Acid Reflux in Cats

Acid reflux in cats is a condition in which fluids from the stomach flow up into the esophagus. Vets aren't quite sure what causes it, but cats who suffer chronic vomiting might be at a higher risk. Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of this disorder.

Risk Factors for Acid Reflux in Cats

Acid reflux is a common gastrointestinal disorder in cats, and it can occur in cats of all age groups and both genders. Vets believe that the esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps food and stomach acids from flowing backward into the esophagus, may be weak in cats who suffer from frequent acid reflux. Cats who suffer chronic vomiting could be at a higher risk for acid reflux, since chronic vomiting can contribute to a weakening of the esophageal sphincter.

Cats who go under anesthesia may be more likely to develop acid reflux, especially if the anesthesia is administered improperly or the cat is in the wrong physical position while under anesthesia. Cats who are allowed to eat before going under anesthesia may suffer from acid reflux, since anesthesia can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing the food in their stomachs to flow backward into the esophagus.

Cats with congenital hiatal hernia are also more likely to suffer acid reflux. This is a common cause of acid reflux in very young cats.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Cats

Acid reflux can cause significant gastrointestinal discomfort in cats, and can even damage the esophagus. Symptoms can include:

  • Regurgitating food
  • Pain during swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Lowered appetite

If inflammation and damage to the esophagus, a condition known as esophagitis, is severe, your cat may develop a fever and drool excessively.

Diagnosing Acid Reflux in Cats

An esophagoscopy can allow your vet to evaluate the damage to your cat's esophagus. If can also help your vet determine if your cat's esophageal damage and other symptoms are the result of chronic vomiting, a foreign body lodged in the esophagus, a tumor of the esophagus, a hiatal hernia, or a disease.

Treating Acid Reflux in Cats

Treatment for feline acid reflux is largely dietary. Your vet will probably recommend a low-protein, low-fat diet, and your cat may need more frequent, smaller meals. Lowering your cat's fat intake can help strengthen the esophageal sphincter, while lowering his protein intake can help decrease his production of stomach acids.

Your vet may also recommend prescription medications to help improve your cat's digestion or soothe his stomach. Generally, however, dietary changes alone can manage the condition. Most cats experience significant improvements in their symptoms after dietary changes are made. Monitor your cat closely for continued or renewed symptoms, which could indicate a more serious underlying cause for your cat's condition.

You can prevent acid reflux in many cases by feeding your cat a low-fat diet. Don't cut back on your cat's protein without consulting a vet, since cats need a lot of protein for optimal health. A low-fat diet, however, can help prevent the condition in many cats.