We humans aren't the only ones who can suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or similar digestive issues, Fido is also susceptible to a bout of acid reflux now and then. However, it's important to note that GERD, while not that common in canines, is often misdiagnosed. Any problems with the esophagus require veterinary examination. Symptoms of GERD can mimic other, more common diseases of the mouth, throat and esophagus.
Gastroesophageal Reflux in Dogs
GERD might result from hiatal hernia, or it might be a side effect in a dog experiencing issues with constant vomiting and subsequent esophageal damage. The constant reflux causes ulceration in the esophagus. Dogs undergoing surgery might develop GERD afterward from the placement of the breathing tube used to deliver anesthesia and oxygen during the procedure.
While any dog might come down with GERD, brachycephalic breeds are more susceptible. That's because they often suffer from respiratory issues because of the physical make-up of their heads, often experiencing airway obstruction. This condition is known as brachycephalic airway syndrome. Brachycephalic breeds include the bulldog, pug, Boston terrier, Pekingese, boxer and shih-tzu. The condition tends to affect younger canines.
Dogs with GERD regurgitate their food, which might be difficult for some owners to distinguish from vomiting. Regurgitated food never gets beyond the esophagus, while vomited food comes up from the stomach. Some dogs with GERD do vomit, especially the green stomach acids secreted when the animal is anticipating a meal. Affected dogs might lose interest in food, drool a lot and frequently lick their lips. They often have bad breath and experience pain when swallowing.
To make a definite diagnosis, your vet performs an esophagoscopy, using a scope to examine your dog's esophagus. She can see if there is bleeding in your dog's esophagus, or excessive amounts of mucus -- both indicative of GERD. She must rule out other diseases that can cause regurgitation or vomiting, so your dog might undergo a number of tests, including blood work, urinalysis and possibly X-rays or ultrasounds.
Your vet might recommend dietary changes for your dog. Your dog might need to undergo a couple of days of fasting in order for the esophagus to heal. Then, your vet might suggest feeding your dog smaller low-fat and low-protein meals several times daily, instead of regular dog foods once or twice a day. Table scraps are out. Your vet might also prescribe medication to improve stomach and intestinal motility of food. Do not give your dog over-the-counter human medication for acid reflux unless instructed by your vet. Brachycephalic breeds might require surgery to correct upper airway obstructions, which also helps other issues with brachycephalic airway syndrome.
By Jane Meggitt
petMD: Gastroesophageal Reflux in Dogs
DVM 360: CVC Highlights -- Don't Miss These Commonly Misdiagnosed Gastrointestinal Diseases
Medwell Journals: Evaluation of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Related Alimentary Factors in Dogs and Their Owners
Clinician's Brief: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs
VCA Animal Hospitals: Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.