Although acid reflux in dogs is not nearly as common as it is for humans, it can still be a problem for some dogs. To understand what acid reflux is and how it affects your dog, we first need to understand some basic anatomy.
Your dog has a very long esophagus that attaches to the stomach. The stomach has acid that helps break down food so your dog can use the calories as energy. These stomach acids are supposed to stay in the stomach, but in rare cases, some of the acids will enter into the esophagus (known as gastroesophageal reflux). This can be very uncomfortable for your dog and cause long term tissue damage.
What Caused It?
There’s no singular cause to acid reflux, which means figuring out why it happened in the first place may be a challenge. Some of the causes you may have control over, some you won’t. Below we will list some of the top causes of acid reflux in dogs.
Excessive Stomach Acid
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid enters the esophagus. One of the reasons this might happen is when there is more stomach acid than needed to break down the food your dog eats. This will cause a backup of the stomach acids and eventually lead to reflux. Unfortunately, this is a genetic issue you have no control over, but the vet can prescribe medication (such as famotidine) that will help.
Here’s one that you do have control over. Spicy foods irritate the lining of the esophagus (not to mention all sorts of digestive system issues), which can lead to acid reflux. If you’ve been feeding your dog food off your own plate, stop for a few days and see if the problem fixes itself. Even if you don’t find food spicy, it might be spicy enough to irritate the esophagus of your dog.
There is a direct link between obese dogs and acid reflux, although researchers aren’t 100% sure why. Right now, the leading theory is that excess body fat will compress the stomach, which forces acid into the esophagus. Makes sense in theory but has yet to be proven. Either way, since there is a direct link, you may want to put your dog on a diet.
Puppies are prone to getting acid reflux because their stomach and esophagus are still developing. If the stomach begins developing quicker than the esophagus, there’s a good chance some of that acid will leak out of the stomach. This problem will fix itself as your puppy continues to grow.
Older dogs are also prone to acid reflux because their body doesn’t work quite as well as it used to. Their lower and upper esophageal sphincters (which are supposed to keep acid in the stomach) becomes weak. This will lead to acid leaking into the esophagus.
If your dog developed acid reflux after surgery, this could be the cause. Anesthetics cause the lower and upper esophageal sphincters to relax, which leads to reflux. This is temporary and shouldn’t last longer than 2-3 weeks.
There are an innumerable amount of symptoms we didn’t discuss, but the ones above are the most common and should be your starting point when trying to figure out what could have caused acid reflux in the first place.
What Are The Symptoms of Acid Reflux?
One of the hardest things about acid reflux in dogs is being able to identify the symptoms. If a human is suffering from acid reflux, he can say to the doctor, “My throat and chest burn when I eat.” A dog can’t verbally tell you what they are experiencing. This means you need to carefully watch their body language while they are eating and shortly after. Here are the top symptoms to look for.
- Regurgitation (not to be confused with vomiting)
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Uncomfortable when swallowing
- Funny sounds in the stomach
- Bad breath caused by gastric acid
- Excessive drool
- Eating grass
Do I Need to Take My Dog To The Vet?
The list of symptoms above wasn’t too helpful, was it? The reason for this is because those symptoms can mean several different things. The only accurate way to know if your dog is suffering from acid reflux is to take them to the vet.
How Will The Vet Diagnose?
During the visit, your vet will perform an endoscopy. This is when the vet will use a small camera to look for damage to the esophagus caused by stomach acids. This camera is inserted through the dog’s throat so anesthetics will be required. They’ll also look for any sort of foreign body in the throat that could be causing pain.
Don’t try to diagnose acid reflux on your own. If you suspect something is wrong with your dog, get them to the vet ASAP.
How Will The Vet Treat The Issue?
Once acid reflux is confirmed, your vet will prescribe medication that will prevent excessive acid production. There is nothing wrong with this, and we highly suggest using the medicine the vet prescribes for your dog.
Is it Possible to Treat Naturally?
