What your vet wants you to know about... DOG FARTS!
Okay, so it isn’t a glamorous topic, but dog flatulence is something vets get asked about more than you’d think.
And not just in the consulting room either – family friends, hair dressers, even strangers in the local pub have all been known to ask me “why does my dog fart so much?”
Well...you can find the answer to this and more below.
Is flatulence in dogs normal?
Absolutely, yes. The occasional fart is of course normal in dogs like it is in people. An increase in frequency and indeed the offensiveness of the smell could, however, be a sign of a dietary or health issue.
But what is normal? The NHS website reliably informs us that the average person farts between 5-15 times a day. Sadly, I couldn’t find an equivalent figure for dogs (and believe me I looked!) – it seems there haven’t been any studies to answer that one (I wonder why?!) Since there is likely to be individual variation, you should look out for a change in what is normal for YOUR dog.
What causes flatulence in dogs?
Broadly speaking, we can divide the causes into two:
Too much gas going in when the dog eats
Too much gas being made once the food is in there
Dogs which eat quickly or gulp their food are likely to swallow more air when doing so – this is called aerophagia, and is thought to be a risk factor not only for flatulence but the serious condition, gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) too. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs such as pugs and bull dogs are also prone to swallowing a lot of air when they eat and so tend to have a reputation for being particularly gassy.
Excessive amounts of gas can be produced due to dietary or underlying health issues.
Dietary-related causes of flatulence are by far the most common. Most digestion occurs in the stomach and small intestine. If undigested food reaches the colon, it is fermented and gas is produced. This can occur if the dog eats food which is difficult for them to digest e.g. bread, beans, soya, lentils, some vegetables e.g. broccoli or lactose (in dairy products). It can also occur if the food is too high in one particular component e.g. fats or fibre, or poor quality proteins.
It might also occur if they experience a sudden change in their diet, eat a poor-quality diet, too many treats, spicy or spoiled food. It might also occur following a course of medication e.g. antibiotics.
Just like people, some dogs have an intolerance to certain ingredients and food types. Genuine food allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to certain foods, and are relatively uncommon. As well as gastrointestinal signs, affected dogs often have skin disease too.
Gastrointestinal conditions that might cause flatulence include the following:
Bacterial and viral infections
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Pancreatic conditions e.g. pancreatitis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
Neoplastic conditions (tumours)
Which dogs are most gassy?
Some breeds have a reputation for being gassier than others. Most of these are brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds such as pugs and bulldogs, who tend to swallow a lot of air when they are eating. Others are due to their predisposition to medical causes of flatulence such as IBD and SIBO such as German Shepherd Dogs, Basenjis, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and Boxers.
Whilst I couldn’t find any hard evidence, it seems to be generally well accepted that overweight and sedentary dogs seem to be gassier than others. Older dogs also seem to pass wind more often. This might be due to their slower metabolism or reduced ability to digest food, or might be because elderly dogs are generally less active and more prone to being overweight.
When might flatulence be a sign the dog needs veterinary attention?
So, to some extent, dog flatulence is something owners (and their guests!) have to put up with! But when is it a sign there is something not quite right?
As a rule, I would say that flatulence becomes an issue when it is excessive and by that, I mean excessive in terms of frequency and/or smell! Remember – every dog is different, so keep an eye out for a change in what is normal for your dog.
Flatulence might just mean you need to lay off the treats for a while, or maybe tweak their diet slightly. However, if accompanied by the following signs, I’d be suspicious the cause is a dietary issue or maybe a gastrointestinal condition.
Soft or loose stools, diarrhoea
Other changes in their stools, e.g. colour, volume, mucus, blood
A change in defecation habits e.g. increased frequency, incontinenence
Change in appetite
Lethargy, reluctance to exercise
Rumbly/noisy belly (called borborygmi)
Signs of abdominal discomfort – restlessness, adopting a prayer position (pictured), change in behaviour, suddenly looking around at their belly
Skin issues e.g. sores, itching, repeated ear infections, excessive paw licking
If your dog is showing these signs or any other signs of ill health, be sure to get them checked out by a vet.
How might the vet diagnose the cause of my dog’s flatulence?
If you tell the vet about your dog’s flatulence, they will likely ask you a lot more questions. They will want to know when it started to get worse, their worming history, how their general health has been recently, any other symptoms they have had, and lots of details about their diet.
If they suspect the diet is the issue they will likely suggest some sort of change. They might suggest removing a particular component of your dog’s diet, or might suggest a complete change to a different food altogether. It would be a good idea to keep a food diary and note down whether your dog’s symptoms are worse or better on the new diet.
If your dog has other symptoms too, the vet might want to rule out any underlying health issues and so might recommend a blood test. They might also want to send a stool sample off to the lab, to rule out any intestinal parasites or infections as the cause. If your dog is also losing weight or has diarrhoea, or if abnormalities are detected on bloods - further investigations might be necessary. These can include imaging (x-rays and scans), using a camera to look at the inside of the stomach and intestines, and taking biopsies to send off to the lab.
How can I stop my dog farting so much?
The most important thing to do for a dog that has excessive flatulence is to rule out an underlying cause. Provided they are otherwise healthy, taking the following steps might help to minimise the issue:
Slow down their eating:
Feed them in a quiet, non-competitive environment (i.e. perhaps away from other dogs)
Use slow-feeder bowls, mats and puzzle feeders.
Feed 2-3 smaller meals throughout the day.
Feed a good quality, highly digestible and well balanced diet.
Be consistent – frequent and/or dramatic changes to a dog’s diet are a common cause of tummy upsets.
Avoid too many treats.
Avoid foods that are difficult to digest for all dogs (e.g. dairy products), or specifically for your dog.
Speak to your vet or pet nutritionist about whether a change in the protein or carbohydrate source would be beneficial. Make any diet changes gradually.
Consider a commercially available diet specifically designed for dogs with sensitive tummies.
Do not allow your dog to scavenge – ensure bins etc. are covered and try to stop them eating things they shouldn’t (including the ultimate dog delicacy - poo!)
Encourage an active lifestyle. Regular exercise can keep their metabolism up and their guts moving nicely.
Keep your dog in good condition, do not let them get overweight.
Are there any supplements I can give?
If your vet finds your dog has an underlying health issue or particular deficiency, they might recommend a special supplement or probiotic. Otherwise, the best thing to do is to find and correct the underlying cause.
This article is for general information only. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog's health, always consult your vet.