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What is Regurgitating Food?

You notice that your dog is bringing his food back up – and it is becoming a normal occurrence. You may not realize, but regurgitation and vomiting are not the same thing. Vomiting involves retching noises, clear yellow or green liquid, and usually partially digested food. Regurgitation occurs suddenly. There is no warning, and often dogs themselves seem surprised at what is happening. Regurgitated material will be undigested. Some things that can cause your dog to experience regurgitation include:

  • Foreign body in the esophagus
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Esophageal disorders
  • Motility disorders

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Why Regurgitating Food Occurs in Dogs

Foreign Body in the Esophagus

Because our four-legged pals are often indiscriminate eaters, they may eat something that becomes caught in their throats. Dogs may get something caught in their throats which causes only a partial blockage. They will still try to eat and drink – the foreign object just serves as a gag reflex, causing food to come back up. A trip to the vet for x-rays can confirm a foreign body in the esophagus, which can often be removed non-surgically in your vet’s office. 

Upper Respiratory Infection

Place your finger on either side of your dog’s Adam’s apple. If the lymph nodes are swollen, it is possible your dog has an upper respiratory infection. Your vet can do further examination and lab work to determine if your dog has an infection. He will prescribe antibiotics for your dog, and Fido will be good as new. Also, if your dog suffers from a condition that causes him to cough forcefully (congestive heart failure, respiratory infection), the cough could cause the contents of his stomach to come up. 

Esophageal Disorders

Esophageal weakness may be congenital (the dog is born with it) or it may be caused by a previous obstruction. This is best diagnosed with an x-ray from your vet’s office. A weak esophagus is prone to aspiration, which can cause pneumonia. Esophagitis is caused by acid reflux, ingestion of caustic substances, trauma from a foreign object, and excessive vomiting. Reflux can be caused by hiatal hernias, which are especially prominent in Shar-Peis. Your vet may order x-rays or an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. 

Motility Disorders

Muscle contractions in the esophagus may either be the result of esophageal obstruction, inflammation, hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease), lead toxicity, organophosphate toxicity, myasthenia gravis or may be congenital. Hypothyroidism is also thought to be a possible cause of motility disorders of the esophagus. 

Pharyngeal dysphagia, a swallowing disorder, may also cause regurgitation. This condition causes pain when swallowing, or coughing and gagging when attempting to swallow. One thing to look for is pets dropping food when attempting to eat. A neuromuscular disorder, a tumor on the pharynx, trauma, or an anatomic anomaly all possibly cause pharyngeal dysphagia. 

Megaesophagus, another name for an enlarged esophagus, could also possibly cause regurgitation in your dog.

What to do if your Dog is Regurgitating Food

First, you should determine if your dog is vomiting or regurgitating. Vomiting is usually accompanied by a retching sound, somewhat digested food, and yellow or green liquid. (Your vet may ask if you have seen bile in the food that has been brought back up. Bile is yellow or green.) Regurgitation often takes the dog, as well as his owners, by surprise. Undigested food will often be present as well. It is important to be able to tell your vet the difference as vomiting and regurgitating are two different issues requiring different treatments. Once you have determined that your dog is regurgitating, examine her for possible swollen lymph nodes to rule out upper respiratory infections. Motility disorders and other esophageal issues are best diagnosed by your vet, so if you are unable to rule out other causes for the regurgitation, see your vet as soon as possible.

Prevention of Regurgitating Food

Always try to keep objects your little indiscriminate eater might try to chew on out of reach. This should help prevent any foreign objects from entering your dog’s esophagus. Congenital weaknesses of the esophagus may not be preventable, but your vet should see your dog regularly in order to gauge what is normal for your dog. Acid reflux can be caused by obesity, hiatal hernias, eating human food, and high blood calcium. Never give your dog human food, especially if it is spicy. The hotter spices have a detrimental effect on your dog’s tummy.

Cost of Regurgitating Food

Treating acid reflux may be as simple as changing your dog’s food. You may be instructed to give your dog boiled chicken and rice in order to help settle his stomach. This cost will depend on the local grocer’s price for these items. Diagnostic tests such as endoscopy may cost $2,000 to over $3,000. The national average for treating acid reflux is $900.