“OH MY!! What’s that smell?!”
The Science of Flatulence
Flatulence comes from an excess of gases in the intestinal tract. These gases may represent air that has been swallowed, gas produced in the biochemical process of digestion, gas diffusion from the bloodstream, or gases produced by the bacteria that populate the intestinal tract. Over 99% of the gases that pass from the intestinal tract are odorless; the gases with objectionable odors are typically those containing hydrogen sulfide.
Flatulence is a normal biological function. A surprising amount of air is swallowed with the simple act of eating and if this is not burped out, it must exit through the other end. The amount of air swallowed tends to be increased when dogs feel they must eat quickly or in the brachycephalic breeds who tend to breathe more by mouth rather than by nose. Swallowed air tends not to have objectionable odor.
The really stinky gases are produced by colon (large intestine) bacteria. Dietary fiber in pet food is not readily digestible by the pet’s own enzyme systems but is readily digested by the gas-producing bacteria of the colon. As these fibers are broken down, gases are produced. A diet heavy in fibers tends to favor these gas-producing organisms. The more supportive the intestinal environment, the more bacteria there will be and ultimately more gas will be produced.
What to do about it
The following are easy changes that can be made in the management of your pet:
Prescription Low Residue Diets
Changing to a low residue diet means that most of the nutrients of the food are digested and absorbed by the pet before they reach the colon where the gas-forming bacteria are. This means there will be less food for the gas-forming organisms, which will ultimately mean fewer gas-forming organisms and less gas formed. Sometimes just going through a case and/or bag of such a low residue diet solves the problem and the pet can return to a regular food afterwards. If necessary, the therapeutic diet can become the pet’s regular food.
Some dogs have problems with food allergies. If a patient is allergic to its food, they are more likely to have irregular bowel activity that promote excess gas production. Eliminating common ingredients like chicken, beef and corn can sometimes help. Limited ingredient diets like rabbit and potato, or duck and potato can sometimes alleviate the problem.
Sometimes Medication is Needed
A carminative is a medication that reduces flatulence. There is an assortment of available products, but unfortunately most are not helpful or even labeled for animal use. Changing the diet and ruling out actual intestinal disease are of primary importance in addressing flatulence. If further therapy is needed, the following products have some basis to suspect they might work:
Currently this extract is labeled as a flavoring agent for pet food but it is also available as an oral supplement. Several studies have shown that it helps decrease the odor in flatulence.
Zinc acetate supplementation
Zinc binds to sulfhydryl compounds in flatulence ultimately serving to deodorize the gas.
Such antibiotics serve to kill the gas-forming bacteria of the colon and may be helpful as long as their use is not ongoing.
There are many ineffective probiotics being marketed so it is important to use one that has been shown to actually contain live cultures and that its cultures actually withstand stomach digestion so as to populate the small intestine with beneficial bacteria. It is unknown if this type of product would really help in flatulence as it is asking a great deal for such bacteria to travel all the way to the colon and attempt to displace the gas-forming resident bacteria. That said, there are several veterinary products that are felt to be reputable: Prostora® Proviable® and Fortiflora®. Fortiflora, Purina’s product, has been shown to be effective in reducing flatulence.
Activated charcoal tablets
These tablets are not likely to be effective as the charcoal-binding sites are filled on the journey from mouth to colon, and by the time the tablet gets to the gas-forming large bowel bacteria, it has essentially been used up.
This product may control the volume of gas produced, but not the odor. It is an antifoaming agent that reduces gas bubbles.
Pancreatic enzyme supplementation
In the absence of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, it is unlikely that a patient would be helped by extra digestive enzymes. Furthermore, this treatment is relatively expensive for something that may only be helpful.
See your veterinarian!
Ultimately, there may be a combination of issues contributing to your gassy pooch. Keep your pet’s diet simple. Avoid people food. And see your veterinarian if the problem persists. Nobody wants a Dutch-oven from their furry housemate.
Quarterly Newsletters 2014-06-20T08:47:51+00:00