Features March 2005 Issue

Does Your Dog Have Gas?

How to deal with your dog’s flatulence – without banishing him for life.

by Gregory Tilford

Borborygmus is not a sun-drenched isle in the Mediterranean. Nor is it an exotic species of houseplant. Borborygmus is the term given to the rumbling-gurgling sound one hears as precursor to flatulence, the expulsion of intestinal gas. Every dog lover is bound to experience their canine pal’s flatulence from time to time – some more than others.

This brings us to the latest case in my life. Just minutes ago, Cedar, my Australian Cattle Dog, scored a mouth-watering bite of my bean and cheese burrito. Cedar loves food – any food – and contrary to my better judgment sometimes I will slip him a treat that doesn’t quite fit into the scheme of natural canine nutrition.

Some unfortunate dogs are banished to the outdoors because they produce such volumes of noxious gas – and it’s not their fault! Some of these dogs also produce giant volumes of sloppy feces. These are two huge indications that their food is a low-quality, indigestible product. Improving the diet will reduce all malodorous emissions.

And someone always pays the price.

Sure enough, a cry of disgust resonates from the other room, “Oh Cedar! What on earth died inside of you!?”

The truth is quite the opposite; nothing has actually died inside of Cedar. In fact, millions of Clostridia and other intestinal flora are very much alive and are working overtime to metabolize his treat. The problem is, they are doing a poor job.

Why? Because dogs, being carnivores, do not digest carbohydrates very well. Their bodies are deficient in the digestive enzymes needed to break down the indigestible fiber, oligosaccharides, and other carbohydrates that are contained in my burrito. So, rather than being properly digested, the flour, beans, and cheese of my burrito are fermenting in his intestine, causing the production of hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other gasses that lead to ...

Well, you know what.

Fortunately, Cedar’s flatulence will be short-lived. He has a cast iron stomach, and he seldom has bad gas. And of course, this bout could have been avoided altogether – but Cedar just loves his occasional bite of a bean and cheese burrito, and who am I to deprive him of a little decadence once in awhile?

Unfortunately, many other dogs seem to always have gas. And sadly, many people accept this as simply the way their dogs are. In fact, some dog owners even punish their companions for having chronic gas – by forcing them to live outside, never go on car rides, or prohibiting them from socializing with human house guests.

This does not have to be. Even the most severe cases of chronic flatulence can usually be corrected.

The bigger picture
It is normal for dogs to have an occasional bout of gas. But it is not normal for flatulence to occur all the time.

Flatulence can be relieved quickly in dogs by use of simethicone, the same anti-foaming drug that is marketed for humans in a variety of over-the-counter preparations. Simethicone is generally accepted as safe for dogs, even in human-sized doses. However, there may be some drawbacks to the use of Gaviscon, Gas-X, or any other simethicone product in your dog.

First, it is important to realize that these remedies can only suppress the symptoms of your dog’s digestive problems; they do not represent any real cure, especially for chronic problems.

Also, many of these products also contain antacids drugs, some of which have the ability to alter pH levels in the canine gut. Although generally not a problem in short-term applications, long-term use might lead to some real problems. Dogs must maintain high acid levels in their digestive tracts to efficiently break down foods and to protect their bodies from food-borne pathogens. Remember, all dogs are scavengers at heart, with a nose and palate geared to some very unsavory things. Therefore, their digestive systems are set up to digest food and to protect the body from what might be living on that food. In other words, if digestive acid levels are continually reduced by frequent use of antacids, your dog may be at higher risk of bacterial infection – especially if he eats raw meat.

Another reason to reconsider the quick fix of anti-gas drugs is that chronic flatulence may be a symptom of more serious illness, like pancreatic disease, intestinal disease, parasites, or irritable bowel syndrome. To a holistic thinker like myself, symptoms such as flatulence represent the body’s effort to correct itself. Symptoms also tell us where to look next for a curative solution, and when they are suppressed, the care provider is deprived of valuable clues that are needed to render effective treatment.

That said, most cases of flatulence are not very serious, and can be effectively treated with changes in diet, adjustments in feeding behavior, and proper exercise. But if your dog’s gas is associated with vomiting or chronic diarrhea, or if he exhibits symptoms of pain, a hunched posture, restlessness, or adopts an unusual “praying” position when he lays down, get him to a veterinarian right away, since these symptoms may be signs of bloat or other serious conditions.

