This was an entirely new definition of “dog-tired.” Slumped in my exam room was a mussy-haired mother of three with a dynamic Dachshund dancing around her legs. She looked pleadingly at me and said, “I need your help. I haven’t slept for two nights due to this …” Her eyes trailed downward, landing squarely on the beaming brown fur baby at her feet. I was confused. Was her dog, Becca, barking, restless or not sleeping? Maybe she was vomiting, had diarrhea or was experiencing pain? Of course, it couldn’t be that simple. “It’s her stomach. It won’t stop gurgling and growling! It’s so loud we had to leave the bedroom, so my husband could rest. He’s sleeping like a baby, while I’m not sleeping a wink!” It can take some fine-tuning to decipher dog stomach noises.
The fancy medical term for all that intestinal agitation is borborygmi. If the word sounds funny, it’s because the Greeks composed it to sound similar to the “rumbling” they heard. That’s fine, but all my client wanted to do was turn it down.
Possible causes of dog stomach noises
The most common cause for stomach noises is an empty stomach. When the stomach growls, we associate it with hunger because the body has initiated a set of chemical and physical reactions to signal the brain to eat. The noises emanate when the empty intestines and stomach are triggered to contract (“Feed me!”), squeezing air from one section to another. While the “food tube” is squishing around, a waterfall of liquids and enzymes is washing down the tract, further amplifying sounds. Think of it as the body’s power plant revving up, awaiting raw materials to turn into energy. Becca had been fed for her entire 10 years each night promptly at 6 p.m., when her dad returned from work.
Intestinal parasites, infections, indigestion, gastritis, colitis and diet can all lead to blaring borborygmi in dogs. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is another source of excessive stomach noises. In this case, irritated and inflamed bowels contract forcefully, generating loud sounds. Foods that are poorly digested or produce increased amounts of gas can also cause sleep-stealing sonorities. Dogs that gulp food and swallow lots of air may also experience a rumbling tummy. In this case, no loose stools or excessive gas was reported, making IBD and diet a less likely culprit for Becca’s brainteaser.
Finally, in rare cases, certain forms of epilepsy can be associated with borborygmi. This is most likely due to the increased intestinal motility and secretions that may accompany epilepsy. I’ve seen a couple of dogs whose only clinical signs were staring blankly into space for a few minutes before “coming to” and then had loud stomach noises. Becca had no evidence of any behavioral abnormalities, but I encouraged the exhausted mom to keep it in mind.
How to treat dog stomach noises
We performed a basic blood screen, urinalysis and fecal evaluation. Everything was normal, so I suggested a quick X-ray of her abdomen to make sure we weren’t missing a growth or anatomical anomaly. Both radiographic views were perfect, indicating no obvious intestinal tract issue. What could we do to help Becca’s mom get some sleep?
3 initial treatments for dog stomach noises
- A highly digestible, hydrolyzed (where the proteins have been broken down into their component amino acids) or home-prepared diet. I wanted to eliminate any potential digestive changes, and a 12-week diet trial would help us identify any hidden problems, including IBD.
- Divide her evening meal into two feedings. My rationale was if the stomach noises were due to hunger, feeding a small amount of food before bedtime might quiet things down.
- Increase Becca’s activity, especially after her main evening meal. In addition to the multitude of health benefits walking provides, I’ve seen digestive ailments in cows, cats, goats, horses and dogs cured by simple strolling.
The next week I was pleased to see Becca and her mom spring into my office, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It was still too early to declare which treatment was helping the most, although that didn’t matter a bit to Becca’s mom. She reported that the noise had silenced two days after our visit, and she felt restored and rejuvenated. She even offered our team a fruit basket with a sleep mask to remind me how I’d helped her out. Six months later, and all was quiet on the Wiener Front. It turned out the split feedings and extra activity helped the most, so that became Becca’s regular regimen.
If your dog has a noisy stomach, let your veterinarian give it a listen. Chances are, with a few simple changes, you and your pooch can rest peacefully without resorting to earplugs or being stuck on the couch.
Thumbnail: Photography ©absolutimages| Thinkstock.
Dr. Ernie Ward is an internationally recognized veterinarian known for his innovations in general small-animal practice, long-term medication monitoring, special needs of senior dogs and cats and pet obesity. He has authored three books and has been a frequent guest on numerous TV programs.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
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