Friday, February 6, 2009

Something in the air… Some say this comment “stinks”: Flatulence in cats and dogs

This one customer couple with their 7 month old German Shepherd puppy prompted me to write this comment after they e-mailed me this “…Odin is having really bad gas and we can't deal with the stench anymore... it is really bad. We are thinking about switching his food to something else. We honestly don't know what to do anymore!” Dog owners, I am sure you all have been there: You want to spend some quality time with your puppy and all the sudden something makes you want to run away. Yep, the room is filled with not so pleasant smelling air. And we all know dogs are very well talented in that area. In the case of my customers, their intention to switch to another food does not get me too excited. This is because I know that the puppy is sensitive to his food and we had a hard time to getting him used to any other food than what he was originally fed by his breeder, which was Solid Gold Wolf Cub dry formula. When the couple got the puppy they started him out on some supermarket food, I think it was some Purina formula and it caused diarrhea. Then they approached me and we put him on Healthwise Puppy dry since budgetary considerations played a role as well. I consider Healthwise a healthy and very economical alternative, however, one has to keep in mind that you basically get what you pay for. Not to say the food is bad, quite the contrary is the case, but it is quality wise just not at the same level as let’s say California Natural, Innova or Solid Gold. The Healthwise did not help the stool problem, which led us to try the Innova Puppy and later the Innova Large Breed Puppy. I believe we tried Canine Caviar Puppy as well. Nothing seemed to do the trick. The vet could not find anything wrong with the dog’s digestive system. However there were other health issues and the puppy, at the same time, while we were experimenting with all the foods, was on all kinds of medications plus underwent a treatment against mange. First I was not happy with the way the food was constantly being changed, more or less always over night without proper transition periods. Then, when I found out about all these side issues going on, I hit the brakes and said it is not the food itself causing the problem. It has to be something else. We agreed that the owners would pay closer attention to what the dog was doing all day long, restrain him during the time when they are absent and monitor closely what he is eating and swallowing all day long. Plus we all came to an agreement to put him back on the Solid Gold and ever since things seemed to be fine.
That was until I received this latest e-mail. During further investigation of the problem I was told that Odin is on and off again having diarrhea. His stools are changing sometimes within one session from hard to very soft. And Odin is also a “fast” eater, i.e. inhaling the food without properly chewing and he will eat until he is being forced to stop when the food is gone or being taken away. Every vet visit with a (very costly) battery of tests ends up with the vet reporting that there is nothing wrong with the dog. During my last conversation with the couple I suggested: “If the vet cannot find anything wrong with the dog, maybe there is something wrong with the vet. I would suggest getting a second opinion, since to me it appears that there is obviously a problem here.” For the time being we agreed to keep him on the Solid Gold until we find out more. I will keep everybody appraised as to the progress we are making on finding the right diet for Odis.
But, the “air” problem is still there and the initial e-mail clearly suggests that it is becoming unbearable for the owners, so let’s get that addressed for today.
Although gas production is a natural part of the digestive process, some pets produce more than others and are not always fun to be around. What is causing increased stomach or intestinal gas, also called flatulence in dogs? Flatulence results from the accumulation of gas in the digestive tract. The quantity and the smell of the broken winds vary according to the diet and to the individual animal. Dogs are more concerned than cats. As to the origin and nature of the gas it has to be said that they can come from various sources: First there is swallowed air or aerophagia. This means that animals that gulp down their food very quickly swallow air. This air passes very quickly through the digestive tract. They also can be caused by products of degradation of the undigested food by the intestinal bacteria, they can be a result of the gas diffusion from the blood to the lumen of the guts or they could be the result of intestinal chemical reactions.
