Acid Reflux In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

The dog in front of the empty bowl. Hungry labrador retriever waiting for feeding in the kitchen. May have acid reflux.

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Acid reflux in dogs, also called gastroesophageal reflux, happens when the acid and enzymes from the stomach and intestines that aid in digestion move into the esophagus. It causes discomfort and can be dangerous, as the acidic contents of the digestive system can wear away at the lining of the esophagus, leading to ulcers.

While acid reflux symptoms in canines aren’t particularly life threatening, the irritation and inflammation of the esophagus can cause narrowing, thinning, or necrosis. Also, the constant regurgitation that is a symptom of acid reflux can cause vomit to enter dogs’ lungs and lead to further damage or aspiration pneumonia.

If you see symptoms in your dog, then you must get to your veterinarian right away so they can form a diagnosis and begin treatment. Here’s what you should know about acid reflux in dogs.

Symptoms Of Acid Reflux In Dogs

domestic dog eating from his bowl.indoor

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Acid reflux may be difficult to recognize, as dogs can’t tell you when they are uncomfortable. There are, however, several symptoms and signs of acid reflux in dogs that you should look out for.

If you notice the following, consult your vet:

  • Burping, gurgling, gagging, or weak vomiting after meals
  • Bad breath
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Evidence of pain like whining or howling during or after eating
  • Inactivity or lethargy after meals
  • In severe cases, fever or excessive salivating

If you notice these symptoms, your veterinarian can run a test to diagnose acid reflux in your dog. The test will likely include an esophagoscopy, which uses an internal camera to look at the lining of the esophagus to see if the mucus lining has deteriorated or if there are any irregularities or signs of bleeding.

Causes Of Acid Reflux In Dogs

Close-up of labrador sleeping

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Acid reflux in dogs is common and can happen at any age, though younger dogs tend to be more at risk because their esophageal sphincters are still developing. The condition may result from a damaged or weakened lower esophageal sphincter.

The stomach has a lining that protects it from digestive fluid, but the esophagus does not. When the esophageal sphincter fails to prevent digestive acid from entering the esophagus, it can cause irritation of the delicate mucus lining. This happens more often after a large meal or a meal that is high in fat.

Improper emptying of the stomach and obesity are also causes of canine acid reflux.

A hiatal hernia, which is a congenital condition developed from birth, can increase the risk of acid reflux in canines, as well.

Dogs may develop the acid reflux as a result of surgery. When anesthetic is administered, it can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax, which leaves an opening between the stomach and the esophagus.

If a dog isn’t positioned properly during anesthesia or if a dog hasn’t fasted before receiving anesthesia, it can result in acid reflux.

Treatments For Acid Reflux In Dogs

Woman feeding dog in kitchen

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The treatment for acid reflux in dogs usually consists of withholding food for one or two days. Then feeding can resume with small, frequent meals of a low-fat, low-protein diet, rather than large, infrequent meals.

Fat and protein are usually responsible for increasing gastric acid, so they must be regulated. Dry dog food may be switched out for hydrated or homemade food like chicken or broccoli.

In some cases a vet may prescribe pro-kinetic medication. This helps move food through the digestive system and strengthens the esophageal sphincter muscles.

Rarely, surgery may be needed to fix hernias or ulcers if they’ve developed; although, these surgeries can often be performed endoscopically and are minimally invasive and have a quick recovery time.

Has your dog ever suffered from acid reflux? What did you and your vet do to help them? Let us know in the comments below!