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Acid Reflux in Dogs

What Is Acid Reflux in Dogs?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach or intestinal fluids flow back into the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. This can happen when the muscular opening at the base of the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, relaxes. While it can occur during anesthesia, it also happens spontaneously for reasons that are not fully understood.

Gastroesophageal reflux, commonly referred to as “acid reflux,” is believed to be quite prevalent in dogs. Although it can affect any dog, younger puppies and brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds are particularly susceptible. The gastric acid, pepsin, bile salts, and other substances present in gastrointestinal juices can cause damage to the protective lining of the esophagus, leading to inflammation known as esophagitis.

Symptoms

Gastroesophageal reflux can lead to esophagitis, with the extent of tissue damage and pain levels varying. Mild esophagitis involves inflammation of the esophageal lining, while more severe cases, such as ulcerative esophagitis, cause damage to the deeper layers of the esophagus. Symptoms of acid reflux in dogs may include:

  • Regurgitation of food
  • Signs of discomfort (such as whining or pacing)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lip-licking
  • Coughing
  • Changes in the sound of the bark
  • Weight loss

Causes

Gastroesophageal reflux can occur during anesthesia, as the administration of anesthetic relaxes the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus. Factors such as positioning the patient with their head down during anesthesia or inadequate fasting before anesthesia can increase the likelihood of gastroesophageal reflux. Additionally, congenital hiatal hernias can elevate the risk of gastroesophageal reflux.

Young dogs may face a higher risk of developing GERD due to the ongoing development of their gastroesophageal sphincters. Furthermore, long-term or chronic vomiting can also lead to esophagitis.

Diagnosis

The primary method of diagnosis typically involves an endoscopy, a procedure using a small camera to examine the lining of the esophagus and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. This method is the most reliable way to identify any changes in the lining that may indicate esophagitis resulting from gastroesophageal reflux.

It’s important to note that esophagitis can stem from causes other than acid reflux, including:

  • Ingestion of a corrosive substance
  • Presence of a foreign object in the dog’s throat
  • Esophageal tumor
  • Adjacent hernia near the esophagus
  • Megaesophagus, a condition where the esophageal muscles fail to propel food into the stomach efficiently
  • Other disorders affecting the mouth, throat, or stomach

Treatment

The majority of treatment occurs at home. Numerous dogs show improvement by consuming a low-fat, prescription diet provided in small, frequent portions. It’s important to limit dietary fat intake since fat triggers the secretion of gastric acid.

Medications can be beneficial as well. Gastrointestinal pro-kinetic agents aid in the movement of stomach contents through the digestive tract and bolster the lower esophageal sphincter. Veterinarians frequently prescribe medications to decrease stomach acid production and safeguard the esophageal lining.

Living and Management

Following the initial treatment, it’s important to consistently monitor your dog for signs of gastroesophageal reflux, as it can reoccur periodically. Keep an eye out for indications of discomfort and other symptoms associated with GERD.

Maintaining a continued regimen of a low-fat, low-protein diet can help prevent future occurrences, and it’s advisable to steer clear of high-fat treats, as they might exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux. Some dogs may also require ongoing medication therapy.

If your dog does not respond well to initial medical interventions, further diagnostic testing may be recommended.

Prevention

High-fat foods have the potential to exacerbate acid reflux. The most effective method to prevent future flare-ups involves providing your dog with a healthy diet that is low in fat. Additionally, it’s important to adhere to any maintenance medications that your veterinarian has prescribed.

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