So you and your friends are gathered in the living room, enjoying snacks and having a few beers, watching the big game. Suddenly, your eyes begin to water and the sense of something worse than a ruptured sewer, burning plastic, a dead rat stuck between walls and 10 angry skunks, combined, wafts into your nostrils. You have an urge to open all the doors and windows, but you can’t, because it’s 110 degrees outside. You look up, and all eyes are on you! You immediately cry out, “Don’t look at me! The dog did it!!”
In your own defense, you point to the poor creature next to you, who’s looking up at you with big eyes, apologizing, as he always does, for whatever has sent you into such a state. He doesn’t realize he has a problem, but as your friends make a hasty, “religious” retreat, uttering phrases starting with “Holy” and “Jesus,” you begin to wonder how your beloved friend became such a fumarole of noxious gases. What process is going on inside him that creates this? Is he sick?
Then you say, “It’s just flatulence,” but why does it smell so bad? After all, flatulence is a normal biological function. It’s only the result of an accumulation of gas in the intestinal tract. What, exactly, is the origin of canine gas, and what can you do about it? Well, here are the basics.
For the most part, flatulence in dogs develops in two fundamental ways: Aerophagia (swallowing air) and Fermentation.
Dog owners are usually not surprised to hear that dogs can swallow a lot of air when they eat, especially those who gulp their food. Feeding multiple dogs in the same area can exacerbate the situation by introducing competition. So, you may be able to reduce ingestion of air by feeding dogs separately or by feeding smaller, more frequent meals. Some dog bowls are even designed with barriers built in to force dogs to slow down, and they can be very effective.
Another cause for aerophagia is gasping. Many short-nosed dogs frequently breathe through their mouths. Exertion, obviously, compounds the problem. These dogs are often “gassy” and, if they are also enthusiastic eaters, they can be fountains of flatulence. (Bulldog owners seem to have an inherent understanding of this.) Ingested air, however, doesn’t automatically carry foul odors. Sure, it can pick up some aroma as it passes through the digestive tract, but the really noxious stuff is produced on-site, within the digestive tract, through fermentation.
Fermentation is a metabolic process used by microorganisms to create energy through the breakdown of organic compounds, like carbohydrates, into acids, alcohols, and gases. The types of gases, and hence, the odors produced are influenced by the organisms present and the type of organic compound being acted upon. In dogs, most fermentation occurs in the colon (lower intestine), which receives material that should have already been broken down by enzyme activity in the upper intestine. Food products that resist degradation in the upper intestine make it to the colon more intact and end up being processed through fermentation, leading to the accumulation of those gases we don’t want crashing our parties. For dogs, these foods include things like milk, cheese, soy, peas, beans, fruit (fresh or dried), bran, and other sources of fiber.
Of course, anything that reduces digestion in the small intestine can contribute to the problem. Pancreatic enzyme reduction, intestinal thickening that reduces absorption, inflammation from dietary indiscretion or toxin exposure, increased motility from stress, and bacterial population shifts from sudden dietary changes are all examples of situations that can impact fermentation and the types and volume of gas produced. Predictably, diarrhea often comes with the package.
So, it’s important to remember that while flatulence alone is typically benign, even humorous at times, you should discuss it with your vet. They may suggest some supplements or therapies to help. Remember, also, that gas associated with flatulence is moving through the digestive tract, and is unlikely to cause discomfort or danger. Gas that is trapped in the digestive tract can be very uncomfortable, and may be a sign of a deeper problem, like gastric torsion, intestinal obstruction, or reduced motility, none of which should be taken lightly. Here’s a list of symptoms that might signal that your dog’s gut problems are more than just flatulence.
- Bloated appearance
- Trouble getting comfortable
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Chronic constipation
- Blood or mucus in the stool
Thankfully, most flatulence problems are social, rather than medical, and can be managed by staying proactive in how your dog is fed, what he is fed, and how fast he eats it. So the next time your friends come over for a party, don’t let the little guy next to you get into the cheese dip, and don’t offer him hot dogs or hamburgers. But remember, if you follow this advice, when the next odor appears, you’ll either have to accept the blame or lay it on one of your friends, because the dog didn’t do it!
VCA Rancho Mirage Animal Hospital located at 71-075 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA. 760-346-6103. Visit www.vcahospitals.com/rancho-mirage
Slow feeders make getting to the food a little challenging by limiting the access to the kibble. Dogs (and cats) need to work a bit harder to get every last piece. This is also a great tool to mentally stimulate pets at feeding time. There are many styles of slow feeders, as shown here. Products shown are not necessarily endorsed by author.
Outward Hound Fun Feeder™ outwardhound.com
Outward Hound Fun Feeder Mat™ outwardhound.com
The Company of Animals GREEN Slow Dog Feeder companyofanimals.us
The Loving Bowl www.thelovingbowl.com
Loving Pets Gobblestopper™ lovingpetsproducts.com