Intestinal gases have a mixed composition. There are first non odorous gases such as air, hydrogen, methane or carbon dioxide. Then there are so called odorous gases. They include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, by-products from proteins like indole (1), skatole (2) and short chain fatty acids. Odorous gases represent less than 1 % of the total gas volume but it is enough to make the flatus very nauseating.
Let’s take a closer look how food influences gas formation. Food that contains an important indigestible part, either from animal or vegetable origin, are most likely to be responsible for flatulence. For example, bones and low quality meat containing a lot of indigestible protein, encourage intestinal fermentation. Milk and other dairy products may cause gaseousness in animals with lactase deficiency. Then there are vegetables that contain complex sugars. They include onions (NOTE: If fed in excess, onions can lead to GI upset and perhaps damage red blood cells, so stay away altogether regardless of smelly or clean air), cabbage, cauliflower, to some extent potatoes (like green potatoes or potato peels), soy and haricot beans. They cannot be well digested by dogs or cats and should be avoided altogether in order to address excessive flatulence. Remember my usual advise: Use common sense and find the right balance. Not all dogs are alike. And just because someone else's dog didn't have a certain reaction to a particular food doesn't mean that your pet will behave the same way. Your dog could react differently to the taste of the food.
High levels of fermentescible fiber (3) are not advised for sensitive animals. On the contrary, too little fiber lengthens the retention time of the undigested food in the large intestine, and it is in favor of bacterial fermentation.
Other factors in gas formation: The same food, distributed the same way, may induce highly variable effects according to the animal and its digestive ability. Young animals, or animals that suffer from digestion or assimilation problems (hepatic, pancreatic deficiency, etc.) are the most likely to produce intestinal gas. It is the same for animals housing some intestinal parasites (like for example giardia (4)). Flatulence also is often observed in overweight animals. As their physical activity is generally decreased, their intestinal transit slows down, which is a factor that favors bacterial fermentation and flatulence. The undigested fraction of the meal is generally excreted 20 up to 48 hours later.
And now, I am sure this is the part you have been waiting for the most let’s look at some ways to help prevention of flatulence:
Slow down the actual eating. Flatulence is often caused by air being gulped down when pets eat too quickly. The guys at Dr. Foster’s & Smith’s came up with a good idea: Putting a large object in his food dish will force your pet to slow down when eating. The object should be something that is too large for the pet to pick up in his mouth. Try something like a ping pong ball for cats, a baseball for toy dogs, a softball for medium breeds, and an even larger ball for large and giant breeds. If you have more than one dog, feed them separately to reduce competition for food. You may also try scattering dry food around the house and/or yard so the dog will need to 'forage' for it. Try feeding from an elevated level. Dogs that do not have to bend over so far to eat swallow less air.
Go for a walk after feeding. Light exercise aids digestion and works out the gas while you are outside. If your dog eliminates during the walk, even better.
Switch food (but avoid useless changes of diet to keep the balance of the intestinal flora). Your brand of dog food may be the source for the problem, particularly if it is high in soy. Try adding dietary supplements with probiotics (flora found in the digestive system, also called “good” bacteria and helping to eliminate “bad” bacteria, use preferably a non dairy variety) and enzymes (to help break down undigested portions of food) to food (e-mail me for product recommendations). These products help in the digestive process and may help eliminate gas completely. Choose a diet with a high digestibility and a moderate fiber content to limit the available substrate for the bacterial population. Most supermarket brands of dog food are made up mostly of corn products for fillers. While this gives your dog the feeling of being full, it also can contribute to a smelly gas problem. Feeding a higher quality food, not only makes a more comfortable pet, but a less odiferous one as well. High quality kibble reduces the amount of waste product, meaning less poop (both, in volume and smell) and less gas. Avoid risky foods like some of the veggies I listed above. If you want to feed vegetables choose for instance carrots or French beans.
Watch how much and what your pets eat. Too much food at one time can cause gas, as can eating out of the garbage, or too many table scraps.

