If you have ever experienced heartburn, you know how uncomfortable it can be. But did you know that dogs can also suffer from acid reflux? This condition, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation. This can lead to various symptoms, such as vomiting, coughing, burping, and bad breath.
Acid reflux in dogs is not uncommon, but it can be a serious problem if left untreated. It can damage the esophagus and cause complications such as ulcers, bleeding, and even cancer. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of acid reflux in your dog and seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
In this article, we will explain what causes acid reflux in dogs, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it. We will also share some tips on how to make your dog more comfortable and happy.
What Causes Acid Reflux in Dogs?
There are many potential causes of acid reflux in dogs, but the most common one is a malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a muscle opening that separates the stomach from the esophagus. It normally closes after food passes into the stomach, preventing the gastric fluids from flowing back up. However, sometimes the LES can become weak or relaxed, allowing the acid to escape.
Some factors that can contribute to a weak or relaxed LES include:
- Hiatal hernia
- Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with short noses and flat faces)
- Medications that affect the LES function
- Eating too fast or too much
- Eating spicy, fatty, or acidic foods
- Eating human food
- Foreign bodies in the esophagus or stomach
- Esophageal or gastric tumors
What Are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Dogs?
The symptoms of acid reflux in dogs can vary depending on the severity and frequency of the condition. Some dogs may show no signs at all, while others may exhibit one or more of the following:
- Food regurgitation (not vomiting)
- Coughing or gagging
- Drooling or salivating excessively
- Bad breath or sour smell
- Difficulty swallowing or eating
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Pain or discomfort in the chest or abdomen
- Whining or whimpering
- Lethargy or depression
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, especially if they occur frequently or persistently, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Acid reflux can cause serious damage to the esophagus and other organs if left untreated.
How Is Acid Reflux in Dogs Diagnosed?
To diagnose acid reflux in dogs, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and ask you about your dog’s medical history and diet. They may also run some tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as:
- Blood work to check for infections, anemia, or organ dysfunction
- Urinalysis to check for urinary tract infections or kidney problems
- X-rays or ultrasound to check for foreign bodies, tumors, or hernias
- Endoscopy to examine the esophagus and stomach with a small camera
Endoscopy is usually the most definitive test for acid reflux in dogs. It allows the veterinarian to see the extent of the esophageal irritation and inflammation and take biopsies if needed. However, it is an invasive procedure that requires anesthesia and sedation, so it may not be suitable for all dogs.
How Is Acid Reflux in Dogs Treated?
The treatment of acid reflux in dogs depends on the severity and frequency of the condition. Some lifestyle changes and home remedies may be enough to manage the symptoms and prevent further damage in mild cases. In severe cases, medication and surgery may be necessary.
Some of the common treatments for acid reflux in dogs include:
One of the best ways to treat acid reflux in dogs is to make some changes in their diet and feeding habits. Here are some tips:
- Feed your dog smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day. This can help reduce the pressure on the stomach and prevent overeating.
- Avoid feeding your dog spicy, fatty, acidic, or human foods that can trigger or worsen acid reflux. Examples include chocolate, garlic, onion, citrus fruits, tomatoes, dairy products, fried foods, etc.
- Elevate your dog’s food and water bowls to help gravity keep the food down. You can use a raised feeder or place some books under the bowls.
- Avoid feeding your dog right before bedtime or exercise. Wait at least two hours after feeding before letting your dog sleep or play.
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Obesity can put extra pressure on the stomach and weaken the LES function.
- Reduce stress in your dog’s environment. Stress can affect the digestive system and cause acid production.
Some natural remedies can help soothe your dog’s esophagus and stomach and reduce acid production. However, you should always consult your veterinarian before giving any supplements or herbs to your dog. Some examples include:
- Aloe vera juice: Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and healing properties that can help calm the irritated esophagus. You can give your dog 1/4 teaspoon of pure aloe vera juice per 10 pounds of body weight once or twice a day.
- Slippery elm: Slippery elm is a herb that forms a protective coating on the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. It can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. You can give your dog 1/4 teaspoon of slippery elm powder per 10 pounds of body weight mixed with water once or twice a day.
- Licorice: Licorice has anti-inflammatory and soothing effects that can help reduce acid production and protect the esophagus. You can give your dog 1/4 teaspoon of licorice root powder per 10 pounds of body weight once or twice a day.
- Ginger: Ginger has anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties that can help settle the stomach and reduce acid reflux. You can give your dog 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger per 10 pounds of body weight once or twice a day.
If lifestyle changes and home remedies are not enough to control your dog’s acid reflux symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe some medications to help. Some of the common medications for acid reflux in dogs include:
- Antacids: Antacids are drugs that neutralize stomach acid and provide relief from pain and discomfort. They are usually given 30 minutes before meals or as needed. Examples include famotidine (Pepcid), ranitidine (Zantac), omeprazole (Prilosec), etc.
- Prokinetics: Prokinetics are drugs that improve the motility of the digestive tract and prevent food from staying too long in the stomach. They also help strengthen the LES function and prevent acid reflux. They are usually given before meals. Examples include metoclopramide (Reglan), cisapride (Propulsid), etc.
- Sucralfate: Sucralfate is a drug that forms a protective barrier on the esophageal lining and prevents further damage from acid exposure. It also helps heal ulcers and erosions. It is usually given one hour before meals or as needed.
In rare cases, surgery may be required to treat acid reflux in dogs. This is usually reserved for dogs that have severe complications from chronic acid reflux, such as strictures (narrowing) or perforations (holes) in the esophagus.
The most common surgical procedure for acid reflux in dogs is called fundoplication. It involves wrapping part of the stomach around the lower end of the esophagus to create a new valve that prevents acid from flowing back up.
How Can You Prevent Acid Reflux in Dogs?
The best way to prevent acid reflux in dogs is to follow the same lifestyle changes and dietary recommendations that are used for treatment. You can reduce his risk of developing acid reflux by keeping your dog at a healthy weight, feeding him small frequent meals with appropriate foods, avoiding stressors, and elevating his bowls.
Monitor your dog for any signs of acid reflux and seek veterinary attention if they occur frequently or persistently. Acid reflux in dogs is not a life-threatening condition but it can cause a lot of discomfort and damage to your dog’s esophagus if left untreated. But, by understanding what causes it, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it, you can help your dog live a happier and healthier life.