Flatulence in Dogs

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

My dog has excessive gas. What is this called?

The excessive formation of gas in the stomach or intestine is referred to as flatulence. Flatus is the medical term used to describe air or gas expelled through the anus.

What causes flatulence in dogs?

The most common cause of flatulence is a change in diet or from the dog eating something spoiled (dietary indiscretion). Most cases of chronic flatulence are caused by a diet that is poorly digested by the dog. These poorly digestible diets cause excessive fermentation in the colon and subsequent gas formation. Soybeans, peas, beans, milk products, high-fat diets, and spicy foods are all commonly associated with flatulence in dogs. Most dogs and cats are lactose intolerant and if they are fed milk or dairy products they will experience flatulence and/or intestinal upset. A dog that is being fed a premium diet and is still experiencing flatulence should be tested for a maldigestion problem with either poor digestion or poor absorption of nutrients from the diet.

"The most common cause of flatulence is a change in diet or from the dog eating something spoiled (dietary indiscretion)."

Dogs that swallow air while eating, especially those that eat rapidly, are more likely to experience flatulence. Overweight, obese, and sedentary dogs are at higher risk for developing chronic flatulence, regardless of diet.

What are the clinical signs of flatulence?

The most common clinical signs include expulsion of gas from the anus, with or without odor, mild abdominal discomfort, mild stomach distention or bloating, and excessive gaseous sounds or rumbling from the abdomen (borborygmus). If the dog has an underlying malassimilation problem (inability or impaired ability of the gastrointestinal tract to provide nutrients to the body), clinical signs will also include loose stools or diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.

How is the cause of flatulence diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on medical history and clinical signs. Some of the common causes that must be ruled out include:

  • increased swallowing of air (aerophagia)
  • gluttony or compulsive eating
  • respiratory disease
  • feeding shortly after exercise
  • brachycephalic or flat-faced breeds
  • dietary indiscretion
  • diets high in soybeans, peas or beans
  • diets high in fermentable fibers such as lactulose, psyllium, or oat bran
  • spoiled food
  • milk and dairy products
  • sudden change in diet
  • spicy foods and food additives
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • tumors
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • intestinal parasites
  • enteritis
  • exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

Diagnostic tests may include fecal examination and/or culture; rectal cytology; blood and urine tests, including specialized tests such as trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI), serum cobalamin, and serum folate tests; abdominal radiographs; abdominal ultrasound; and intestinal biopsies.

How is flatulence treated?

Treatment is based on diagnosis and commonly involves a change in diet. Diet recommendations include a diet that is highly digestible with low fiber and fat. This reduces the amount of food needing to be digested and absorbed before reaching the pet’s colon. Medical therapy may include carminatives (medications to relieve flatulence) such as zinc acetate, Yucca schidigera, or probiotics. Small, frequent feedings are encouraged for dogs that eat rapidly or are hyperexcitable. Your veterinarian will outline a treatment plan specifically designed for your pet.

What is the prognosis for resolving flatulence?

Most patients with uncomplicated cases respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes. Once offending dietary substances and products are identified, it is important to avoid them.

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