Can Dogs Have Acid Reflux?

Many of us are familiar with the burn and discomfort that comes along with acid reflux.

While this is a common condition in humans, you may be surprised to learn that our canine friends can suffer from this condition as well.

Our dogs may not be able to tell us how they are feeling, but they can experience many of the same acid reflux symptoms as you and I.

In this article we will discuss the details of acid reflux in dogs, and help you better understand how this condition can impact their lives going forward!

In this article we will be referring to acid reflux and GERD interchangeably, as these terms are referring to the same condition.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Can Dogs Have Acid Refulx

Acid reflux in dogs, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition that involves the overflow of stomach and intestinal acid into the esophagus.

The lower esophageal sphincter in dogs should block the flow of acid into the esophagus, but this is not the case for dogs with GERD.

The acid will pass through this sphincter and flow into the esophagus, leading to esophageal irritation over time.

While acid reflux may be considered a minor health condition, it can lead to serious complications if it is not managed properly.

Irritation in the esophagus can progress over time, leading to ulcers and deterioration of the esophageal lining. Not only can this condition pose a serious threat over time, but it can be extremely uncomfortable for the dog affected.

No matter how harmless acid reflux may seem, it should always be taken seriously.

Is Acid Reflux Serious In Dogs?

As we mentioned above, acid reflux should always be taken seriously in our canine companions.

It’s not considered a life threatening condition by any means, but it can lead to medical complications that make your dog’s life extremely challenging.

To help you better understand how acid reflux can impact your furry friend, let’s discuss a few of the most common complications of GERD below.

Esophagitis

Esophagitis refers to inflammation within the esophagus, often due to acid reflux.

This inflammation can be extremely irritating to a dog, leading to symptoms ranging from regurgitation to abnormal neck posture. If left untreated, this can often progress to ulcerations of the esophagus.

GI Ulcers

When acid has the ability to eat away at the lining within the esophagus, this can lead to ulcers over time.

Not only can ulcers make it challenging for a dog to swallow and digest their food normally, but it can lead to complications like local infections and bleeding.

The healing process for GI ulcers can also be challenging, making it much easier to prevent the ulcers than it is to treat them.

Regurgitation

When a dog is experiencing inflammation within the esophagus, this can make it challenging to consume their food normally.

The inflammation of the tissues in the area can cause food to come back up soon after consumption, leading to regurgitation in the moments after they eat.

Not only is this frustrating for a dog that is simply trying to consume a meal, but it can impact their ability to receive adequate nutrition.

Aspiration Pneumonia

If a dog is experiencing chronic regurgitation, this can put them at risk for aspiration pneumonia.

Accidentally inhaling vomit or regurgitation contents can allow this material to enter the lungs, leading to pneumonia in some cases.

Aspiration pneumonia can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately, making it a serious potential complication of acid reflux in dogs.

Weight Loss

GERD can lead to weight loss in dogs for a few different reasons.

First, a dog may shy away from their food if they associate their meals with pain upon swallowing. In addition to shying away from their food, a dog may experience chronic regurgitation if they do manage to get the food down.

Both of these symptoms can make it hard for a dog to receive adequate nutrition, leading to weight loss in dogs with severe esophageal reflux disease.

What Causes Acid Reflux in Dogs?

There is not always a known cause behind a dog’s acid reflux, but there are a few factors that have been linked to the disease.

To get to the bottom of your dog’s GERD, let’s list a few of the most common causes of the condition below.

  • Obesity
  • Improper development of the esophageal sphincter
  • High fat diets
  • Recent surgical procedures, as anesthesia can cause relaxing of the esophageal sphincter
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Diaphragmatic hernias, mostly small hernias that are undetected

If your dog falls into any of the above categories, it’s best to be educated on the potential symptoms of the disease.

When having an understanding of what to expect, you can detect acid reflux from the moment it develops in your dog.

Signs Of Acid Reflux In Dogs

Our dog’s can’t tell us when they are experiencing discomfort, so it’s up to us to decipher the clues by examining their behavior.

