Acid Reflux in Dogs

Acid reflux in dogs occurs when the contents of your dog's stomach or intestines back up into the esophagus. Acid reflux is very common in dogs, and can occur for a number of different reasons. Over time, acid reflux can cause damage to your dog's esophagus. Read on to learn more about acid reflux in dogs.

Causes of Canine Acid Reflux

Vets aren't quite sure what causes canine acid reflux, but they think it occurs when the esophageal sphincter, the muscle responsible for keeping the stomach contents in the stomach, becomes weak, allowing semi-digested food and stomach fluids to flow backward out of the esophagus. Dogs of all ages and both genders are vulnerable to this common condition, though it seems to occur most often in young animals. Young dogs are believed to carry a higher risk for this condition, since the muscles of their esophageal sphincters have not yet matured.

Certain circumstances can contribute to the weakening of the esophageal sphincter, allowing the contents of the stomach to flow more easily into the esophagus. Hiatal hernias, which are usually congenital, can cause dogs to develop acid reflux. Dogs who receive poorly administered anesthetic may be more likely to develop this condition, as are dogs who are allowed to eat right before undergoing anesthesia. Dogs who suffer from chronic vomiting are also more likely to develop acid reflux. 

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Dogs

Acid reflux can damage the esophagus, leading to an inflammatory condition known as esophagitis. Esophagitis can make eating painful for your dog, so he might appear to be experiencing lowered appetite and weight loss. Your dog might begin spitting food back up and he might find swallowing painful.

Diagnosing and Treating Acid Reflux in Dogs

Your vet will probably need to perform an esophagoscopy in order to evaluate the extent of the damage to your dog's esophagus. Your dog's symptoms could be the result of a number of other conditions, including megaesophagus, a condition in which the esophagus becomes distended and no longer functions properly. Your dog could have a tumor or foreign object in his esophagus, or he could be suffering from a disease of the mouth or throat.

Treatment for acid reflux in dogs is largely dietary. Your vet may recommend that your dog fast for a day or two, which can allow time for his esophagus to begin healing. After the fasting period is over, your dog will need to begin a low-protein, low-fat diet. Your dog will need to be fed smaller servings, more often.

Vets think that decreasing the amount of fat in your dog's diet helps strengthen the muscle of the esophageal sphincter. Lowering your dog's protein intake may help reduce his stomach's acid production, so that less fluid can back up into his esophagus.

Changing your dog's diet should alleviate most of his symptoms, but your vet can prescribe medication if necessary. Monitor your dog carefully for any worsening of or recurrence in symptoms, since they could indicate a need for further treatment.