Dog on the nose? Caroline Zambrano explains the reasons for canine flatulence and just what you can do about it.
It’s invisible, usually silent and smells something awful. We’re not talking about a ghost zombie crawling out of the sewer in a horror movie. It is Fido’s flatulence — the excessive formation of gases in the stomach or intestine.
Often referred to as fart or by many kids fluff (sounds like a Poodle had something to do with it), gas is normally produced and accumulated within the gastrointestinal tract. However, sometimes this production of gas is increased and can become … erm … unwarranted.
Pets can commonly suffer from flatulence for various reasons and, thank goodness, there are remedies. However, sometimes gas is indicative of an underlying health condition that requires veterinary treatment.
Sydney small-animal veterinarian Dr James Crowley, who has smelled his share of malodourous doggy gas, says flatulence is quite common in canines, particularly in working dogs, those that gobble down their food and brachycephalic breeds (ie Bulldogs, Pugs, French Bulldogs) due to the positioning of their nose.
“I have seen quite a few young dogs with aerophagia (gaseous distension of the stomach due to swallowing air) from rapid or anxious consumption of food, followed by flatulence,” Dr James says. “Dogs that swallow air are more likely to experience flatulence. Aerophagia is also noted commonly in brachycephalic, working and sporting breeds as well as in dogs with aggressive or competitive eating behaviours.”
The most common cause of excessive canine flatulence is a change in diet, or consuming a new or spoiled food. “Milk products, high-fat diets, beans and spicy foods commonly lead to flatulence and gastrointestinal (GI) upset,” Dr James explains.
Eating nervously, compulsively or shortly after exercise can also cause gas. “Eating a diet that is poorly digested can cause excessive gas in the colon and the subsequent formation of flatulence,” the vet says.
If your dog is on a premium diet and still farts, you need to test for malassimilation, which is the inability of the GI tract to absorb ingested nutrients. Your dog may also have food allergies or intolerances, even more so if they have intermittent or chronic vomiting and/or diarrhoea, Dr James says.
It’s possible that an underlying disease may be the culprit behind your dog’s smelly farts. These diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), tumours and intestinal parasites.
When is flatulence a problem?
An occasional fart is normal and even expected from your treat-loving pooch. But when does flatulence become a problem that requires veterinary attention?
“You need to see a vet when the gas distension is causing clinical signs of disease or discomfort in your dog,” Dr James advises. “In at-risk breeds (ie deep-chested dogs), gaseous distension of the stomach may cause the stomach to twist, causing gastric dilatation and volvulus or ‘bloat’. Some dogs with a distended stomach that has not yet twisted may vomit, regurgitate and be in respiratory distress. Vomiting and regurgitation can cause aspiration and pneumonia. There is usually an underlying cause for the gas distension.”
To find out the cause of flatulence, your vet may need to do various diagnostic tests including a faecal examination/evaluation, blood and urine tests, abdominal ultrasound and, if necessary, an intestinal biopsy.
Treatment or management for flatulence is based on diagnosis and commonly involves a change of diet — one that is highly digestible with a low-fibre and -fat content, Dr James says. Prescription diets, probiotics and medications to relieve flatulence (called carminatives) may also be used to manage intestinal inflammation and gastric reflux.
According to Waltham, a worldwide authority on dog care and nutrition, a dietary supplement containing activated charcoal, Yucca schidigera and zinc acetate can reduce flatulence in dogs. A study of eight adult dogs showed that the incorporation of these three ingredients in a dog treat significantly reduced (by 86 per cent) those flatulence episodes with a bad or unbearable odour (Giffard et al. 2001). Vitamin and mineral supplements can also alleviate gas by changing the acidity level and digestive activity in the GI tract.
“Gas-X, an equivalent to Degas for humans, is an over-the-counter medicine for dogs, which can be used to relieve painful flatulence and wind,” Dr James says. “Beano is an enzyme-based dietary supplement used to reduce gas in the digestive tract.”
It is important to consult your veterinarian about administering any type of supplement or medication to your dog, as weight, age and breed need to be considered.
Prevention is key to a gas-free life
You can help prevent your dog from having foul-smelling flatulence with regular exercise, feeding smaller meals more frequently and in a quiet, non-competitive environment, especially if you have other pets around, Dr James says. “Ensure your dog’s diet is highly digestible. Speak to your vet about the possible benefits of changing the source of protein and carbohydrates.”
When you’re not at home, make sure your dog doesn’t have access to garbage containers. Speak to your neighbour about not sharing treats from over the fence and watch out for your dog exhibiting coprophagia (eating faeces) — as if the smell of gas wasn’t bad enough!
Signs of flatulence
- Clearly, the expulsion of gas from the anus, but it can be with or without odour
- Mild abdominal discomfort
- Mild bloating of the stomach (careful, this can lead to deadly bloat!)
- Excessive rumbling from the abdomen
Foods difficult for dogs to digest
- Spoiled food
What’s in a stinky fart?
Farts are composed of 99 per cent odourless gases and one per cent smelly gases that contain sulphur. The more sulphur-rich the diet, the more sulphides are produced by the bacteria in the gut and the more the farts will stink.
Aerophagia is the swallowing of too much air into the gastrointestinal tract, causing abdominal bloating, intestinal pain and excessive burping and belching.
You can protect your dog from aerophagia by feeding several small meals a day, discouraging rapid or competitive eating, feeding a mixture of moist and dry foods, and identifying and treating underlying causes, such as narrow airways in at-risk breeds.
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