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What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

Many cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease go unnoticed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms resemble many others such as vomiting, gastritis, and regurgitation. Many people (including some veterinary medical care providers) confuse gastroesophageal reflux disease with heartburn although they are two different things.

In fact, heartburn is actually a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is the uncomfortable burning in the stomach, chest, and chest area. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a very common disorder in dogs, especially Shar-Peis, and can be caused by many things such as hiatal hernias, hereditary conditions, and certain medications. The most common cause is regurgitation, which often gets mistaken as vomiting.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux, is a condition that causes digestive enzymes and acids to build up in the esophagus from the stomach. This is not only a painful disorder, but may also be dangerous from the erosion of the esophageal tissues that may cause ulcers. It creates a burning sensation in the mouth and throat similar to gastroesophageal reflux disease in humans that can also make it difficult to swallow food and water.

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Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs

Some of the most common signs of gastroesophageal reflux disease in dogs are:

  • Drooling more than usual
  • Wheezing
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Burping or gurgling after eating
  • Bad smelling breath
  • Coughing up small amounts of vomit
  • Pain while eating and drinking (whining during meal time)
  • Taking breaks during meals
  • Appetite and weight loss
  • Laryngitis (change in bark)
  • Coughing

Types

There are two types of gastroesophageal reflux disease, which include:

  • Genetic gastroesophageal reflux disease is most often seen in the Shar-Pei breed of dogs, but can affect any breed of any sex
  • Acquired gastroesophageal reflux disease can be caused by many different situations, some of which are excess calcium in the blood, side effects from certain medications, and carrying excess weight

Causes of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs

There are many causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease, although it is still not completely understood. Some of these include:

  • Too much acid produced by the stomach
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Eating spicy or fatty foods or other trigger foods such as vinegar, pepper, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.
  • Being overweight
  • Too much calcium in the blood
  • Certain medications such as doxycycline or tetracycline
  • Inability to wash down a pill, which leads to the pill dissolving in the esophagus, causing erosion
  • Licking toxic chemicals from fur or other surfaces
  • Anesthesia complication

Diagnosis of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs

If your dog has been having trouble eating, frequently regurgitates his food, or is showing other abnormal eating habits, you should take him to see your veterinary care provider as soon as you can. The veterinarian will need to know your dog’s medical history and recent illnesses or injuries. Also, be sure to tell the veterinarian if you have given your dog any kind of medication, whether prescribed or over the counter.

A complete and thorough physical assessment will be done to check your dog’s overall health. This includes palpation, auscultation, vital signs, and coat condition as well. Laboratory tests will also be done such as blood tests, fecal examination, and urinalysis.

Diagnostic tests are also done, which includes the most important test, endoscopic examination. This procedure is done while your dog is sedated to prevent too much stress. The veterinarian will use a tool called an endoscope, which is a long flexible tube with a light on the end, placing it into your dog’s mouth and down his throat to see the throat and esophagus. The veterinarian will be able to see if there are any lesions, redness, or scarring of the esophagus from acid buildup.

In addition, tissue samples will be taken during the procedure to be examined for plasmacytic or lymphocytic enteritis and Helicobacter colonization. Another diagnostic test that is commonly used is an esophagography, which is an x-ray of the esophageal area using a dose of radiopaque contrast beforehand. Other radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, CT scans, and an MRI may also be needed for a closer examination.

Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs

Treating gastroesophageal reflux disease includes a change in diet, possibly medications, and in extreme cases, surgical procedures.

Diet

You should be feeding your dog several small meals a day rather than one or two larger meals. Food that is easy to digest such as boiled chicken and broccoli.

Medications

There are several medications your veterinarian may prescribe including histamine-2-antagonists such as famotidine, ranitidine, or cimetidine or proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole or Prilosec. If there is a Helicobacter infiltration, an antimicrobial will be given as well.

Surgical Procedure

In very severe cases, which are rare, a surgical procedure is done endoscopically to correct the hernia or other conditions that may be causing the gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Recovery of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs

By treating the damage with certain medications to heal the damage to the esophagus, your dog can be back to normal within 24 to 36 hours. Continue to only feed several small meals per day of low fat and protein daily with plenty of fresh water. Also, be sure to follow up with the veterinarian as directed.