What is Acid Reflux?
In healthy upper digestive systems, the stomach’s sphincter valve closes to prevent the digestive fluids from refluxing upward. However, the fluids seem to pass this sphincter when the acids residing in the stomach become too great, which is usually caused by dietary influenced gastritis. Overtime, the feline’s esophagus becomes inflamed and painful, a condition veterinarians term esophagitis. The smooth tissues become scarred and narrowed, and tighten to protect the acids from further damaging the esophagus, forever affecting the cat’s ability to easily consume food.
Acid reflux in cats is a condition in which fluids within the stomach flow upward into the esophagus. Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, veterinarians do not know the exact cause of this chronic disease, but hypotheses have been made. The up flow of stomach acid chronically irritates the esophagus lining, medically termed mucosa, causing clinical signs of regurgitation.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Cats
Symptoms of acid reflux in cats mimic the clinical signs associated with human acid reflux disease. Vets assume a feline feels the same heartburn sensation paired with the feeling of a throat obstruction, which is why they display clinical signs similar to that of humans. Although the way a cat feels cannot be determined, cats do display clinical signs of acid reflux that clue pet owners in to an underlying problem. Symptoms of acid reflux in cats include:
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain upon swallowing (noted by vocalization or pawing at the neck)
- Regurgitation of food
- Frequent vomiting
- Chronic non-productive cough
- Chronic nasal discharge
- General discomfort
- Change in the nature of the meow
Causes of Acid Reflux in Cats
Acid reflux can affect cats of any breed, any sex or age, although acid reflux has been reported in more young cats than older felines. Felines that eat table scraps or have a diet that constantly changes are more prone to developing acid reflux than a feline that is fed a properly balanced diet. Acid reflux is also found in felines that are diagnosed with chronic vomiting and hairballs. Veterinarians have also hypothesized the possibility of a hiatal hernia being one underlying cause, as this hernia causes a tear in the feline’s diaphragm. Anesthesia is known to cause acid reflux in felines for a period of time following surgery, but this form of acid reflux is usually temporary and resolves on its own with time.
Diagnosis of Acid Reflux in Cats
Following a thorough review of your cat’s medical history and performing a physical exam, the veterinarian will proceed to perform logical diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the problem. The veterinarian will likely request the following diagnostic tests:
- A CBC (Complete Blood Cell Count): blood test used to evaluate the number of circulating platelets, red and white blood cells.
- A biochemistry profile: a blood test that provides information on the level of electrolytes and gastrointestinal enzymes the feline is producing. This blood test also indicates the functionality of the cat’s organs and overall internal health.
- Urinalysis: examination of the urine to screen for infection, metabolic conditions and damage to the kidneys.
- Radiographs: thoracic (chest) x-rays of the chest containing the heart, lungs and upper digestive tract, and abdominal x-rays of the abdominal cavity.
- Endoscopy: the use of a fiber-optic camera placed inside the esophagus, lower airways, or trachea for evaluation purposes.
Treatment of Acid Reflux in Cats
The treatment goal of acid reflux in cats is to address the underlying cause and protect the esophagus from further damage. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a dietary change, focusing on low-protein sources and feeding small, frequent meals. By decreasing your cat’s dietary intake, the esophageal sphincter can strengthen while the acids residing in the stomach will be decreased. Additionally, the veterinarian may prescribe an antacid to reduce the amount of acids the stomach produces. He or she may also recommend a mucosal protectant to prevent further damage to the esophagus. A common esophageal mucosal protected medication is sucralfate. Lastly, drug therapy to improve the esophageal sphincter’s tone is often prescribed to cats with acid reflux, as it is beneficial to correcting the problem.
Recovery of Acid Reflux in Cats
It may take a few weeks to a few months for a cat to fully recover from the symptoms of acid reflux. Acid reflux in itself may not be curable, but the symptoms can be managed with the prescribed medications to reduce stomach acid and protect the esophagus from further damage. Dietary changes and other recommendations made by your veterinarian should be followed exactly to gain the best prognosis possible for your cat.
Acid Reflux Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Poppy has been throwing up blood tinged liquid. She started around one and a half to two weeks ago. She hardly eats (even though she loves food), and sleeps all day. Even more than normal. She is normal very lively, though she hardly touches her favorite toys now. We took her to our vet, and they said her stomach got irritated by grass, and gave her acid reflux. We have been giving her carafate suspension and laxatone, but she isn't better. She is a quick healer, and we are starting to get worried. What can we do to help our little girl?
I would return to your Veterinarian as you would have seen improvement already if it was a simple case of gastric irritation. Foreign bodies, infections, parasites, ulcers, poisoning etc… may all cause these symptoms; a further examination is required to help determine the underlying cause, your Veterinarian may require to perform an x-ray to rule out other causes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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My cat has been throwing up blood tinged liquid for about 1 /12 years. Sometimes she will throw up her food as well and when she does that it comes up whole. I took her to the vet at that time, she was admitted over night for observation, she had blood work an exam and was given fluid. The next day she was sent home as they could not find anything wrong with her. I changed her food at that time to Wellness Complete Health Adult Health Salmon, Salmon Meal & Deboned Turkey Recipe Dry Cat Food thinking that might have been the problem. She was okay for a few months then started throwing up again. It is has been going on for awhile, some times it is days in a row, a few times a day and then she can go for a few weeks not throwing up at all. She acts normal before and after she throws up. I can always tell when it is going to happen because she will lick right before. She does not act sick at all, shes not lethargic, she runs around the house and plays. I am thinking it might be acid reflux.
It is possible that Cali has acid reflux, you can try settling her stomach using Pepcid (famotidine) at a dose of 0.23mg/lb (0.5mg/kg) an hour before food to see if it stops the vomiting. If Cali continues to vomit, it maybe that she has a food intolerance or an allergy to something in her environment; try changing her food to boiled chicken and rice for a few days as it is a bland diet which isn’t irritating. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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