Acid reflux is a relatively common gastrointestinal health condition that occurs in all breeds of dog. The condition can present when the sphincter muscles, which connect the stomach to the oesophagus, are weak or damaged. The sphincter muscles should prevent gastrointestinal juices from flowing backwards into the oesophagus, but when the muscles do not work well, these secretions, which contain bile salts and stomach acid, can damage the delicate tissue of the oesophagus and cause inflammation. Here's what you need to know about acid reflux in dogs:
Causes And Symptoms
It's not always possible to identify why a dog has acid reflux, but puppies can be born with the condition if their sphincter muscles have not matured enough. Some puppies will grow out of the condition as their muscles strengthen, but this doesn't always happen. Acid reflux can also occur as a result of a hiatal hernia, which is characterised by part of the stomach pushing through the opening of the diaphragm and overlapping with the oesophagus. Hiatal hernias can be congenital or develop due to trauma.
Symptoms of acid reflux in dogs include regurgitation of food, increased salivation, refusing food, weight loss and a burning sensation or pain caused by stomach secretions reaching the back of the throat. Pain may present as whining, pawing at the mouth, being irritable or withdrawing from play.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
An oesophagostomy is carried out to diagnose acid reflux and rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as an oesophageal tumour or ingestion of a corrosive substance. A veterinary surgeon will insert a thin, flexible tube down your dog's throat and along their oesophagus. The tube has a camera attached to the end, and the vet can determine if there's tissue damage consistent with acid reflux. They can also view the sphincter muscles and insert surgical tools along the tube to take tissue biopsies if they suspect there could be a different reason for your dog's symptoms. An oesophagostomy is carried out under general anaesthetic, and your dog should be able to go home the same day they have the procedure.
Treatment for acid reflux typically involves a combination of dietary modifications and medication. Some dogs experience relief from their symptoms if they consume a diet that's both low in fat and low in protein, as fat can impact the resistance of the sphincter muscles, and consuming high quantities of protein can cause gastric acid secretions to increase. Pro-kinetic drugs can allow the sphincter muscle to strengthen by causing food to move through the stomach faster, which decreases the amount of gastrointestinal secretions available to flow backwards and irritate the oesophagus.
If you're dog has any of the symptoms associated with acid reflux, or if you have concerns about their gastrointestinal health, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.