How Gas is Diagnosed
When a dog is presented for what the owner describes as “gas,” most veterinarians will first take a thorough history of the dog’s diet and dietary habits, including the type of food, amount fed at each meal, number of meals daily, additions or supplements to the diet, when the dog is fed, where the dog is fed and whether other pets eat in the same area at the same time. A thorough physical examination is usually the next step in the diagnostic process and will include gentle palpation of the abdomen to check for gas-filled loops of intestine, discomfort and/or distension. It is normal for a veterinarian to feel moderate amounts of gas in the intestinal tract. However, the dog may show mild to moderate signs of discomfort during the physical examination when excess gas is present.
The veterinarian usually will also auscult (listen to) sounds coming from the abdomen, using a stethoscope placed upon the abdominal wall. Normal bowel sounds are characterized by gurgling noises that vary in frequency, location, intensity and pitch. When the intestines are distended with gas, these sounds become hyper-resonant (richer and more intense) and can be heard over the entire gastrointestinal tract. Radiographs (x-rays) can also disclose accumulations of gas in the stomach and intestines.
Advance diagnostic testing is usually unnecessary if a dog is flatulent due to dietary or aerophagic conditions. If underlying gastrointestinal disease is suspected, the diagnostic protocols for those particular diseases should be followed and may include blood work, urine assessment, fecal evaluation, abdominal ultrasound, radiographic contrast studies and/or gastrointestinal biopsy.
Flatulence itself is not a disease, nor is it particularly a disorder in mild cases. It becomes problematic when it occurs frequently, when it becomes chronic, when it is malodorous and/or when it is accompanied by abdominal distension and discomfort.