, those that practice both Western medicine and more 'holistic' medicine, may recommend ground turkey over chicken.

Typical Carbohydrate Sources

Appropriate carbohydrates for a bland diet include plain white rice, plain white potato, brown rice, barley, and whole-wheat pasta. The most commonly used carbohydrate is white rice because of its high digestibility and the fact that it has the most water-absorbing capabilities.

If You Are Adding Veggies

If you want to add a high fiber vegetable, stick with things like celery, green beans, and pumpkin. For the green veggies use fresh or frozen whenever possible as canned may have extra water and sodium. If using canned pumpkin, ensure that it is just pumpkin and not pumpkin pie mix.

How to Cook a Bland Diet for Dogs

The protein should be boiled or cooked without any added butter, oil, or spices. If you are opting to use canned meat, ensure that it's packed in water and rinse it thoroughly before using. Vegetables, if used, should be blanched and not fed raw. To blanch them, bring a pot of water to a boil, cook the vegetables in the boiling water for 1-5 minutes, then immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water.

If home cooking is not feasible for you, whether due to time or expense, there are commercially available bland diets that your veterinarian can prescribe your dog.

When Should I Feed My Dog a Bland Diet?

If your dog is suffering from vomiting or diarrhea, the first thing you should do is pull their regular food and withhold any food or treats for a few hours. You can allow access to water, but only small amounts as drinking too much water too fast can worsen your dog's symptoms.

By not giving your dog anything to eat for a few hours, or even by skipping a meal, you are giving their GI tract time rest and it also gives you time to cook for them.

A bland diet does not replace veterinary care. You should always speak to your veterinarian about your dog's symptoms if you think they should be on a bland diet, especially if your dog's vomiting or diarrhea are severe, they are accompanied by any other worrying symptoms, or they last more than a day.

How Much of a Bland Diet Should You Feed Your Dog?

Bland diets should be fed in small, frequent meals. Your dog should have at least two meals a day, but if you're able to split it into three or even four meals, that's even better.

Gorging on their daily nutrition requirement in one meal can be stressful on your dog's GI tract. Splitting it up into multiple small, frequent meals can help ease that stress. If you opted to feed a prescription bland diet, your veterinarian can advise you how much to feed per day. If you're home cooking, use the following table as a guideline:

Weight of Dog Amount of Protein Amount of Carbohydrate Amount of Veggie (if using) Amount of Pumpkin (if using)
20 lb 1/3 - 1/2 C 1/3 - 1/2 C 1/3 C 1 Tbl 
40 lb 1/2 - 3/4 C 1/2 - 3/4 C 1/2 C  1.5 Tbl 
60 lb 3/4 - 1 C 3/4 - 1 C  3/4 C  2 Tbl 
80 lb 1.5 - 2 C  1.5 - 2 C  1.5 - 2 C  2.5 Tbl 

Bland diets, by design, are not complete and balanced nutrition. They shouldn't be fed long term. Your dog requires various vitamins and minerals that something like just boiled chicken and rice simply doesn't provide.

How to Transition From a Bland Diet

Once your dog's GI symptoms have resolved you can begin transitioning them off of their bland diet and back onto their regular food. It is best to do this gradually to reduce the chance of any flare-up.

To start, you will want to feed your dog a meal that is 75% the bland diet and 25% their regular food. This should be fed for two to three days. If your dog is doing well on this blend, you can transition it some more. This time you will want to feed your dog a meal that is 50% the bland diet and 50% their regular dog food. Again, feed this for two to three days and, again, if you're dog is doing well, you can transition it once more. This next step you will be feeding your dog a meal that is 25% the bland diet and 75% their regular food. After two to three days of this blend, if your dog is still doing well you can full transition them back to their regular food.

If at any point during their transition they begin to have vomiting and/or diarrhea again, withhold food and then restart the transition at the previous point. So if you are feeding a 50:50 mix and your dog starts to have soft stool, go back to feeding the 75:25 of bland diet to regular diet.

This is also how you should transition your dog from one dog food to the next whenever switching brands.

If you cannot fully transition your dog off of the bland diet, speak to your veterinarian. Your dog may have concurrent disease processes and/or allergies that may manifest as GI signs when eating their regular diet.

Bland diets certainly have their place in the at-home care of your pup, but they may not address everything that can be causing your dog's symptoms. If you have concerns about your dog needing to be on a bland diet, speak to your veterinarian.