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Understanding Acid Reflux in Dogs

Understanding Acid Reflux in Dogs

Many of us know that humans can get acid reflux. However, did you know that dogs can get acid reflux too? This article discusses what acid reflux is, why it’s bad, potential causes of acid reflux, signs of acid reflux in dogs and potential management strategies.

What is acid reflux?

Before describing what’s abnormal, let’s look at what’s normal. Here’s a quick anatomy lesson. The gullet (also known as esophagus) is a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. There is an “esophageal sphincter” - a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the gullet and the stomach.

Acid reflux occurs when stomach and intestinal acids and digestive juices back-flow into the gullet. Sometimes, these acids and juices come back up through the mouth. This process is called “regurgitation”, which is different from “vomiting” (unlike regurgitation, vomiting involves active contraction of stomach muscles)

Why is acid reflux bad?

Stomach and intestinal acid can damage the esophagus over time, as they can irritate the inner esophageal lining and even break it down. This can lead to esophageal inflammation, bleeding and ulcers. A damaged esophagus can also be painful for affected pets. Over time, scar tissue may form over damaged tissue in the esophagus, causing an “esophageal stricture” and making it narrow. This will make it difficult for affected pets to swallow food and water. Thus, the ability to eat and take in nutrients will be affected, and weight loss/malnutrition can occur. Esophageal strictures can also turn cancerous!

Signs of acid reflux

Although we have mentioned some symptoms of acid reflux above, we’ll cover them again here. Symptoms include (but are not limited to):

-Difficulty swallowing
-Reduced appetite
-Weight loss
-Licking lips (to try and ease discomfort)

If you notice any of these symptoms, please arrange an appointment with a vet right away!

What can cause acid reflux in dogs? What can we do to reduce the risk of acid reflux in dogs?

Now that we know how bad acid reflux can be in dogs, let’s discuss the potential causes of acid reflux. As mentioned before, please do not diagnose your pet by yourselves! It’s important to bring your pet to the vet. They will do a physical exam and run the appropriate test to rule in/rule out the root causes of acid reflux in your dog.

Potential causes include:

1) Underlying medical conditions

In many cases, an underlying health condition leads to acid reflux. These conditions include inflammation of certain organs in the digestive system (e.g. pancreatitis aka inflammation of the pancreas, gastritis aka inflammation of the stomach).

Occasionally, a pet may have a birth defect called a “hiatal hernia”. In normal pets, a muscle called the “diaphragm” separates the chest and the abdominal cavity. The esophagus runs through a hole (aka the hiatus) in order to connect to the stomach. When the muscle around the hiatus is weak and part of the stomach slides into the esophagus, this is called a hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernias can also lead to serious problems (including pneumonia), and acid reflux is also a consequence

How can paw-rents help?

If you notice signs of regurgitation in your dog, the first thing you should do is contact a veterinarian! It is important for a veterinarian to examine and diagnose your pet, as different conditions require different treatments.

2) Prolonged vomiting

When animals vomit several times over a prolonged period, gastric juices tend to stay in the esophagus. This can damage the esophagus in ways that we have discussed above.

How can paw-rents help?

If you notice signs of vomiting in your dog, the first thing you should do is contact a veterinarian! There are many causes of vomiting in dogs, some of which can be life-threatening (e.g. foreign objects stuck in the gut).

3) Certain medications

Certain medications (e.g. NSAIDs) can damage the gut lining if not taken carefully.

How can paw-rents help?

Do not stop any medications without consulting your veterinarian! It’s best to speak to your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet’s medication.

This is also why you should only purchase medication directly from your veterinarian, or if your veterinarian has given you a prescription. If you have a prescription from a veterinarian, you should only purchase from reputable sources (e.g. AVS-registered dispensaries like My Animal Dispensary). If you buy medication from a dubious source without a prescription, you’re putting your pet’s health at risk!

Once medical reasons for acid reflux have been ruled out, you can consider other potential causes, including:

4) Eating too much in one go

It is common for owners to feed 1-2 large meals to dogs, since this also coincides with their busy schedules. However, large amounts of food in the stomach can exert too much pressure on the “esophageal esophageal sphincter”, causing it to open up (even slightly). This can cause backflow of stomach acids into the gullet

How can paw-rents help?

Pawrents can help by dividing the total amount of food per day into several meals. Some dogs do best on 3-4 smaller meals a day. In this way, there will be less pressure on the esophageal sphincter. Talk to your vet about creating a “vomiting” diary and noting down the times when your pet vomits. You will have to work with your vet and adjust the feeding times according to when your pet vomits.

5) Eating too quickly

As we know, dogs often eat with the ferocity of starving beasties. However, this isn’t ideal for their health. When dogs eat quickly, they also gulp a large amount of air. It is thought that the stomach will expand too quickly when the food is gulped down. This - along with the excess air - can exert too much pressure on the “esophageal sphincter” and make it open up, allowing stomach acid backflow.

How can paw-rents help?

There are many ways for paw-rents to help. They can buy “slow-feeding bowls” (for kibbles) or “slow-feeding mats” (for wet food). These bowls and mats are specifically designed for pets to eat slowly. In this way, they are less likely to swallow large amounts of air.

Management of Acid Reflux in Dogs

Acid reflux in dogs should be managed by a veterinarian. Surgery may be required for severe cases, whereas other cases can be managed medically.

In some cases, veterinarians may prescribe medications such as Cerenia, omeprazole, famotidine, sucralfate and so on. Please note that if you purchase the medications from our website, a prescription from an AVS-licensed veterinarian is required.

An easily digestible prescription diet may also be prescribed, as easily digestible diets do not linger in the stomach for a long time (as long periods of time in the stomach may trigger increased acid production). Do ask your vet about the diet that’s best for your pet before you purchase.

Concluding Thoughts

Acid reflux seems like a daunting condition in your dog. However, with this article and your usual veterinarian’s advice, we hope that you feel somewhat better!
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