What is Regurgitation?
Vomiting and regurgitation are two very different things so you have to be sure which one is affecting your dog. When your dog vomits, there will usually be some sort of warning such as drooling, licking his lips, heaving, and retching. Regurgitation happens suddenly and without warning. Vomit is food from the stomach (partially digested) and regurgitated material is completely undigested and looks pretty much like it did when it was eaten. This can be serious because the larynx may be unable to close quickly enough, and the material may be inhaled into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia.
Regurgitation is an evacuation of food, mucus, or fluids from the throat. This differs from vomiting because your dog will not have abdominal contractions and nausea. It is actually a sign, more than than a disorder. It may be a congenital disorder, and these are more common in Miniature Schnauzers, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, Newfoundlands, Chinese Shar-Peis, and Wire Fox Terriers; or it can be acquired. Some of the causes of the acquired form include enlarged esophagus, gastric reflux, foreign object, poisoning, rabies, or cancer.
Symptoms of Regurgitation in Dogs
When your dog has a regurgitation problem, it usually comes on pretty quickly with no warning so it may take you a while to notice it if you do not watch your dog when he eats. However, there are ways to tell whether the vomitus is from regurgitation or from the stomach. The most obvious way to tell is that the food will be completely undigested so it will look just like it did when your dog ate it. Some of the most often reported signs of regurgitation include:
- Throwing up water, food, or mucus
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing and frequent swallowing
- Coughing and clearing throat
- Bad breath
- Lumps in the throat
- White or pale gums
- Abdominal pain
- Increased body temperature
- Congenital regurgitation in dogs is a birth defect most often found in certain breeds
- Acquired regurgitation in dogs can be caused by a throat, systemic, or esophageal disease
Causes of Regurgitation in Dogs
Regurgitation can be congenital or acquired and may be found in any breed. However, there are some breeds that are more susceptible to the congenital form than others such as:
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Great Danes
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Irish Setters
- Chinese Shar-Peis
- Wire Fox Terriers
Acquired regurgitation in dogs can occur in any breed of all ages. It can be caused by a throat or esophageal disorder such as:
- Foreign bodies present
- Enlarged esophagus (megaesophagus)
- Gastric reflux (usually caused by a hiatal hernia
- Addison’s disease
Diagnosis of Regurgitation in Dogs
It is helpful if you can bring in a sample of the material your dog regurgitated so the veterinarian can take a look at it and see if the food has been digested and test it for toxins. The veterinarian will also talk to you about what signs you have noticed and if your dog has had any recent injuries or illnesses. Make sure you mention if you have given your dog any medications, as that can have an impact on the diagnosis and treatment. The first step will be to give your dog a complete and comprehensive physical assessment including vital signs, palpation, and auscultation. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemical analysis are also needed to check for other signs of disease. Endocrine testing (ACTH stimulation, thyroid profile) to check for Addison’s disease may also be necessary.
Thoracic radiographs (x-rays) can be helpful at this stage, to look for esophageal disorders. If needed, contrast (dye) may be added for more detail. The veterinarian may also decide to do an ultrasound or CT scan to look for tumors or other causes of regurgitation. An endoscopy is another good procedure for checking out the esophagus and thorax. To do this, the veterinarian will sedate your dog and use a long flexible tube with a light on the end to look for abnormalities, foreign objects, lesions, or inflammation.
Treatment of Regurgitation in Dogs
Treatment depends on the cause of the regurgitation. If it was a foreign object, the veterinarian may be able to remove it and prescribe medications to go home. However, other causes may need more intense treatment.
Enlarged Esophagus (Megaesophagus)
An enlarged esophagus can be acquired from an infection or may be congenital. Either way, the underlying problem has to be addressed first. A special diet and medication may be used to prevent regurgitation.
Addison’s disease is a disorder of the adrenal glands and hormones. Medication can be used to control the signs, which should control the regurgitation as well.
Depending on the type and other signs, with any kind of poisoning the veterinarian may perform a gastric lavage and intravenous (IV) fluids. Medication may be given to help calm the stomach.
Gastric Reflux (such as from a hiatal hernia)
Gastric reflux is usually controllable with medication. However, if the case is severe, the veterinarian may suggest surgery to repair the hiatal hernia.
Cancer may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, depending on the severity and the stage.
Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for rabies. It is usually fatal within a few days. Euthanasia is encouraged when symptoms start to decrease the suffering and chance of spreading the virus.
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Recovery of Regurgitation in Dogs
The prognosis varies for this condition, depending on the cause. It can vary from very good to very poor, depending on the situation. Discussing recovery and management with your veterinarian will give you an idea as to what to expect.
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