Conclusion: This will give you quite a few ways to deal with excessive flatulence. If none of the above helps, here are two more “last minute in” suggestions: Try a teaspoon of plain, low fat yogurt daily (ideally whole). Or try peppermint. Still no luck? See your vet. Frequent gas in your pet shouldn't be ignored. It could be way more than just an unpleasant aromatherapy.

Notes: (1) Indole is an aromatic heterocyclic organic compound. Indole can be produced by bacteria as a degradation product of the amino acid tryptophan. It occurs naturally in feces and has an intense fecal odor. (
(2) Skatole or 3-methylindole is a mildly toxic white crystalline organic compound belonging to the indole family. It occurs naturally in feces (it is produced from tryptophan in the mammalian digestive tract) and beets and has a strong fecal odor. (
(3) Fiber is made up of different compounds, all of which are carbohydrates. The term "fiber" is used to describe the "insoluble carbohydrates" that resist enzymatic digestion in the small intestine. Found in the cell walls of plants and grains, the most common fibers are cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, gums, and resistant starches. Almost all carbohydrate sources will contain some fiber. Some of the most common sources of fiber in pet foods include rice hulls, corn and corn by-products, soybean hulls, beet pulp, bran, peanut hulls, and pectin. Fiber is not considered an essential nutrient in your dog's diet, but it is present in almost every commercial dog food. While dogs do not derive any energy from fiber, adding fiber to a diet improves colon health, helps with weight management, and helps with diarrhea, constipation, and diabetes mellitus. Some fiber is fermented into fatty acids by the "good" bacteria in the intestine. Fatty acids aid in preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. They also help the colon cells to recover from injury and possibly help reduce the risk of colon cancer. If rapidly fermented fiber source (which loses its shape and bulk quickly) is used at an excessive level, loose stools or excessive gas may result.
(4) Common causes of giardia in dogs includes drinking from a lake, pond or stream. Dogs get the infection when they drink water that contains trace amounts of animal feces. The feces contains a cyst or small sac that enters the gastrointestinal tract of the dog. The cysts are the causes of giardia in dogs as they change into protozoa that divide in two rapidly. The protozoa attach to the small intestine where they produce disease by taking away nutrients from your dog. The protozoa also produce harmful substances. Left untreated, Giardia can damage the lining of the small intestine and cause scaring. The disease is sometimes called Beaver Fever since beavers are known carriers of giardia. (The Dog Health Guide)


The Pet Food Examiner said...

Doing more research on the subject matter I came across this little wonder weapon, which may help to get rid of the problem:

Dr. Jane E. Leon, DVM., columnist for Dog-Wa, inventors and manufacturers of the Dog-Wa Holistic Herbal Nutritional Health Supplement for Dogs writes in her article “How Dog-Wa treats gas”:
“…must life go on like this? Do all dogs pass gas incessantly, ruining the atmosphere and the high definition screen, or is there hope? The answer is yes, there is hope and its name is Dog-Wa.
You see, flatulence is a universal problem that has been studied for eons. The term simply means excessive formation of gas in the stomach or intestines. The resulting excessive gas leads to gaseous eruptions from both ends of the dog. Usually owners tolerate the belching end of the dog, but are much less pleased with the other end. Expelled gas from this end, termed flatus, often carries objectionable odors that lead owners to seek veterinary help. Dogs suffering from flatus may be swallowing excessive amounts of air, having digestive tract problems or be unable to digest all their food. The poorly digested foods, usually carbohydrates and fiber, reach the colon, where they are fermented by bacteria and produce odoriferous gases. Foods such as beans, soy, peas, onions and high protein foods are notorious producers of gas caused by bacterial fermentation. So are foods containing lactose, such as cheese and ice cream, if fed to pets with lactase deficiency.
So we understand what contributes to flatus. A veterinary examination will help rule out digestive problems that require medical therapy. Other pets can be aided by dietary modification. To help correct the problem, feed readily digestible foods and avoid those diets high in fiber and difficult to digest carbohydrates. Finally, using Dog-Wa on a daily basis may be of help in controlling the gas production.
Dog-Wa contains parsley and peppermint, two herbs that have been shown to aid digestion. Literature tracing back centuries points to parsley as a food that promotes the processing of food, increases stomach secretions, decreases bloating and reduces flatus. Sweet smelling peppermint freshens the breath, helps reduce gas and soothes the stomach. Together they may help your dog digest food, feel less bloated and pass less gas. As an added benefit the herbs contain vitamins C and A, other micro nutrients and antioxidants found in green, leafy vegetables. With Dog-Wa your dog gets the benefits of all these nutrients without consuming the indigestible parts of the green plants, thus avoiding even more flatus. The cold pressed herb extracts are easily digested, do not contain fiber, do not add to gas production and can help reduce it. So, Dog-Wa is your best choice to help decrease your pet’s flatulence while positively contributing to digestive health and overall well being. For a happier pet and an odor free family room feed Dog-Wa.”
Dr. Leon is an expert in animal care, emergency service and surgery. She is currently the Director of The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Central Florida based in Orlando. Previously she was on staff at the Omaha Vaccine Company, providing pet-related advice and information for six years. She hosted “Ask the Veterinarian”, a daily television series on America’s Health Network and Fox’s Health Network. Dr. Leon has written three books and is a contributing author for Canine Medicine and Disease Prevention, published by Animal Health Publications. Her efforts to improve the health of all animals include studying at the Los Angeles Zoo and Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory.

The Pet Food Examiner said...

Still looking for options available to us in this case I keep having more ideas. By the way, if you are interested in any of the products mentioned here, or the Dog-Wa supplement mentioned in my previous comment, please e-mail me (, unfortunately this blog software does not let me place hyperlinks in comments. (or better said, I don’t know how to do it)
Coming back to the problem: A complete different approach: Switch to feeding raw. Here, direct related to the subject matter are a couple comments:
Answering a customer’s question “You claim that the diet reduces bloat – why?”, Animal Food Services (AFS) and Nature’s Advantage say about their products:
“There are various probable causes of bloat, but Animal Food Services has never known of a dog bloating on meat. Just the opposite seems true. Our raw meat diets have a high digestion and rapid absorption rate, which reduces the chance for gases to form. Many of our customers have reported bloat and flatulence disappearing after their dogs were fed on raw meat diets.”

Steve’s Real Food includes the subject matter in its list of benefits to its complete and balanced raw diets:
“The major benefit to Steve's Real Food for Pets is simply improved overall health. However, in actual cases reported to us and in studies done on raw feeding, pet owners report changes, reductions or eliminations of the following:
Cleans and whitens teeth naturally; cleans breath / reduces body odor; reduces stool odor and volume, weight management; many phobic behaviors disappear such as: aggression, moodiness, anxiety and fearful behavior; promotes calmness and confidence; dramatically increases energy, endurance, alertness and attention; strengthening and healing of the immune system and organs; more affectionate; reduced shedding reduction in hairballs; allergies (such as: hot spots, cysts and eye tearing); dermatitis (healthier skin, less shedding and a full shiny coat); weight Problems; parasites (internal and external)
flea infestation; arthritis and hip dysplasia; ear and eye ailments; kidney and liver dysfunction; bladder stones; urinary crystals and infections; diabetes; cancer; intestinal problems; bloat; diarrhea and much more!”

Primal Pet Foods too addresses “digestive health improvements” as follows:
“The addition of 100% certified organic nutritional supplements such as sea kelp, alfalfa, cider vinegar and grapefruit seed extract provide additional support for the immune, circulatory, nervous and digestive systems.
By offering your pets Primal Pet Foods raw food formulas, you are providing to them a diet that most closely mimics their natural eating habits as they were in the wild. Through the use of 100% digestible food products, Primal Formulas offer the nutrients essential to life in a superior, bio-available composition. Through better digestion and superior assimilation of food derived nutrients, your pets will live happier, healthier and more vibrant lives.”
Oma’s Pride answers this customer’s question “How can a BARF diet reduce the chances of my dog bloating?”:
“The chances of bloat are much less than on kibble. It is quite rare for a dog to bloat when they are eating a raw diet, for a couple of reasons. The first is that raw food doesn't swell like kibble which can sometimes cause problems. The second thing is that most dogs eat more slowly when they are eating raw food compared to the familiar "inhale" style eating that dogs use when they are eating kibble. Because they aren't inhaling their food, less air is sucked into the stomach. Another reason is that chewing allows the dog's body to prepare for digestion. The necessary juices and acids are released slightly prior to the "deposit" of food into the stomach.”

Rob Mueller on his Barf World blog states:
“Dog Food Digestion
The digestibility of a pet food is an important criteria because it directly measures the proportion of nutrients in the food that are available for absorption. Comparing several brands of dry processed foods will render digestibility coefficients between 69% to as high as 95%. Premium foods will usually have a higher digestibility coefficient. Most dog foods will produce products with a lower digestibility than human food. As the quality of the ingredients are increased, the food’s dry matter and nutrient digestibility increases. A raw food diet will have superior digestibility in excess of 90% and will contain an adequate supply of water that is self contained in the meat sources.
A lesser quality pet food that has a lower digestibility, contains a high proportion of ingredients that cannot be digested by the enzymes of the G.I. track. This results in partial or complete fermentation by colonic bacteria. Rapid or excessive bacterial fermentation leads to the production of flatulence (gas), loose stools, and occasional diarrhea. In addition to these side effects, a greater quantity of a poorly digested, food must be fed to the animal because the pet is absorbing a smaller proportion of nutrients from the feed. Please read my blog posted 1/8/08 that outlines the importance of nutrient utilization.”

The Pet Food Examiner said...

Related to this topic I received today this feedback from a customer of ours:
Thanks for your e-mail. I've been meaning to respond to your e-mail to update you about Odin's flatulence. He's been getting a lot better lately. We went to the vet and he recommended giving him plain yogurt with probiotics. He's been getting a lot better. Thank you so much for your suggestions and your help.
Thought I share...