Canine Acid Reflux: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Sick dog

Canine acid reflux is similar to acid reflux in humans, and it can cause your dog pain and discomfort if not treated.

The Causes of Canine Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is caused by a weak or damaged sphincter muscle in the lower esophagus. Stomach acids push against the valve and enter into the esophagus. While the stomach is protected from these acids, the lining of the esophagus is not, and the strong stomach acids irritate the delicate. This most often happens after your pet has eaten a meal that is very high in fat. It can also happen when your dog eats too much and his stomach is very full.

Acid reflux can also be a result of surgery. Improper fasting prior to surgery, as well as poor positioning of the animal during surgery can also result in acid reflux. The other possibility is that your dog has a hiatal hernia that can be present at birth.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Your Dog

A dog can't tell you when he is uncomfortable. Acid reflux in dogs produces a pain similar to heartburn in humans. The chest begins to burn and nausea may be present. You may notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Your dog may be more inactive than usual after meals. He may prefer to lie quietly for a period of time after eating.
  • He may gag after eating.
  • Your pet may lost his appetite or eat less than normal.
  • He may lose weight.
  • The dog may seem to be in pain or distress; gassy, burping or pacing.
  • Your dog may whine when he swallows.
  • He may vomit.
  • If the reflux is severe, your dog may salivate or drool, or he may even run a fever.

Younger dogs seem to be more at risk than older dogs, probably because their muscles may not be totally developed.

How Acid Reflux Is Diagnosed

The most effective method for determining acid reflux in dogs is by the use of an esophagoscopy. This examination used a tiny camera to view the entire esophagus. When this camera is inserted in your dog's throat it views the lining of the esophagus and can show the veterinarian any irregularities or bleeding in the esophagus. With this exam, the vet can see if there are changes in the tissue and mucus of the esophagus that are consistent with esophagitis, or reflux.

There are other conditions that mimic acid reflux in dogs. These include:

  • Ingestion of a toxin
  • Tumor
  • Abscess
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Cancer of the mouth or throat
  • Megaesophagus

Treatment

Treatment of canine acid reflux is simple and straight-forward. Food is usually withheld for a day or two, and then the animal must be given a strict diet that includes small, frequent meals. Dietary fat and protein are limited since these substances increase the gastric acid. Gastrointestinal pro-kinetic agents are drugs that may be used to improve the way the contents of the stomach moves through the rest of the digestive system. They are also thought to strengthen the sphincter muscle at the opening of the stomach. Your dog will need to me monitored for reflux. It is important to keep him on the diet and feeding schedule that your vet suggests. Each incident of gastric reflux will further weaken the esophagus and increase the chances that there will continue to be problems.


Anytime you suspect that your pet is in distress, it is a good idea to have your veterinarian check him out. Acid reflux symptoms are similar to symptoms of other illnesses, so your dog should be examined as soon as possible.By feeding a healthy diet and not allowing your pet to gorge on food, you may be able to keep him from ever developing this problem. If he is overweight, talk to your vet about a reducing diet. Extra weight can increase the possibility that your pet will develop acid reflux.

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Canine Acid Reflux: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment