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Ask a Vet: What Causes Dog Stomach Noises?

Borborygmi in dogs, or dog stomach noises, are generally harmless unless accompanied by poor appetite, lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea.

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jun 23rd 2017


A few weeks ago, my family (which consists of Denise, Buster, and me) was sleeping in together. Denise and I both had the day off, and Buster is retired, so we were taking advantage of the opportunity to laze around. I was awakened by a horrible noise.  The window was open, and I assumed that the sound was coming from outside. Was someone using a malfunctioning power tool? Was someone torturing a cat? I heard it again and realized that the noise was coming from indoors. More precisely, the source of the noise was Buster — or, rather, Buster’s intestines. Buster was experiencing exceptionally dog stomach noises, or borborygmi in dogs.

Dr. Eric Barchas seeing a dog patient. (Photo by Liz Acosta)

Photo of Dr. Eric Barchas by Liz Acosta.

In medicine, it seems that one never can use plain words to describe any phenomenon. There are fancy words for everything. Freckles are lentigo simplex. Heterochromia iris is the term used to describe eyes that contain more than one color. And borborygmi are what most people simply would call stomach noises.

It turns out that borborygmi are common in dogs. People often wonder whether borborygmi are a cause for concern. In fact, just the other day, a dog came to my clinic on an emergency basis because her stomach was grumbling loudly and the owner was worried.

What causes dog stomach noises, or borborygmi in dogs?

Borborygmi occur when gas in the intestines rumbles about during intestinal motility (movement). They may occur when excess gas is present in the intestinal tract. They may also occur when the intestinal tract experiences excessive motility.

Dog with empty food bowl by Shutterstock.

Lab with empty food bowl by Shutterstock.

Do you need to be worried if your dog’s intestines are producing loud borborygmi?

Not necessarily. One of the most common causes of borborygmi in dogs is hunger. In this manner, dogs are similar to their human companions. My initial response to Buster’s loud intestinal noises was to feed him.

Buster readily got out of bed and came to the kitchen with me. I offered him breakfast. He sniffed and walked away. It was then that I became worried. Buster is a Labrador Retriever, and Labs generally don’t skip meals. If Buster leaves a piece of kibble, something is wrong.

Loud borborygmi on their own do not necessarily mean something’s wrong. But when they are accompanied by any other symptoms, such as poor appetite, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea, then there is a problem.

Anything that can cause gastrointestinal upset can cause loud borborygmi. There are many different causes of gastrointestinal upset in dogs. They range from mild issues such as dietary indiscretion leading to transient, self-limiting intestinal cramps all the way to life-threatening problems such as intestinal foreign bodies. Some of the more common causes of gastrointestinal upset in dogs include parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, food intolerance, infectious diseases, and metabolic conditions such as liver and kidney disease.

A lethargic Chihuahua by Shutterstock.

Lethargic Chihuahua by Shutterstock.

I set a deadline for Buster. He had one hour to eat. If he did not eat in that time, he would need to go to my clinic for tests. He kept me waiting with bated breath until the last minute, but after 50 minutes he walked over to his bowl and polished off his breakfast. And that was the end of it. He was back to normal, and I heard no more borborygmi that day.

What caused Buster’s symptoms that day?

Well, he is a Lab, so the most likely thing is that he sniffed out and ate some food item that disagreed with him. Dogs, especially Labs, are very good at that.

And how about the patient I saw the other day, whose owner came to my clinic worried about her borborygmi? The owner elected to monitor at home for a while, and she promised to return if the noises didn’t resolve on their own or if any other symptoms developed. They didn’t come back.

Borborygmi on their own are not necessarily anything to worry about. If a dog is producing loud intestinal noises without any other symptoms, generally it’s reasonable to wait for a bit to see if things settle on their own.

However, if your dog is experiencing borborygmi with other symptoms such as lethargy, reduced appetite, diarrhea, or vomiting, then a trip to the vet is in order.

Read more from Dr. Barchas:

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Thumbnail: This smelly dog loves rolling in poop. (Photo via Pixabay)