If your dog’s stomach and intestines have ever made loud gurgling noises, you might have wondered what was causing the racket. And, more important, you might have wondered whether these “gurgling sounds in the tummy” were something to be worried about.
Stomach (or intestinal) noises, like everything in medicine, have a fancy name. The name is borborygmi. These gurgling sounds are produced when gas moves from one portion of the intestines to another.
It is normal for there to be some gas in the intestines. And it is normal for the intestines to engage in motility, or activity that moves intestinal contents around. Thus it is normal for gas to move around in the intestines, and soft borborygmi are therefore normal phenomena.
Normal borborygmi are quiet. Try the following experiment: Place your ear against your dog’s abdomen. You should hear periods of silence interspersed with soft gurgles. This is what normal borborygmi sound like.
Some dogs, however, experience episodes of abnormally loud intestinal gurgling. During these episodes the borborygmi might be audible from across the room. These sounds are not exactly normal, but they don’t always represent a crisis. Sometimes they indicate something is wrong in the intestinal tract. In other instances, they are caused by nothing more serious than hunger.
Normal, quiet borborygmi occur when normal quantities of gas are moved through the intestines in a normal fashion. Abnormally loud intestinal noises occur when the intestines contain abnormally large quantities of gas, or when the intestines experience abnormally increased activity. Both of these phenomena often occur simultaneously.
One of the most common causes of audible intestinal gurgling is hunger. Intestines of hungry animals do not contain significant quantities of ingesta. (Remember how doctors have fancy words for everything? Ingesta, in most cases, means food.) Therefore they have a higher ratio of gas to solids. And the empty intestines might start to exhibit activity in response to anticipated feeding. The result will be audible intestinal noises, or “tummy grumbling.” Breakfast is the treatment for this type of intestinal gurgling.
Unfortunately, hunger is not the only thing that can cause loud intestinal gurgling. Anything that can cause gastrointestinal upset of any kind also can cause audible borborygmi.
Dietary indiscretion, such as occurs when dogs break into the trash or feast on novel food items, is a common cause of abnormally loud intestinal noises. This type of gastrointestinal upset often is mild (it can be compared to what might happen when a person who doesn’t usually eat spicy food goes to a Thai restaurant). However, be aware that dietary indiscretion in some cases can lead to very severe vomiting or diarrhea, or to other complications such as pancreatitis.
Other potentially serious causes of increased stomach gurgling include intestinal parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal foreign bodies, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, certain toxicities, adverse reactions to medications, metabolic problems such as liver or kidney disease, glandular disorders, and even cancer of the intestines.
How worried should you be if your dog’s stomach is gurgling, and what should you do? It depends upon the circumstances. If it’s the morning, and your dog appears to be feeling fine but has not yet been fed, consider offering breakfast. If he eats with his normal enthusiasm and the noises stop, there probably isn’t a problem.
On the other hand, if your dog is producing borborygmi in combination with symptoms such as mild lethargy or slightly poor appetite, a problem could be brewing. You should brace yourself for possible diarrhea or vomiting (although these are not guaranteed to develop), and consider offering an easily digestible diet such as boiled boneless, skinless chicken breast with steamed white rice.
If your dog is producing loud intestinal noises and he seems sick, then you should seek veterinary care immediately. Symptoms that should signal alarm include significant lethargy, significantly depressed appetite or thirst, diarrhea, and especially vomiting.
If you are in doubt about whether your dog needs to see the vet, the safest option is always to take him in. It is better to err on the side of caution in these types of circumstances.
Some people wonder whether loud intestinal noises are painful. Again, it depends on the circumstances. Hunger pangs are not especially miserable, but the cramps associated with some of the more serious causes of loud borborygmi can be downright agonizing. Painful borborygmi are usually accompanied by lethargy and poor appetite. If your dog seems to be in pain, then a trip to the vet is in order.
Finally, some dogs experience loud intestinal noises on a regular basis. If your dog is producing these sounds many times per week, then you should use the presence (or hopefully the absence) of other symptoms to guide your response. Dogs who experience regular loud borborygmi in conjunction with episodes of diarrhea or poor appetite might be suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, parasites, or some other chronic intestinal disorder that should be treated. Dogs who feel fine but produce loud intestinal noises regularly probably don’t have anything wrong (although you should have your vet confirm it). After all, some individuals are gassier than others, and some intestines are naturally more active than others.
Learn more about dog health from Dr. Eric Barchas:
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