If your dog has developed esophageal reflux disease, there are a few symptoms you may notice in their daily habits.

Some of the most common signs of acid reflux in dogs include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Appearing interested in food but not eating it
  • Decreased appetite
  • Regurgitation, and acting normal afterward
  • Licking their lips
  • Holding their neck in a different position
  • Change in their bark sound
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Signs of pain such as whining, shaking, lethargy, and restlessness
  • Weight loss

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your canine friend, it’s best to reach out to your veterinarian for guidance.

Other conditions can lead to these symptoms as well, so it’s important to visit your vet for an accurate diagnosis.

How To Diagnose Acid Reflux In Dogs

Diagnosing acid reflux in dogs is not always straightforward. The only way to confirm GERD in dogs is through an endoscopy, and not all owners are able to explore this option.

This is why most cases of acid reflux in dogs are diagnosed by ruling out other potential complications, allowing your vet to scratch off other conditions that can cause the above symptoms.

First, your vet will perform a thorough physical exam that will help them identify any areas of discomfort. Your vet will also ask you questions about the symptoms they are currently experiencing at home, as well as unique questions that fit your dog’s case.

Once your vet has gathered a detailed history on your furry friend, they will likely suggest performing a full panel of blood work and diagnostic imaging.

The blood work can help your vet rule out any metabolic issues that could cause your dog’s symptoms, while the x-rays can help them rule out any obvious GI complications.

If each of these diagnostics come back clear, this can point to the potential for acid reflux in your dog.

The best way to diagnose GERD in dogs is by having an endoscopy performed with a specialist.

This involves moving a camera through your dog’s esophagus and into their stomach, allowing the vet to assess the tissue within the esophagus.

Your dog will be asleep throughout this procedure, so they will not experience any discomfort.

Can You Treat Acid Reflux In Dogs?

When treating acid reflux in dogs, your vet will often use a combination of treatment approaches to target your dog’s struggles.

Every case is different, so let’s discuss a few of the most common treatment plans for dogs suffering from GERD.

Treating The Underlying Cause

If there is an underlying cause of your dog’s acid reflux that can be treated, your vet will likely tend to this issue.

For example, if your dog with a hiatal hernia is regurgitating after each meal, then it is clear that the hernia will need to be addressed for them to find relief.

Every case is different, so we always suggest following your vet’s guidance.

Decreasing Stomach Acid

Using antacids to decrease the amount of stomach acid that flows into the esophagus can be extremely helpful as a dog’s esophagus heals.

While acid reflux can still occur, the antacids will often decrease the amount of pain and residual complications that excessive stomach acid can cause in a dog with GERD.

The most common antacids used in dogs include famotidine, omeprazole, and ranitidine.

Strengthening The Esophageal Sphincter

GERD is often a result of the esophageal sphincter failing to do its job properly. Because the sphincter is the only thing separating the contents of the stomach from the esophagus, this means that strengthening this muscle can be beneficial in preventing acid reflux going forward.

The most common medications that can improve muscle tone in the esophageal sphincter include metoclopramide and cisapride.

Protecting Their Esophagus

If a dog is diagnosed with esophagitis or ulceration in the esophagus, they will often need a powerful gastroprotectant to help their esophagus heal.

These medications will coat the esophagus as they are swallowed, creating a protective lining that prevents further irritation.

The most common medication used for this purpose is sucralfate.

Prognosis Of Acid Reflux In Dogs

When following the guidance of a veterinarian, the prognosis of GERD in dogs is positive.

Most dogs will recover soon after their treatment begins, with others requiring long term medication to control their symptoms.

The best way to offer your dog the best chance at a full recovery is by detecting their symptoms early on, following the guidance of your veterinarian, and adhering to any long term treatment plans and follow ups.

Acid reflux is a painful condition that can impact humans and furry friends alike. As long as you are willing to follow the guidance of your veterinarian going forward, your dog can live a full and comfortable life with this issue.

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