Best Dog Food for Flatulence

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There is an old story about the boyfriend coming to Sunday lunch at the girls’ parents’ house (a big deal in our neck of the woods).

He enjoys the food tremendously but then the gas starts troubling him. He discreetly lets it go, but oh my word, it stinks to high heaven. Luckily Father leans over and sternly rebukes Old Yeller who is lying quietly under the table. Boyfriend now comfortably releases a few more and Old Yeller is getting all the blame. After the third episode, Father again leans over and says:

“Old Yeller, you better stop farting or this boy is going to stink us out of the house!”

Ok very funny.

But the fact is, our faithful companions can be the source of terrible smells. When does it become a problem and what do we do about it? Can it be as simple as tweaking diet to another kind of food? If so, what is the best dog food for flatulence?

What causes excessive gas (flatulence) in dogs?

Note that we’re talking about “excessive” here – it is normal for dogs, just like humans, to pass a little gas now and then.

Gas is produced in the large intestine as a natural byproduct of the digestive process. The problem arises when it seems that all that the dog does is stink up the house all day long.

It’s no use getting mad at it, it really can’t help it! Rather try to find out why it is happening, then you can try to address it. Even if you can not eliminate the smelly occasions completely, you may be able to reduce it to tolerable levels.

The most common causes of excessive gas production are of course something to do with its food, but there are also other causes. Some of the causes could be :

  • A change in diet
  • Eating something new
  • Eating spoiled food
  • Poor digestion
  • High-fat diets and spicy foods
  • Aerophagia – swallowing air, which usually happens if the dog eats too fast, however, this usually does not produce a smell
  • Obese and/or sedentary dogs are more at risk because they do not stimulate their bowels through exercise
  • More serious conditions like malassimilation (defined as: “a decreased ability of the gastrointestinal tract to incorporate nutrients into the body”)

Are there specific foods that give dogs gas?

Low-quality pet foods contain a lot of stuff called fermentable fiber. Just like the term says, it ferments, and thus produces gas. Examples of such fiber are:

  • Inulin –  this fiber, as well as oligofructose, is a soluble fiber but is also prebiotic. So in spite of the many benefits it has, it does produce colon gas just like all soluble fibers will if too much is taken. Inulin is also a source of fructooligosaccharides that is sold as a canine prebiotic. Where do you get inulin from? Chicory is the most common source. So how to get the benefits but not the smelly gas? You can buy a prebiotic supplement, or choose a dog food that has a lower soluble fiber than insoluble fiber content.
  • Pectins and Plant Gums are also sources or prebiotics, but alas, the same problem as above. Why? Because some of it is sourced from beans, lentils, and peas. 
  • Legumes – a known culprit and even more so if you refer back to the previous bullet. However, there are cautionary studies that indicate it is not the presence of legumes per se in dog foods that is the problem, but rather the proportion in which it is present. Legumes (pulses) contain several amino acids that are used by the body to manufacture its own proteins. It is, therefore, a valuable food source that should not be dismissed out of hand.
  • Beet Pulp – same problems as above.
  • Psyllium
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Fruits – a source of pectin.
  • Red meat is a particularly interesting culprit. It is rich in protein and thus lean red meat is good food for both humans and dogs. It provides vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, phosphorus, long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and selenium. To get really technical, it also provides something called bioactive substances. These are taurine, carnitine, carnosine, ubiquinone, glutathione, and creatine. But it is also has an amino acid called methionine. It is one of only two sulfur-containing amino acids in protein. When the gut bacteria start working on those…phew! A lot like rotten eggs, brother!
  • Dairy products could be a problem. Although puppies have the enzyme (lactase) that can digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products, this enzyme is gradually lost as the dog ages. It can even become completely absent. The result is lactose intolerance, and again the bacteria in the large intestine have a ball feeding on the lactose sugar and produce masses of gases. (Masses of gases… your heart out, Wordsworth!)

Diseases that cause flatulence

Sometimes excessive gas is a symptom of something much more serious than food or food intolerances. There are a number of diseases that have flatulence as one of their symptoms.

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • Gastrointestinal infections (enteritis)
  • Intestinal parasitism
  • Pancreatitis
  • Food allergy or intolerance
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Parvovirus infection

If your dog has one of these diseases, flatulence will not be the only symptom. Watch it closely for other general indications of failing health such as belching, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, changes in appetite, and/or lethargy. 

Are there breeds that are more prone to flatulence than others?

I seem to remember that every English Bulldog that I have ever encountered was a walking factory of foul smells. It seems that may not have been a subjective impression.

Brachycephalic dogs, in other words, all those with shortened jaws and squashed heads, are prone to snorting, snuffling, snoring, and yes, farting. This is due to the fact that they breathe through their mouths instead of their noses, thereby swallowing lots of air.

Sometimes that air contributes to flatulence.

Many of those with chronic obstructive respiratory syndrome also have associated digestive problems, leading to flatulence.

The Kennel Club of the UK lists breeds that are brachycephalic as:

  • Japanese Chin
  • Pug
  • Boxer
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • French Bulldog
  • Bulldog
  • Boston Terrier
  • Shih Tzu
  • Pekingese
  • Affenpinscher
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Griffon Bruxellois

Brachycephaly is not limited to purebreds but any crossings that they may give produce as well.

Other breeds that could be prone to flatulence are German Shepherd, Mastiff, Labrador Retriever, and Doberman Pinscher.

Even the little Chihuahua. Pfffft.

Let’s tackle the food issue

If you have any suspicions that your dog’s flatulence may be caused by disease rather than food, your next stop is the vet.

It is not a good idea to try to medicate your dog yourself.

They can not tell you what is wrong and you may be making it worse rather than better if you try to treat them.

