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Dr. Richard Palmquist Headshot

When Pets Pass Gas: How To Quell The Embarrassing Smell

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The medical record said simply, "Discuss condition," which didn't give me much of a clue why I was entering the exam room. The client, a sharply dressed professional woman who drove from Beverly Hills sat in the corner of the room. Her petite pug rested under her chair and sat up grinning to greet me. He looked healthy and bright and I was beginning to wonder why she was here, when suddenly a tiny sound of gas rushed from his tush, and within seconds all six eyes in the room began to water. The odor coming from this dog was spectacular. The woman blushed, held her hand over her face and simply said, "Help!"

The medical word for gas is "flatus" and the condition of passing gas is called "flatulence." A lot of my clients and friends prefer the classic word, "fart." A famous comedian once said, "Farts are funny," which is true unless the noxious invisible smog is wiping out your dinner party or messing up your romantic interlude, then we need to do something to change the condition.

The Origin of Gas

When you pet eats they swallow air, which contains oxygen, nitrogen and other minor gasses. Most of the oxygen is rapidly absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. This leaves the nitrogen. Bacteria that live in the intestine convert food into various substances and one of those is gas. It's not the volume of gas that matters, though, it is the odor and that varies considerably.

Anything that affects the delicate balance of digestion can lead to gas production. Depending upon what the pet ate and how their intestinal tract works, various noxious substances like hydrogen sulfide and aromatic compounds are produced. A few causes of excessive or foul gas are listed below:

  • Dog foods that are high in wheat, corn, soy or other cereal grains may aggravate gas in sensitive dogs. Both high fiber and low fiber diets can make some pets worse.
  • Food additives and preservatives can upset the delicate normal population of bacteria and fungi that assist in digestion.
  • Excessive protein levels, eggs and dairy products in the diet can cause bacteria to convert excess nutrition to gas. Protein generated gas can be particularly smelly.
  • Sudden changes in diet or excessive foods like beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower.
  • Prescription and over the counter drugs that negatively impact digestion and bowel function can lead to gas. Antibiotics, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, narcotics, herbs and natural supplements can all trigger gas attacks.
  • Intestinal parasites like Giardia are often associated with gas problems.
  • Inflammatory bowel conditions lead to altered gastrointestinal function. This is a broad category that includes things like inflammatory bowel disease and food allergies as well as adverse reactions to food.
  • Trouble with acid production in the stomach or digestive enzyme production by the pancreas can lead to gas. Other medical conditions can contribute to these issues (tumors, pancreatic diseases, liver or gall bladder problems).
  • Bacterial overgrowth is a condition where one strain of bacteria over grows the bowel and disrupts balance. Stress and medications can aggravate this as can allergies.
  • Stress can cause the body to alter its delicate hormone balance and this can lead to damage to the intestinal lining, immune system and local bacterial and fungal balance. This can lead to gas production or alteration of gastrointestinal motility that can lead to excessive gas.

What to Do

The following steps are simple things to do to address your pet's gas problems:

  • If this is a new problem, the first thing to do is assess your pet's diet. Feed a high quality diet that has fewer cereal fillers and additives. Avoid excessive protein levels. If you recently changed foods to have the gas suddenly appear, then consider switching back to a diet that doesn't cause the problem in your pet.
  • Is there a relationship between dry or canned foods? If so then feed the food that works best.
  • Consider both high and low fiber diets. There are several diets on the market that have higher and lower fiber levels. Some dogs do better on one versus the other. A bit of trial and error is fine here.
  • Consider adding a bit of digestive enzyme and probiotic bacteria to the diet. A simple way to do this is to add plain, unsweetened yogurt unless the dairy product makes things worse. Pet stores and health food stores have many of these products and no one product is good for all dogs, so you have to and see which one works best.
  • If these is some stressful event going on in the home try and address this with your pet. Make adjustments and be sure they are getting enough exercise and stimulation to keep their bowel function working well.
  • Charcoal dog biscuits or tablets can be very helpful in many cases. If they worsen the problem then suspect food reactions or allergies to the other ingredients in the biscuits.

Since excessive gas can be a sign of more significant health problems, if your pet's gas is chronic, recurring, unrelenting, associated with weight loss or other systemic signs of disease, then it is advisable that you seek veterinary attention. Your veterinarian will do the following:

  • Get a complete history of the pet's environment, travel, health challenges, medications, supplements, diet and exercise. Be sure to be honest with your veterinarian about any substances and treats you are feeding. Your doctor will want to know if things were normal and what changed just before the gas began. Sometimes these can be medications that contain beef or pork as flavorings, or other substances like coloring agents that aggravate your particular pet, so be aware of any link to routine flea or heart worm medications that may be associated with the onset of dog smog.
  • Do a thorough physical examination looking for body condition, muscle wasting, dental condition, skin or ear problems, cardiovascular abnormalities, and abdominal palpation.
  • A stool examination for Giardia and other parasites in indicated in all cases of excessive gas with or without diarrhea.
  • Other special testing may be needed depending upon the findings of the veterinarian and your pet's risk factors.
  • Consider food elimination diets that help to rule out food allergy. Such trials will take 60 days and require strict adherence to the prescribed diet as one cheat can bring the whole problem back in minutes. In wheat or gluten intolerant individuals, 25mg of wheat is sufficient to cause problems for weeks. Be dedicated and follow the diet precisely which also means stopping all other treats and supplements.
  • Treat the correct cause once it is found. This may take some trial and error prescribing and will require you watch your pet's habits and activities and take an active part in their therapy. Regular communication and recheck examinations and phone consults may be needed.

Properly addressing gassy pets often takes an individualized approach that involves more than one thing. And healing takes time. The basic plan is to get your pet into safe space, give them good things to eat and drink, and help them eliminate toxins which interfere with their health. As we do that process, then health tends to emerge. When properly used herbs like yucca, peppermint oil, artichoke leaf, fennel, ginger, parsley, spearmint, chamomile, coriander, cumin, dill, turmeric and zinc acetate all may assist with smelly gas.

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine requires a more skilled practitioner so that the appropriate Chinese medical diagnosis is made. Homeopathic agents used singly or in combination may help, especially where gas is coming from a build-up of toxins in the system. They may also help with emotional issues as do Bach Flower remedies. Prescription drugs may be needed in some circumstances, too, and are part of properly delivered veterinary care.

Our big goal is always to improve health and establish balance. Gas is a normal thing for digestive systems to produce. When the odor is excessive this is a sign that balance is disrupted and we want to work with the biological regulatory system to help the body in its mission to obtain and properly process nutrients for better health.

Integrative veterinary medicine is a huge field. We learn from each other by sharing stories and furthering better research into these methods. Share your stories of gassy pets as you might just help another reader here. Besides, these stories are incredibly funny and I love to read them.