In some cases, it is possible to treat acid reflux naturally. However, this does not mean natural methods are a replacement for prescription medication. They can be used to make prescription meds work even better.
Include Grains in The Diet
This may seem to go against the grain (lame pun intended), but dogs that suffer from acid reflux tend to do well on a high grain diet. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feed your dog any protein or fat (a protein diet is still essential), but the focus should be on grains. Purina One has a line of dog food products called “sensitive stomach.” These work great for dogs with acid reflux
Coat The Esophagus
This one works well in older dogs who may have a lower esophageal sphincter that doesn’t close all the way. Even if there is a tiny gap, it can cause acid to get into the esophagus. In this case, you can use Slippery Elm Bark to coat the esophagus.
This doesn’t cause the esophageal sphincter to close all the way, but it does provide a protective coating for the esophagus, which significantly reduces the pain and discomfort for your dog. You can get Slippery Elm Bark on Amazon for dirt cheap.
Increase Feeding Frequency
Acid reflux becomes uncomfortable and even painful for dogs when the stomach is empty. This is due to the build-up of stomach acids. If you feed your dog twice per day, you should add a third feeding right before bed.
This does not mean your dog is eating more calories because of the meal. You’ll want to make sure you reduce the amount of food you give your dog each meal to prevent overfeeding. The goal of adding one additional meal is to keep the tummy full.
Can I Use any OTC Meds?
Some OTC meds are entirely safe for dogs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use them. Our opinion is that your dog is better off taking the medication your vet prescribed, along with using some of the natural treatment options previously discussed.
If you have your mind set on using OTC meds or want to experiment with a few to see how well they work for your dog, here are three that may help with acid reflux.
What medicine cabinet is complete without Pepto-Bismol? You can give your dog about one teaspoon per 20 pounds of bodyweight. So if your dog is 40 pounds, two teaspoons are more than enough. Up to 3 servings per day is safe.
This is a great one if a hiatal hernia causes your dogs acid reflux, although we do not recommend long term use. Give your dog ¼ tablet for every 20 pounds.
This is typically used to treat diarrhea, but research has shown it can help relieve the pain and discomfort from acid reflux. Before giving your dog Imodium, please consult your vet. Some breeds are extremely sensitive to Imodium and can have an adverse reaction.
How Can I Prevent This in The Future?
Unfortunately, if the acid reflux is a genetic issue caused by a hiatal hernia or excessive acid in the stomach, there isn’t much you can do to prevent it. All you can do is take the necessary steps to manage it as best as possible.
However, there are a few instances where you can prevent acid reflux. We will go over these below.
Be Mindful of What Your Dog Eats
As mentioned earlier, certain foods can cause acid reflux. Foods that are high in fat or spicy foods are two of the biggest culprits. Consider switching your dog over to low-fat dog food and make sure you don’t feed them anything spicy off your own plate.
Control Your Dogs Weight
This is a big one. Obese dogs are more likely to suffer from acid reflux. If your dog can lose a few pounds, be sure to put them on lower calorie dog food to speed up the weight loss. It’s essential not to decrease the eating frequency. An empty stomach can make acid reflux even worse, so continue to feed your dog at least three times per day.
Switch to Wet (Canned) Dog Food
The body has to work hard to break down dry dog food. The harder it is for the body to break down, the more stomach acid required. To prevent the body from overproducing stomach acid, you can switch to canned dog food. It’s easier for the body to break down wet dog food. As a result, less stomach acid will be produced.
Elevate The Food Bowl
This is something you should consider even if your dog isn’t suffering from acid reflux. When a dog eats with their head down, they are fighting against gravity. When their head is down, it’s easier for food and stomach acid to enter back into the esophagus. When they eat with an elevated bowl, they are working with gravity instead of against it.
There’s a lot we don’t know about acid reflux in dogs, but we do know that it can be a painful experience for your pooch. If you suspect your dog might have acid reflux, be sure to take them to the vet to confirm your suspicion. Your vet will provide you with a course of action to get your dog happy and healthy once again.
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