Remember that old saying: The way to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Firstly, you should always study the ingredients list before you buy any dog food, whether dry or wet, bagged, canned, or whatever.

One of the simplest ways to judge a dog food’s ingredient list is that the fewer ingredients there are in the food, the better.

This is a subjective statement, but really, how many additives do you want in your dog’s food?

And are you sure you know what they all are?

This brings up the issue of limited ingredient foods. These dog foods have either fewer ingredients in total than the standard for the brand, or it has fewer sources for major nutrients.

A limited ingredient diet (LID) is often prescribed for dogs with specific health issues, and digestive problems are one of those.

There was a big scare that a LID may be positively linked to a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The warning went out, especially against a grain-free diet. This debate is not over and the FDA is still investigating.

At the moment the trend is still that it is the better option to have one source of protein and one source of carbohydrate in the food, instead of several. This composition also simplifies the procedure to discover what food ingredient causes flatulence or allergies or other conditions in dogs.

Right. You’re reading the label. It is short but you do not understand half of it.

What now?

Dog food ingredient labels

After telling you that you must read the list of ingredients I also have to tell you that the ingredients label may not be accurate.

In the industry, they call it mislabelling.

This is when the ingredients in the label do not correspond to the ingredients actually in the food. Either there is something on the label that is not in the food, or the other way round. Shocking but unfortunately true.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has strict regulations regarding the naming of pet foods and has sued dog food manufacturers in the past for mislabelling. But the cases get complicated and you are still left with the problem of which brand to trust. I can’t help you there, you have to do your homework and make a decision.

Remember how the ingredients list is supposed to work: The ones at the top of the list make up the bulk of the food, while those lower down are present in lesser quantities.

Sounds easy but it’s not, because some ingredients are actually more water than anything else, especially raw protein. So it is very misleading to have it at the top.

How do you go round that one?

The AKC has a comprehensive article on how to interpret dog food ingredient labels.

It tells you what to accept at face value, when to do a bit of calculation yourself to understand the true level of the ingredient, and gives advice on how to decide if the food is appropriate for your particular dog.

Some ingredients have names that no ordinary person can understand. Pay particular attention to them! Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Ethoxyquin for example, are preservatives that are on the list of known carcinogens and reproductive toxicants!

And all you want to do is reduce your dog’s farts – not pollute its body with chemicals. Rather look for natural preservatives like vitamin C and vitamin E.

There are also some labels that appear quite innocent but are not.

Anything with “meal” included means it is sourced from the parts that can not be used for anything else – lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone,and lots of other stuff you really do not want to know about. Really.

In other words, not the muscle that we associate with the word “meat”. If you are happy with the thought, go right ahead.

The Nitty Gritty

The best dog foods that will prevent or at least reduce flatulence turns out to be pretty much the same foods that you would choose for a  wholesome, healthy, and nutritionally complete diet.

What does all of that mean?

High-quality food.

But what constitutes high quality, if you cannot even trust the labels?

To recap, the source of the smelly gas is the fermentation by the internal bacteria of whatever reaches the large intestine. It follows that the less stuff the bacteria get to digest the less stinky gas they will produce. That means that the food you give must be highly digestible. As much as possible should be digested and taken up by the body before it gets to the large intestine (colon).

One of the indications that digestion is incomplete, is when your dog leaves mountains of poop around the yard.

Think about it.

The more poop there is the less of the food is actually assimilated in poor old Rover’s body. You give him buckets full but it all just passes through!

In spite of red meat being a potential source of smelly gas, it is highly digestible.

In fact, the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of raw red muscle meat like beef scores 0.9 out of a possible 1.0 (This is a method of evaluating protein quality).

Plant proteins score 0.5 – 0.7.

This procedure has its limitations (for instance it is applied mainly to human foods), but it is worth mentioning so that you do not think Rover is not allowed to eat any red meat ever again.

A study that compared various aspects of a few commercial dog foods to raw food found that the protein digestibility of a moderately cooked, grain-free dog food was significantly higher (94.6 %) than the raw food (88.3 %) or the extruded food (85.1 %).

Extruded dog food is basically an air-popped kibble.

The purpose of the study was to find evidence that a raw diet is better for your dog than commercial food, but the overall findings are of interest if you want to address other problems such as flatulence.

So maybe you can spare yourself all that reading and calculating and just buy a special food. It is possible that it may solve your problem.

If you want to go for a special diet food, choose the ones labeled for sensitive stomachs. Even if your dog does not actually have a sensitive stomach, these foods usually are highly digestible. Furthermore, it has the magic formula of only one source of protein and only one source of carbohydrates.

High protein is important, but the protein should not be too high! Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores. That means they can not live on proteins alone. Just like humans, they do need some other nutritional sources besides proteins. Although it is ultimately the quality of the protein that is the most important factor, there is a general guideline that more than 30% protein in dog food is too much.

Most vets recommend 18-25%.

In summary:

To reduce flatulence choose foods that are highly digestible, has the phrase “complete and balanced” on the package, has identifiable and simple ingredients, has natural rather than chemical preservatives, and is produced by a well-known, long-established and respected manufacturer. And keep checking with your vet – he or she studied for years to be able to advise you. Use it!

Related Questions

Do I need to consider my dog’s age when trying to address flatulence by changing diet?

Yes, absolutely. Puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs and senior dogs also have different needs than earlier in their lives. Breed also matters as large and small breeds also have different nutritional requirements.

Can adding yogurt to dog food help reduce flatulence?

Probably not. Yogurt is a dairy product. Adult and senior dogs have very little or no lactase to digest the lactose in yogurt. So the chances are good that it may increase the problem. However, unsweetened yogurt with live bacterial cultures may help. It is best to experiment and watch your dog closely.

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