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Acid reflux in dogs occurs when stomach acid is regurgitated back into the esophagus, causing discomfort and an array of other symptoms. Unfortunately, the symptoms of dog acid reflux can be invisible to the naked human eye. These symptoms may also be signs of other underlying health conditions.
However, if your dog is regurgitating their food shortly after eating, coughing, or avoiding eating altogether, they may be suffering from acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Learning more about this condition can help you recognize the subtle signs and determine when to seek guidance from a vet.
Keep reading to learn more about acid reflux in dogs, what it is, how it happens, and how to treat it.
- What is Acid Reflux (GERD)?
- Signs of Acid Reflux in Dogs
- Treating Acid Reflux in Dogs
- Final Notes
What is Acid Reflux (GERD)?
Also known as gastroesophageal reflux, acid reflux occurs when gastric fluids (stomach acid) back up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach, causing irritation and inflammation of the esophagus.1 Acid reflux is common in humans, but can dogs have acid reflux? Just like humans, dogs can experience mild to severe acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD is a chronic condition that may require long–term management because it's characterized by persistent, recurring symptoms of acid reflux. Acid reflux, on the other hand, can be a single or infrequent episode due to lifestyle factors or diet.
Also known as chronic acid reflux, GERD can lead to other issues with the esophagus, such as:
- Esophagitis: Inflammation of the esophagus.
- Esophageal ulcer: A peptic ulcer in the esophagus due to chronic inflammation.
- Esophageal stricture: A narrowing of the esophagus that can make it difficult to pass food or liquids into the stomach.2
While acid reflux is common, GERD occurs when the symptoms of acid reflux happen regularly, which means it can potentially come with more severe symptoms.
Signs of Acid Reflux in Dogs
Any dog can experience acid reflux, and the symptoms largely depend on if a dog has GERD or an associated esophageal issue, such as esophagitis.
Common symptoms of acid reflux in dogs include the following:
- Regurgitation: Dogs experiencing acid reflux may regurgitate their food after eating. Regurgitation isn't the same as vomiting because the food is coming back up, never making it to the stomach. This is commonly seen in dogs that eat too quickly.
- Loss of appetite: Dogs with acid reflux may be hesitant to eat or show less interest in food because acid reflux causes discomfort. The level of discomfort or pain primarily depends on the severity of inflammation associated with the condition. Some dogs may experience minimal discomfort, while others have more serious side effects that cause pain.
- Discomfort or signs of discomfort: Since dogs can't tell you how they're feeling, it can be difficult to determine if they're experiencing acid reflux due to visible signs. However, dogs may display evidence of pain, like whining, pacing, and restlessness. They may also experience abdominal discomfort when you try to touch them.
- Lip-licking: Dogs with acid reflux may lick their lips more often because it's a sign of nausea, which can occur due to irritation of the esophagus.
- Coughing: Acid reflux in dogs can contribute to coughing because it causes irritation of the throat and airways.
- Changes in bark: Some dogs with acid reflux may experience a change in their bark due to the irritation and inflammation of the throat. Your dog's bark may become hoarse or change in pitch.
- Weight loss: Because acid reflux in dogs can lead to a loss of appetite or regurgitation, it can also lead to weight loss.1
If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. While acid reflux is not a medical emergency, it can cause serious discomfort and complications. For instance, minor inflammation may result in no visible signs and won't require treatment. However, if signs are present, your vet will want to treat your dog as soon as possible because they may be experiencing extreme discomfort.3
Dog acid reflux commonly occurs due to anesthesia because it relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.4 However, there are several other causes and factors that can contribute to acid reflux in dogs, such as:
- Foreign objects: A foreign object in the throat can cause symptoms similar to acid reflux, leading to regurgitation because it can't reach the stomach.1 If the dog eats, the food may make it to the esophagus, but it can't go any farther, leading to acid reflux. Blockages are a serious concern that can affect your dog's health and well-being. Many are fatal. If you believe your dog has a blockage of any kind, talk to your vet as soon as possible.
- Diet: Diet may also contribute to acid reflux in dogs, especially if your dog has a habit of eating too much too quickly and regurgitating their food. Consuming large meals can have the same effect.
- Hernia: Dogs may also experience acid reflux due to a hiatal hernia when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm.5 This can affect the function of the lower esophageal sphincter, causing regurgitation.
- Medications: Some medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or antibiotics may contribute to the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the risk of acid reflux in dogs.
