Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.


Some of you may have read Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray. It is a current popular children's book available at good bookstores everywhere. Well written and wonderfully illustrated I can believe both parents and children find it a delightful, humorous bedtime story. A sequel, Walter, the Farting Dog, Trouble at the Yard Sale, by the same authors, has just hit the bookshelves. As suggested by the title, Walter has a problem. It is, for Walter, a very serious problem. In fact, it threatens to be a reason to have him returned to the Humane Society, from whence he came. I have met pet owners who could certainly sympathize with the anguish faced by Walter's family in dealing with his problem and how to resolve it.

Now, I don't want to give too much of the story away, but, I am pleased to report that Walter was taken to see a veterinarian about his problem. The veterinarian, in my opinion, correctly diagnosed his ailment and offered some advice. Not being a medical text, the story goes on in another direction. However, I want to pause and discuss this condition, called flatulence, that affected Walter and pets I have cared for.

The problem is properly defined as excessive formulation of gases in the stomach or intestine that is released through the anus. It is more commonly a problem in dogs than in cats. It often is brought on by some dietary indiscretion which, also, is more likely to occur with dogs than cats. The two main sources of intestinal gas are swallowed air and bacterial fermentation of nutrients.

Diets that are poorly digestible and therefore reach the colon or large intestine and are available for fermentation and diets that release bad smelling gases are often associated with flatulence problems in our pets. These would include diets with a high concentration of legumes (for example, soy-bean meal), spoiled diets, or diets high in fat and milk products. It is important to remember dogs and cats are lactose intolerant. One cup of milk contains 11 grams of lactose. A dog or cat that gets 1.5 grams of lactose for each kilogram of its body weight may develop problems with diarrhea or flatulence.

Any rapid change in diet or an increase in the amount of a dietary component, especially carbohydrates or fiber, may cause more gases to be produced while the intestine is adjusting to the change. A pet that gulps down its food may swallow more air and be more likely to have problems result. Also, any disease that causes a change in the digestion or absorption of ingested food may lead to more colonic fermentation and hence more gas.

As mentioned, the problem can affect both dogs and cats. There are no breeds more likely to be affected. It occurs with the same frequency in both male and female animals. The age of a pet does not appear to be a causative factor. A recent study reported that 43% of randomly surveyed dog owners detected flatulence in their pet. It most commonly occurred in pets that tended to be more sedentary in nature.

If you consult your veterinarian about such a problem, there may be several recommendations given. It will likely be necessary to make sure intestinal parasites are not disrupting normal digestive processes. Fecal flotation tests, fecal smears and possibly fecal cultures may be necessary to rule out intestinal parasitism. It will be important to make sure certain intestinal and pancreas diseases are not a cause. More extensive diagnostic measures such as abdominal ultrasound or small intestine biopsies are occasionally recommended.

If these tests are able to eliminate some of the more serious causes of the problem, it will likely come down to trying to alter the pet's diet or the way it is eating the diet. Perhaps increasing the pet's exercise will be helpful. If these measures alone are unsuccessful there are a few anti-foaming agents, enzyme supplements and bowel protectant products that your veterinarian may suggest be tried.   

I cannot promise that pets with this problem always achieve the kind of positive outcome that Walter achieved but it should be able to be successfully managed for most pets.