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Regurgitation is the process of recently consumed food, water, or other substances moving out of the esophagus and into the mouth, usually to be spit out by the dog. Regurgitation is more likely if large amounts of solid or liquid substances have been consumed quickly.
Though vomiting and regurgitation both involve substances being expelled from the dog’s digestive system, each has a different cause and is a distinct phenomenon. Regurgitation can even be caused by vomiting. When a dog vomits, food, liquid, or bile is expelled from the stomach or upper small intestine, usually preceded by retching, and often including abdominal contractions and nausea, while regurgitated substances are undigested, as they have not yet entered the dog’s stomach, and come up with no warning. While regurgitation can be an inconsequential response to a momentary stimulus, it can also have several much more serious causes. If regurgitation is not a momentary phenomenon, your dog should immediately be examined by a veterinarian.
Your dog will regurgitate for two basic reasons. Regurgitation can be an attempt to expel a temporary obstacle or substance, including an excess of quickly consumed food, water, or grass, a foreign body that has lodged in the throat, or poison. It can also be a response to a deeper physical disorder. Normal everyday attempts at regurgitation are typically successful; dogs are usually able to regurgitate non-toxic substances within several minutes. When your dog’s attempts to regurgitate last longer than a few minutes, there is greater reason for concern. Sporadic short-lived regurgitation can occur in dogs of any breed or age, though Great Danes, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, and Shar-Peis are predisposed to it.
Regurgitation may be an attempt to push up something that has lodged in the esophagus. This could be any solid object that the dog swallowed, including things your dog is supposed to have in its mouth, such as its food, or things it shouldn’t have in its mouth, like objects picked up from the ground or pieces of its toys.
Esophageal disease includes megaesophagus, difficulties with swallowing, such as narrowing of the esophagus, inflammation of the esophagus, or a failure of the cricopharyngeal muscle to relax. It has few symptoms, and can typically only be detected by the dog regurgitating or having difficulty swallowing. It is more likely to occur in Shar-Peis, Fox Terriers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, and Toy Breeds.
In megaesophagus, or a dilated esophagus, the esophageal muscles have failed and cannot move food and water to the dog’s stomach. Food and water will then stay in your dog’s chest cavity, eventually being breathed in by your dog, causing pneumonia. Megaesophagus can be either the result of a congenital defect or can develop later in life. There are many congenital defects that result in megaesophagus, such as vascular ring anomalies, esophageal diverticula, congenital myasthenia gravis, though it can also arise spontaneously. Adult-onset megaesophagus can also result from many medical conditions, such as lupus, hypoadrenocorticism, and glycogen storage disease, or it can develop on its own with no apparent cause. The primary symptom of megaesophagus is regurgitation.
Throat cancer involves a cancerous growth in the throat, usually on the larynx, and occasionally on the trachea. It is rare, though cancer on the larynx is more common in male dogs, and cancer on the trachea is more common in younger dogs. Throat cancer is more common in large dogs, such as Boxers and German Shepherds.
Rabies is usually transmitted through saliva by the bite of a rabid animal. It is a virus that travels through the nerves to the spinal cord and the brain. A dog with rabies may become violently aggressive or paralytic.
Your dog’s regurgitation will probably come as a surprise to you; unlike vomiting, regurgitation comes without warning. Your response should depend on the duration of the regurgitation. Regurgitation that lasts only a few minutes is fairly normal; if you see your dog eat a lot of its normal food or drink a lot of water in a very short period of time, regurgitation is not necessarily abnormal. Just watch carefully to be sure that it subsides. But when regurgitation lasts more than three to five minutes, you should immediately take your dog in for a veterinary evaluation.
If a foreign body is lodged in your dog’s throat or esophagus, regurgitation will be an attempt to dislodge the foreign body. Don’t wait to see if your dog is successful at this. Your dog could choke, suffocate, and die. Your veterinarian may be able to remove the foreign object with an endoscope and forceps, but surgery may be required.
Various kinds of esophageal disease can be treated through surgery, medications, or a soft bland diet. The easiest and most common treatment for megaesophagus is to manage it. While an underlying cause can sometimes successfully be treated through surgery, it is more likely that your veterinarian will prescribe a lifelong meal regimen. It may be necessary to put your dog on a slanted 45 degree platform while it eats and drinks, so that gravity will do the job of taking the food and water down into the dog’s digestive system. A Bailey Chair can keep your dog entirely upright while it eats. In either case, your dog must remain at this elevation for 30 minutes after eating and drinking. 3 to 4 small meals throughout the day, soft food rolled into small portions, and acid reducers can also help your dog get and keep food down.
Throat cancer is treated through surgically cutting out the growth or treating your dog with radiation. A dog with rabies must be euthanized.
Regurgitation is part of a dog’s normal repertoire of behaviors. In itself, regurgitation does not need to be, nor should it be, prevented. However, you can and should prevent some of the causes of regurgitation. Keep a close eye on what your dog takes into his mouth, especially when out walking. Don’t let your dog take foreign objects into his mouth.
Other conditions are more difficult to prevent. Because much esophageal disease is congenital, it is often unpreventable. To prevent rabies and a host of other problems, never let any creature bite your dog. Cancer is often not preventable, but you can take care to keep toxins of all kinds away from your dog, and never let him ingest toxic substances.
Because there are a wide range of reasons for regurgitation, the cost of treatment can vary widely. Treating esophageal disease in general costs an average of $3000, while treating megaesophagus costs an average of $4000. The average cost of treating throat cancer in dogs is $8500.
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