What are Reflux Esophagitis?
Esophageal disease is a lot more common in dogs than most of us think. One of the primary symptoms of esophageal disease is the reflux or regurgitation of digestive fluids like stomach acid, pepsin, and bile, and this symptom is frequently misconstrued as vomiting, which is a common symptom of gastrointestinal disease. Understanding the difference between regurgitation and vomiting can help to eliminate misdiagnosis of the disease. The regurgitation of gastric fluids back into the throat through the esophagus brings those acidic fluids into contact with the mucous lining of the esophagus where inflammation and discomfort occurs, causing esophagitis.
Reflux esophagitis is simply defined as inflammation of the esophagus caused by reflux (or regurgitation) of gastric contents from the stomach back into the throat through the esophagus. This is also referred to as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
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Symptoms of Reflux Esophagitis in Dogs
The symptoms you will likely notice in your pet that might suggest reflux esophagitis:
- Regurgitation - learning to differentiate between regurgitation and vomiting will aid in identifying esophageal issues versus gastrointestinal issues; this may occur soon after eating but also could present several hours or even days after eating
- Excessive salivation
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
If any of these symptoms present and seem to be persistent, calling your veterinary professional is highly recommended.
There is only one type of reflux esophagitis though there are multiple causes for the inflammation of the esophagus. That lone type results from regurgitation (reflux) of digestive fluids back into the esophagus from the stomach that causes inflammation. There are, however, several types of esophageal disorders that are worth mentioning:
- Disorders of swallowing - involves the muscle that opens and closes to allow food and liquids to go from the mouth to the esophagus
- Expansion of esophagus (also called megaesophagus) - caused by a congenital defect whose primary symptom is regurgitation
- Esophageal strictures - narrowing of esophagus
- Esophageal diverticula - pouch-like expansions of the esophageal wall
Causes of Reflux Esophagitis in Dogs
The causes of reflux esophagitis in dogs can easily be confused with those of gastrointestinal diseases and disorders. These are the causes of reflux esophagitis:
- Hiatal hernia
- Manipulation of the esophageal tissues for undergoing anesthesia
- Chronic vomiting
- The presence of foreign body caught in the esophagus
- Food sensitivities
- Cancer of the esophagus
It is important to note the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. It simply comes down to the fact that regurgitation is more voluntary while vomiting is not. Regurgitation has no advance warning whereas vomiting is usually preceded by nausea and stomach upset. Vomiting also involves prodromal signs (salivation, licking of the lips, pacing) and is typically followed by visible and vigorous abdominal contractions whereas regurgitating has none of those signs.
Diagnosis of Reflux Esophagitis in Dogs
One should expect some imaging testing to be done to assess the possibility of a foreign body being caught in the esophagus as a cause of the inflammation that results in the symptoms and discomfort. Those imaging options would likely be x-ray or esophagram (uses dye in an x-ray setting), or the veterinarian may need to do an esophagoscopy (examination of esophagus using an endoscope) to view the esophagus. Once the root cause is determined, a treatment plan will be developed accordingly.
Treatment of Reflux Esophagitis in Dogs
Treatment of mild cases of inflammation will most likely require no medical intervention. For those cases in which the inflammation is more serious, drugs to decrease the acid from the stomach may be prescribed, or, medications could be used that will affect the muscle tone in the lower portion of the esophagus. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a diet change that includes feeding your dog soft food which is low in fat and fiber. He will likely recommend feeding smaller amounts more often. For more severe cases of inflammation, a feeding tube which is placed through the body wall into the stomach to allow food to bypass the esophagus may be utilized to allow the esophagus to rest. Antibiotics can also be prescribed in an attempt to prevent bacterial infection.
Recovery of Reflux Esophagitis in Dogs
Once the inflammation has been quieted, your veterinary caregiver may recommend continuing medications to reduce stomach acid as well as those medications which may have been prescribed to control muscle tone of the lower esophagus. Expect that feeding habits would likely have to be adjusted as well to keep the inflammation under control.
Reflux Esophagitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
my 6 yr old boxer Sophie ate 12 oz raisins last month, i gave her hydrogen peroxide 10mls and she vomited 7 times. few days after this, her appetite changed. We are over a month in, she's lost over 10 lbs. 2 vet visits misdiagnosed. 3rd vet did barium swallow X-ray which showed severe esophagitis, and megaesophagus. She continues on carafate, prilosec and anti nausea and pain meds which did very little to help. I was feeding her 10 mls of food at a time, like every 1-2 hrs. if she drank water in-between or ran around, she would voimit. She was back at vet for hydration every few days. Vet finally though she developed a stricture and did endoscopy, which showed severe esophagitis, No stricture.
She's been home 4 days, and has actually lost wt.
I started giving her 5mls pepto liquid twice a day which seems to be helping more than carafate and anti nausea meds.
i boiled chicken with rice blend it up and squirt it in her mouth up to 60mls at a time, sometimes 2 syringes at a feeding. Her body trembles, i'm not sure if its pain or she's cold.
I'm constantly giving her attention and covering her with blankets.
she was 50 lbs and is now 39 lbs.
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My dog Rex has been having the symptoms of reflux since last night; Gulping, swallowing, licking. It stared around 11pm last night, so i gave him a pinch of Pepcid after it had gone on for a few hours. It helped and he was able to rest. His behavior is normal and he’s eating softened kibble just fine and still wanting to play. Should i just monitor the situation and continue the Pepcid if it persists? Will this resolve on its own?
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