By Dr. Leslie Ross B.Sc. D.V.M.
“Windy pets”…oh yes, such great travel companions during long car rides!
Before beginning to discuss some affordable measures that can often decrease hasty trips to the Febreze cupboard let’s start with some basic definitions for clarity’s sake.
“Flatulence “refers to increased quantities of gas expelled as “flatus” through the ah… please permit me to use the term out of context, “outlet valve”. “Flatus”, is fittingly described in the Latin translation as “a blowing, or a breaking wind, and refers to the generally offensive gas itself.
“Flatology “is the scientific study of increased gastro-intestinal gas. There are numerous documented studies of this topic including specific studies involving chemical analysis of expelled gas products, airflow studies, and graphed statistics from population studies (flatulograms). These are all fairly discreetly documented because references to this subject material can offend certain individuals, especially those folks endowed with delicate sensitivities.
Increased gas production can cause pets to belch, feel bloated, have grumbling sounds coming from their abdomens and cause them to evacuate a bad odor to their nearby air space.
Three common causes of flatulence include:
- Swallowed air acquired while eating
- Inefficiently digested food products or
- Excessive gas produced by large intestine bacteria
Many of the components of intestinal gas are odorless and not of a type that can offend the human nose. The odor of the flatus that we so readily recognize is from substances such as skatole, hydrogen sulfide, indole, volatile amines, and short-chained fatty acids. Often these are present in very small amounts.
Excess gas production is more common in dogs than in cats, rabbits or ferrets. Amongst the dog population, short-nosed breeds such as Boxers, French Bulldogs, and Pugs, are more prone to being gassy. This is because these kinds of dogs are mostly nose-breathers rather than mouth-breathers causing them to swallow lots of air in the processes of breathing and eating.
Most pet-owners who own pets that are prone to “breaking wind” are very eager to decrease their pet’s rather embarrassing gas-producing tendencies. Below, I will offer some suggestions that are worth trying prior to arranging a visit to your veterinarian, assuming, of course, that no other problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating or weight loss are also present. .
A good place to start is to try feeding several smaller meals throughout the day with the food spread around on your pet’s plate. Offering meals this way may lead to a more measured food intake. “Obstacle bowls” may also help to slow down his or her gulping of food and air. For families owning more than one dog, feeding them in separate rooms in a quiet, secure location may help to eliminate hasty, competitive eating
A diet change is another practical consideration. One should look for a highly digestible, low fat, and low fiber diet. A diet of this nature helps to reduce gas production by decreasing the food sources of fiber-consuming bacteria, the main culprits involved in intestinal gas formation.
Numerous reputable pet food suppliers produce well-balanced, easily digestible pet foods. In general, good quality pet foods containing lamb meal, rice or barley are excellent starter foods. It is usually best to start with a canned (wet food) diet then to slowly transition, on a trial and error basis, to a mixture of canned and dry foods with matching or similar protein and carbohydrate sources.
As is the case with people, certain foods are particularly likely to cause intestinal gas build-up in susceptible pets. Therefore, for gas- prone pets, and actually all pets in general, it is best to avoid feeding table foods as treats. Specific foods to avoid are broccoli, peas, beans and dairy products such as ice cream and cheese. Milk, in particular, can cause digestive disturbances in many cats and some dogs because they often lack the enzymes needed to break down milk sugars, Also, avoid offering vegetarian diets, foods containing soy products, fresh or dried fruit treats, and vitamin and mineral supplements since all of these tend to increase bacterial activity in the lower bowel.
Always bear in mind that this pursuit will be on a trial and error basis. And also that it may require some detective work! For example, in the case of farm dogs, it is not an unlikely possibility that they could be sneaking into the stables or stanchions of horses or other kinds of livestock and ingesting high fiber animal feed or manure. Another, not uncommon scenario might be a dog sneaking into the household’s kitty litter box to retrieve and enjoy buried delicacies tucked away in the litter sand!
A new habit of a leisurely walk with your pet, timed roughly about 30 minutes after his meal, may also allow for the passing of gas outdoors rather than in close quarters indoors. However, it is very important not to allow extremely vigorous activities at this time, especially in deep-chested large breeds to avoid increasing the risk of potentially deadly gastric accidents such as bloat and torsion.
BEANO and OVAL are two over-the-counter products useful for gas control in people and can be effective for some pets. BEANO contains an enzyme that breaks down complex sugars into simple sugars that are more digestible. Beano is best given with meals. Ovol, (simethicone) is another safe over-the-counter product that is effective because it reduces the surface tension of gas bubbles in the gastro-intestinal tract, allowing for the release of entrapped gas. If you wish to try either of these products it would be best to first consult with your veterinarian for dosage advice.
Carminatives are botanical preparations that have been used by chefs all over the world for thousands of years to flavor starchy dishes, especially those containing beans. These are natural products that can decrease excess gas production. Some common examples that cause this effect include garlic, fennel, ginger, oregano, parsley and peppermint. Unfortunately, their use in pets is, for the most part, a trial and error process and not without potential risks to their heath. This is because there is a lack of research- based information available to date regarding safe and effective dosing for pets. Therefore, it is very important to consult with your veterinarian if you wish to try using any of these products to avoid the potential of adverse drug interactions and to ensure that it is safe for your particular pet.
By now, if you are in a state of limbo with your goal still unachieved after trying all of the above measures, your best bet is to consult with your veterinarian to achieve some professional guidance. He or she will be prepared to conduct a physical examination on your pet and likely will suggest further diagnostics such as fecal floatations ( to check for intestinal worms), blood tests, and possibly other more complex procedures such as x-rays, ultrasound, gastrointestinal tract contrast studies, and endoscopy.
If your veterinarian gives your pet a clean bill of health he or she may prescribe a prescription hypoallergenic diet. In cases where pets have food sensitivities or food allergies, these specially formulated diets can be effective where store-bought limited allergen diets may have failed.
Passing on to the bottom line of this topic ( pun intended, ), your best approach to this problem overall is to systematically change one variable at a time starting with the basic feeding plan changes noted above then later, trying the additional oral anti-gas aids. This approach, accompanied by lots of patience will generally allow achievement of your goal.
“Windy” pets can be a source of considerable embarrassment to some owners, to others, a source of simple humor. For pets themselves, some may find the experience to be a little scary as well as uncomfortable. (As in the recorded case of a French bull dog that ducked and hid whenever he experienced an unexpected hind-end explosion!).
Rather than surrendering to this predicament, try some of the measures discussed above. Also remember that your veterinarian is only a telephone call away to guide you in this undertaking if you feel the need.