Gone With the Wind: 7 secrets to surviving flatulence (intestinal gas) in pets
Despite the cheeky title, flatulence can be a serious business, indeed. You’ll agree with me if you’ve ever lived with a bulldog or boxer. And you’ll understand this perfectly if your pet suffers from certain chronic gastrointestinal disorders.
Yet in vet school I don’t recall this topic ever getting its due. The flashier subjects of diarrhea and vomiting always overshadowed “excessive intestinal gas production” when discussing the category of gastrointestinal ailments.
And while that’s understandable, flatulence needn’t be ignored. It, too, deserves to be treated with respect. After all, pets who suffer it aren’t just annoying you, they’re bodies are telling us something about how they’re ingesting and/or digesting (or failing to digest) the foods we offer them.
Make no mistake: Flatulence is100% normal and physiologically appropriate in most cases. But even when it is, that doesn’t mean it’s welcome punctuation to our pets’ post-prandial slumbers.
Nope. It’s no more comfortable to them than what happens to us humans after a bowl of legume-loaded, three-engine chili or a plate overflowing with black beans and rice.
But Beano isn’t always on the menu. Indeed, some discussion of this on the Veterinary Information Network’s internal medicine forum described it as “probably non-toxic” but likely not helpful. Sure, that’s not science but it doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, does it?
So what does help?
First, a diagnosis is in order. Why exactly is it we’ve got so much nasty gas coming out the business end of nature’s most efficient composter? Here’s a short list of possibilities:
Too much gas going in
• Wolfing food down causes excess air ingestion
• Chewing certain toys or rawhide-style chewies may cause chronic, inappropriate ingestion of air
Too much gas production inside the digestive tract (bacteria, the gut’s co-digesters release gas during digestion)
• Dietary intolerances
• Food allergies (sometimes it’s not just the skin affected)
• Bacterial overgrowths secondary to dietary indiscretion (garbage eating, etc.)
• Chronic bowel diseases (as diverse as parasitism and cancer)
• Pancreatic disorders
To determine the causes, stool checks, bloodwork, X-rays and ultrasound are the standard methods. But sometimes endoscopy (think colonoscopy), abdominal exploratory surgery and CT scans are required to get to the bottom of it—yes, even flatulence disorders can be hard to diagnose.
Most of us stop short of the invasive methods when it comes to something as seemingly silly as gas. But where there’s smoke, sometimes there’s fire. That’s why severe acute or worsening conditions are often best dealt with a more aggressive look-see.
For most common gas issues, however, I like to try the simple tricks they never taught us in vet school. Here’s a list of “it’s worth a try” methods best employed after you’re vet’s done her basic workup and can’t find an obvious source of the dilemma:
A change of diet
Perhaps some ingredient is giving her the gas. Just like people, pets can be intolerant of proteins and/or carbohydrates. Eliminating ingredients one by one every week or two is probably the best approach but simply picking out a new, lower-residue diet has worked for many pets whose owners are more time-challenged (as always, please make drastic diet changes slowly by mixing in the new diet carefully for a week).
For pets who are potentially allergic to foods, a diet using novel proteins and carbohydrates is recommended. Switching (again, slowly) to a diet with none of the same proteins and carbohydrates fed previously might make the difference. I usually start with Hill’s Z/D if I suspect this—an eight week trial is recommended.
Feed smaller meals more often
Some pets are just pigs, gulping mouthfuls of air along with their food. Slowing the process down helps and frequent smaller feedings is one way to accomplish this.
Check out the chewie action
Is she gulping as she goes? Pay attention, you might learn something!
Fortiflora, Pet Flora or another probiotic
Sure, some pets respond to simple yogurt (preferably laced with extra acidophilus cultures, as in Activia), but these commercial pet probiotics seem to work best for our carnivores. Daily or every-other-day treatment is typically required.
Apparently, some gastrointestinally-focused internal medicine specialists like charcoal tablets to speed the nasty bacteria through the GI tract. I’ve never tried it but, safe at it is, it's worth a shot, right?
Yes, as in Gas-Ex. Ask your vet for the dose.
Check your breed forums or your breeder
Some breeds are uniquely sensitive to certain proteins or carbohydrates. For example, I’ve heard that elkhounds can’t tolerate peanut butter for all the gas it gives them. Go figure.
I know you all have more ideas. Give ‘em up…