One of the endearing qualities of companion animals is a complete lack of awareness about social norms. If they’re hungry, they eat. If they have an itch, they scratch. And, if they have gas, they … well, they release it. No doubt, gassiness is a subject that can spark the giggles. A comic staple of popular films, whether you euphemistically refer to it as breaking wind, cutting the cheese, barking spiders, a case of the vapors, churchhouse creepers, low flying geese, smoofers, whootzies, silent but violents, talky shorts, paint peelers, caboose rumblers, intestinnabulation, drive by pootings, smurf killers, lighting the afterburners, under-thunder, one-gun salutes or disturbances in the force, excessive gassiness is just another issue pet parents have to tolerate … or do they?
Let’s look at the causes. Excess gas in canine and feline intestinal tracts can be a function of normal biological processes, but repeated episodes may signal that something is out of whack. While cats do experience episodes, this is a much more common complaint for pet parents of canines than felines (cat lovers, you may now feel appropriately smug). Dogs who eat too quickly can swallow a lot of air along with their food; if it isn’t burped out, gas will find an exit path on the other end. Large meals, especially those eaten rapidly, and a radical change in diet can both lead to poor digestion, resulting in excessive gas.
Although this may come as a surprise to many pet parents, some of whom I’m sure will dispute this fact, more than 99% of the gases that pass from the intestinal tract are odorless. The nose-hair-curling culprit is hydrogen sulfide, produced by bacteria in the large intestine when there is too much fiber in the diet, or not the right type of fiber. Also, inadequately cooked foods will produce the same result. Some pet food companies use clay as an ingredient, which traps the gas, while others use yucca. Your best bet for limiting production of hydrogen sulfide is to feed a premium diet featuring the best fibers in the appropriate amounts. A truly high quality food features nutrients which can be digested and absorbed before anything reaches the large intestine, which is where the gas-forming bacteria live. Less food for the bacteria equals less gas-producing bacteria and therefore, fewer gases are created.
If you are already feeding a premium food but still have an especially gassy companion, there are some simple steps you can take to help. For instance, try feeding several smaller meals, split between morning, afternoon and evening, rather than just one large meal. Avoid feeding foods that contain beans, any lactose products (including milk and cheese), and any canned foods containing carrageenan, a substance used to add texture to processed foods known to induce inflammatory responses.
Please keep in mind that dogs who gobble their meals tend not only to be gassy, they’re at an increased risk for choking, obesity and bloat, a condition which can prove lethal. To slow down the pace of consumption, try using a slow-feeder bowl, available at many pet stores. Another solution, although slightly messy, is to spread the food out on a cookie sheet with low edges, which should prevent your pup from taking huge mouthfuls of food all at once. You can also place a smaller inverted bowl inside your pet’s regular food bowl, effectively creating a ring of food around the edge of the bowl.
A sedentary lifestyle can increase the production of gases, even prolonging their presence in the large intestine. So, why not try increasing your dog’s activity? The natural expulsion of gas through activity is just one more reason to do what you already know you need to – go outside and take a walk with your dog, optimally on a daily basis.
Now, if your dog tears into the garbage and, as a consequence, starts churning out the noxious fumes, there are over-the-counter medications which can soothe the savage beast after a bout of wild gastrointestinal indiscretions. If you’re uncertain about what to provide, call your veterinarian or vet tech … they should be sympathetic to your cause. If none of these help the problem, it’s time to consult with your vet. This is especially true if the problem is accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting or weight loss. Causes of flatulence include conditions such as IBD, IBS, cancer, parasitic infection, food allergies or inadequate production of digestive enzymes, so rather than just lighting a match and ignoring the issuances, schedule an appointment and find out what’s at the root of the problem.
Thank you so much for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.
Dr. Jane Bicks
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