The Discomfort (for everyone) of Flatulence

Flatulence is a thing; here are some facts you should know.

When my husband and I were both still in the Marine Corps, we were transferred from Southern California to Washington DC. As I checked in to my new command, my new Commanding Officer said, “I understand you train dogs.” My reply, of course, was “Yes, sir.” Five minutes later I was holding a leash with the Marine Corps mascot on the other end. All of the official Marine Corps mascots are named Chesty and unfortunately this one had no training and was biting his fellow Marines. It was now my job to turn him in to a well mannered Marine.

But Chesty had another problem. A bad problem that made living with him difficult. He had flatulence. He farted often, long, and loudly; and it smelled so bad our eyes would water if we were in the same room with him. Even our other dogs would leave the room when Chesty farted. It was terrible.

The Causes of Flatulence

Air in the stomach and intestinal tract is expelled through burping or as flatulence, depending on where in the gut the air is. A normal biological function for healthy dogs, flatulence typically happens several times a day. Many times air will be expelled when the dog is having a bowel movement, after exercise, or when the dog is sleeping deeply and is completely relaxed.

There can be more or less air in the gut for a variety of reasons. The normal digestion of food involves several chemical processes which can produce methane and other gases; all of which need to be expelled. A dog who gulps his food will swallow air, leading to both burping and farting. A dog who chews a lot, such as a teething puppy, may also swallow a lot of air. Dogs who like to retrieve balls or toys, especially one who runs hard and jumps for the toy, may swallow a great deal of air while playing.

A rapid or abrupt diet change can lead to gastrointestinal upset which in turn can lead to soft stools and excessive flatulence. A food intolerance to certain ingredients can also cause problems. The most common foods known to cause flatulence include soybeans, beans, peas, dairy products, and spices. Dietary problems can be unique to each dog, however. Some cannot tolerate beef, or chicken, or cereal grains. Some dogs cannot tolerate high fat diets or high fiber diets.

Gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, can also cause excessive flatulence. Excessive gas is not usually the only symptom of a gastrointestinal disease, however. The dog may also have a tender abdomen, appear bloated, may have vomiting, and will usually have soft stools or diarrhea. If your dog has any of these symptoms, or combination of symptoms, consult your veterinarian right away.

Although flatulence is usually an individual thing, there are some dog breeds who are known for excessive flatulence (or more potent flatulence) than others. Bulldogs are certainly one of those breeds, although I didn’t know it until we took in Chesty. Since then I’ve learned it’s more common than not in the breed, primarily due to the shape of their skull and the nasal passages. Brachycephalic breeds (those with shortened muzzles and narrowed nasal passages such as Bulldogs and Pugs), pant more than most other breeds and as a result, swallow more air. Since flatulence is a natural function, though, every dog will have some flatulence and any dog may have excessive flatulence for one reason or another.

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Home Remedies to Decrease Flatulence

Flatulence is, as we said, normal. However, if your dog’s flatulence is excessive and disturbs you and other members of your household, there are a few things you can do at home to decrease it.

The first and easiest step is to slow down dogs who gulp their food. Feed at least two meals per day, three if you can. Smaller, more frequently meals will help the dog feel satisfied rather than starving which can lead to gulping. Also, feeding your dog in one of the bowls specifically designed to slow fast eaters can often help. You can also make your Honest Kitchen food soupier, making it harder to gulp down.

Pay attention to the ingredients in your dog’s food and treats. Does he tend to have excessive gas after he eats a specific treat? Does he react badly after sharing an ice cream cone with one of your kids? Did bad flatulence begin after a food change?

For dogs with chronic excessive flatulence, a dietary change to a food containing a single protein and single carbohydrate (with no cereal grains) is often the first step in determining where the problem lies. After eating this food for several weeks, determine whether the gas has increased, decreased, or stayed the same. Then additional dietary changes can be made.

Make sure your dog isn’t eating anything other than the meals you feed him. He may be sneaking into the cat’s food, sharing snacks with your kids, or getting snacks from a neighbor. Spoiled foods can also cause excessive flatulence so if your dog is raiding the trash can then can also be a problem.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

If your home remedies aren’t working, or if the flatulence changes abruptly or gets worse, then it’s time to talk to your veterinarian. Before you go in to the clinic, make some notes as to when the flatulence is excessive, when you see a decrease, and whether your dog has soft stools or diarrhea with the excessive gas. Makes notes, too, as to your dog’s diet, eating habits, and any efforts you’ve taken at home to change it. When you go to the clinic, take a small stool sample with you.

There are a number of different approaches to treating flatulence depending on what your veterinarian determines is the cause. Probiotics can sometimes work, as can dry activated charcoal. Zinc acetate, simethicone, and pancreatic enzymes are also sometimes prescribed. Do not try these without talking to your veterinarian, however, as dosages will vary and if used incorrectly can cause more harm than good.

Remedies for Chesty

A change in diet helped to decrease Chesty’s gas as did limiting his treats. The veterinarian also recommended probiotics to help his digestion. Unfortunately, though, he continued to swallow too much air when he panted so his flatulence was reduced but could still be overwhelming at times.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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