Vets typically diagnose dog acid reflux using endoscopy, which allows them to visually examine the dog's esophagus and stomach.1 During an endoscopy, the vet inserts a small tube with a camera through the dog's mouth and down into their esophagus and stomach while they are under anesthesia. This procedure can reveal signs of inflammation, ulcers, foreign bodies, and abnormalities that may contribute to acid reflux.
Vets will also need a detailed history of the dog's health, especially if they have typical symptoms of GERD. Ultimately, they must determine the underlying cause of your dog's acid reflux. An endoscopy might identify a hernia, while other testing and a health evaluation may uncover issues with medications or diet and nutrition.
Treating Acid Reflux in Dogs
Acid reflux in dogs is commonly treated based on the severity of the underlying cause and its symptoms. For instance, dogs with mild acid reflux may not require any treatment. However, those with an esophageal obstruction will require intervention immediately because it's life-threatening. The management of uncomplicated acid reflux typically includes medication.
For instance, your vet may want to reduce the stomach acid with a medication like omeprazole to relieve heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and persistent cough.3 Other medications may also be used to increase muscle tone in the lower esophagus to reduce the amount of acid that flows back up, with antibiotics used to treat a bacterial infection.
Depending on your dog's discomfort, vets may also prescribe pain medication and a change in diet to a softer food fed in small but more frequent meals.3 In addition, your vet may recommend a low-fat diet because they're easier to digest and less likely to cause irritation that leads to acid reflux.
On the other hand, if your dog is suffering from severe inflammation, your vet may place a feeding tube into the stomach to bypass the esophagus, allowing it to rest.3 Surgery may be necessary in severe cases, depending on the underlying cause. For instance, if your dog is experiencing a hiatal hernia, your vet may recommend surgical intervention.
Since most treatments will be done at home with the guidance of a vet, it's crucial to follow their instructions to prevent worsening discomfort in your dog. Your vet may also suggest follow-up visits to monitor their progress and make adjustments to their treatment.
Does pumpkin help with acid reflux in dogs?
Knowing what to feed a dog with acid reflux can provide them with some relief. Your vet can help you determine the right diet for your dog based on their needs. However, they may also suggest some human foods that may provide relief by aiding the digestive tract.
Pumpkin may reduce acid reflux in dogs because it's natural and gentle. Known for its ability to soothe digestive issues, pumpkin is high in fiber with low fat content and high moisture content. The high fiber can regulate bowel movements to promote healthy digestion while absorbing excess stomach acid to reduce the likelihood or frequency of reflux.
The low fat content can also benefit dogs with sensitive stomachs or those that experience acid reflux due to high-fat diets. In addition, the moisture content can keep your dog hydrated while reducing the concentration of acid in their stomach.
It's important to keep in mind that not all pumpkin products are safe for dogs. You should only use plain, cooked, and unsweetened pumpkin and avoid pumpkin pie filling or uncooked, raw pumpkin, both of which can be dangerous to your pet.
Does yogurt help with acid reflux in dogs?
Like pumpkin, yogurt can help soothe the digestive tract and may be beneficial for dogs with acid reflux. Yogurt contains live probiotics that can support a healthy gut and balance the gut microbiome to promote better digestion, potentially reducing acid reflux.
Additionally, yogurt may provide some soothing benefits for the esophagus to reduce the irritation caused by the acid backing up. Just make sure your yogurt does not contain any artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Recognizing the symptoms of acid reflux in dogs ensures you can get your dog help to reduce their discomfort. While pet parents often overlook GERD, it can be painful to your dog and lead to severe health issues left untreated.
Working closely with a Dutch vet can reduce your dog's discomfort and ensure they live a happy, healthy life. Our licensed vets can implement the right treatment plan based on your dog's needs while providing you with the guidance you need to help them. Sign up for Dutch today to schedule your appointment.
Coates, Jennifer. "Acid Reflux in Dogs." PetMD, Nov. 2022, www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_multi_gastroesophageal_reflux.
Lynch, Kristle Lee. "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - Gastrointestinal Disorders." Merck Manuals Professional Edition, Sept. 2022, www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/esophageal-and-swallowing-disorders/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd.
Walters, Patricia. "Disorders of the Esophagus in Dogs ." Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct. 2022, www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-esophagus-in-dogs.
Defarges, Alice. "Esophagitis in Small Animals - Digestive System." Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct. 2022, www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/diseases-of-the-esophagus-in-small-animals/esophagitis-in-small-animals.
"Hernia (Hiatal) in Dogs." PetMD, 17 July 2008, www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_multi_hiatal_hernia.