Fermentation of poorly digested food material in the intestine is the most common cause of canine flatulence, but other factors may also come into play. Other possible contributors or causes include air gulping during fast or competitive eating, overeating, improper feeding frequency, and lack of exercise or too much rigorous exercise in close proximity to a meal.

Assess and improve the diet
The first thing to consider is the composition and quality of your companion’s food.

Dogs do not metabolize carbohydrates as efficiently as we do. This is unfortunate, because many commercial dogs foods are chock full of them, especially the bargain-basement brands that contain mostly low-quality grains and grain by-products. These contribute more to canine gas and indigestion than to canine nutrition.

Take a close look at the labels of the products you are feeding. If corn, soy, grain hulls, several grain meals, or any kind of sugar are listed in the first few ingredients, then you may have already found an answer to your dog’s gas problems; switch to a better-quality food!

Poor quality meat ingredients can also contribute to the issue. Be wary of any meat by-products or generic meat meals – those not listed as being sourced from a specific species (i.e., chicken meal, beef meal, etc.).

Dogs who bolt their food, gulping in air as they ravenously swallow without chewing, can suffer gas pains, followed by burping or flatulence. Slow down their mealtimes by putting their ration in food-dispensing toys, such as a Kong toy or Premier Pet Products’ Twist ’n Treat, shown here. Both are available in pet supply stores.

If you already feed good quality commercial food or a home-prepared diet, make it as digestible as possible by adding a digestive enzyme supplement to each meal. This will aid the breakdown of food and optimize waste elimination. Be sure that the supplement you purchase contains a variety of enzymes that serve in the digestion of various starches, fiber, and carbohydrates (examples include cellulase, hemicellulase, alpha amylase, beta amylase, and bromelain). Of course, your dog also needs enzymes for protein digestion (e.g. protease) and fat digestion (e.g., lipase; pancreatin). All of these are components of a good digestive enzyme product.

Probiotics (beneficial bacteria), such as bifidus and acidophilus, can be beneficial too, as these little beasties will further aid with digestion and reduction of fermentation. Follow the manufacturers directions for feeding.

Assess your feeding schedule
When dealing with a chronic farter, do not free feed. Whether you choose to feed your companion once, twice, or several times daily, it is best not to leave food on the floor all of the time. Allow at least a few hours between feeding to allow complete digestion of each meal. This by itself has “cured” many cases of chronic canine flatulence!

Moderate your dog’s exercise immediately before and after he eats. Too much panting, jumping, running, and playing with a full tummy can lead to bloating and flatulence.

Also, if your dog tends to compete with other dogs for his food he may be eating too fast. Cedar has this problem. If Willow (or even the cat) is nearby, he practically inhales his food without chewing it. This often leads to bloating, indigestion, and you guessed it! GAS.

If your dog is prone to such behavior, put her into a “safe,” noncompetitive environment when she eats. Or load her food into some Kong toys or other safe chew toy – the kind that requires the dog to lick and chew for an extended period to extract the food.

Exercise and love
Healthy exercise and lots of lovin’ are integral components of your dog’s health and happiness, and of good digestion.

Regular exercise serves to stimulate metabolism and promote elimination of stool. It also helps to expel gas. Just remember – take it easy immediately before and after meals.

Play and other quality time with your dog are also very important. High-spirited, hyperactive individuals, jumpy-nervous types, fear-aggressive dogs, or those who have suffered emotional trauma are often prone to eating disorders and digestive problems. Just like many humans, dogs will sometimes manifest their nervousness and emotional distress in the form of digestive upset.

Above all else, these dogs need extra love and attention, and added levels of understanding from their guardians. I encourage you to find some extra time to better understand his troubled world. There are several excellent books out there on the subject of dog behavior; read them, and learn to look into his world to better understand “why he is” and where he is coming from. You might find that a lot more comes out of your efforts than simple relief from flatulence!

Herbs to the rescue
Several safe and accessible herbs come to mind for effective relief of flatulence and indigestion. But before I mention any of them I want you to remember this: All these herbs do is relieve symptoms. They do not represent a silver-bullet solution.

Think holistically. Even if herbs do an amazing job at relieving your pup’s gas symptoms, you should always be looking deeper into the issue, especially if his problem is a recurrent one.

With that golden rule of holistic herbal medicine in mind, here are my favorite carminative herbs for use in gassy dogs:

At the top of my list is fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare). Fennel has been used for hundreds of years as a reliable anti-gas and colic remedy in humans and animals alike. The seed contains an assortment of volatile oil constituents that combine to provide antispasmodic and antifoaming activities to the gut, and it does this without compromising normal acid concentrations or flora populations in the digestive tract.

Fennel seed is safe enough to give to dogs of any size. Grind the seeds with a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle and serve 1 level teaspoon with as little food or broth as possible. Better yet, make a tea, by covering 1 tablespoon of the ground seeds with 8 oz of boiling water. Allow to steep until completely cooled, then squirt or spoon ½ to 1 teaspoon of the infusion directly into the dog’s mouth. If that is not possible, add the tea to a very small amount of food.

An alcohol-free, glycerin-based tincture of fennel can very effective, too, and adds the advantage of easy administration; glycerin is very sweet. Squirt ½ to 1 ml (about ¼ to ½ of a pipette dropper) directly into the mouth, whenever needed.

Don’t have any fennel seed? Then search the spice cabinet for any one of the following alternate choices: dill seed, anise seed, caraway seed, chamomile, catnip, or peppermint. All of these herbs have carminative (gas-relieving) properties, and can be used by the same methods and formulas.

Well, Cedar won’t need any herbal remedies today. His gas has passed, and the grumbling has stopped – whew!

“Come on boy, let’s go play ball. Then, after a rest, I’ll share part of my dinner with you! We’re having your favorite vegetable tonight!”

Yum! Cedar just loves broccoli!

 

Also With This Article
"What You Can Do"

-Greg Tilford is a well-known expert in the field of veterinary herblism. An international lecturer and teacher of veterinarians and pet owners alike, Greg has written four books on herbs, including "All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets" (Bowie Press, 1999), which he coauthored with his wife, Mary.

Comments (3)

thank you for this article- and the advice about herbs!

Posted by: Marin | December 29, 2013 7:20 AM    Report this comment

I found this article very interesting. My 6 yr. old 70 lb. Labradoodle experienced GDV last week and I wanted to find out if giving my dog simethicone (like Phazyme) at the first sign of gas discomfort will help buy some time on the way to emergency vet. With torsion, I realize nothing will pass down.... This incident may have been caused by the stress of an emergency visit to vet with nonstop sneezing and reverse sneezing after a run through the park. Clinic had her NPO for possible nasal scope later in day (but she finally sneezed it out and scope wasn't necessary. Whe we took her home, she immediately had a good drink of water while I warmed up a home prepared meal which she ate way too slowly and for her and developed symptoms of GDV almost immediately. We rushed her back to clinic and she was tubed, emptied and tummy unflipped successfully. Should I keep simethicone in my purse? Hoping this may have been an isolated case as one vet suggested and also hoping to avoid elective gastropexy by feeding 3 small meals per day and limiting water and intense exercise after a meal.

Posted by: KAREN S | October 16, 2012 9:20 AM    Report this comment

I found this article very interesting. My 6 yr. old 70 lb. Labradoodle experienced GDV last week and I wanted to find out if giving my dog simethicone (like Phazyme) at the first sign of gas discomfort will help buy some time on the way to emergency vet. With torsion, I realize nothing will pass down.... This incident may have been caused by the stress of an emergency visit to vet with nonstop sneezing and reverse sneezing after a run through the park. Clinic had her NPO for possible nasal scope later in day (but she finally sneezed it out and scope wasn't necessary. Whe we took her home, she immediately had a good drink of water while I warmed up a home prepared meal which she ate way too slowly and for her and developed symptoms of GDV almost immediately. We rushed her back to clinic and she was tubed, emptied and tummy unflipped successfully. Should I keep simethicone in my purse? Hoping this may have been an isolated case as one vet suggested and also hoping to avoid elective gastropexy by feeding 3 small meals per day and limiting water and intense exercise after a meal.

Posted by: KAREN S | October 16, 2012 9:20 AM    Report this comment

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