Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

Affiliate Disclosure: Center for Dog Pain Relief, Inc. sometimes uses affiliate links within our content. This comes at no cost to you but helps us to be able to create more helpful content!

Overview
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Scroll to Top

    What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs?

    Photo Credit: VCA

    Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition in dogs in which stomach acid flows from the stomach to the esophagus. When the condition isn’t present, a valve referred to as the lower esophageal sphincter prevents this abnormal flow of acid. For dogs who experience GERD, the acid instead passes right through this valve and instead enters the esophagus.

    The stomach acid causes irritation once it enters the esophagus and can cause a great variety of clinical signs and mimics that of heartburn in humans. 

    What Causes Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs?

    There are a few common causes of GERD including: 

    • Excessive acid production of the stomach leading to  fluid leaking back into the esophagus
    • Certain anesthetic procedures damage the esophageal sphincter’s ability to fully close the opening leading to reflux 
    • Chronic vomiting (commonly observed in dogs with abnormal liver and kidney function) 

    In some instances, the condition may be caused by an underlying congenital condition, such as hiatal hernia, which occurs when the upper part of the dog’s stomach bulges through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. This condition is often observed in Shar-Pei breeds and English Bulldogs. If a hiatal hernia or other underlying cause is present, your vet may recommend a surgical procedure to correct the issue, in turn correcting GERD.  

    Who’s At Risk of Developing Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

    As mentioned above, a congenital condition called Hiatal Hernia, is often observed in Shar-Pei breeds and English bulldogs, leading to GERD. 

    Additionally, younger dogs whose esophageal sphincters have not fully developed yet are at an increased risk of developing GERD. 

    What are the Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

    The most common symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in dogs include: 

    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Decrease in appetite 
    • Regurgitation following eating
    • Lip licking 
    • Change in bark 
    • Persistent coughing
    • Appearing general discomfort 
    • Restlessness 
    • Weight loss (observed in severe cases) 

    .

    How Can Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs Be Prevented?

    While GERD may not be fully preventable, there are measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of GERD developing. Feeding your dog on a consistent, frequent meal schedule reduces the pressure on their gastrointestinal system.

    Additionally, if your dog is prone to acid reflux, softer dog foods can be beneficial as they decrease how much work the digestive enzymes must do to digest the food. 

    How is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Diagnosed?

    Photo Credit: BrindleBerry Acres

    Your veterinarian will likely diagnose GERD with a combination of a physical exam and various laboratory tests. 

    During the exam portion, your vet will search for pain and locate any abdominal masses, obstructions, or any other abnormalities that may be present. 

    A series of diagnostic testing will be performed. This includes a complete blood cell count lab test in order to assess your dog’s red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Information will also be collected about how the internal organs, such as the liver and kidneys, are functioning. A urinalysis will also likely be done to examine your dog’s level of hydration and kidney function. 

    Finally, imaging such as radiography and ultrasound, will likely be necessary. Your vet will use these to examine your dog’s chest and abdomen for any signs of masses, infection, obstruction in the intestines, and any other abnormalities present. Since GERD symptoms can mimic many types of conditions, this imaging will help to rule out any other issues. 

    Dependent upon results of the exam and tests, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary specialist to continue to pursue further diagnostics. GERD is typically officially diagnosed based on an endoscopy. This procedure requires the patient to be anesthetized and a camera will be passed down the esophagus. The specialist will capture any inflammation in the esophagus, officially confirming the diagnosis of GERD. 

    What is the Treatment for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

    A variety of different treatments for GERD. It is not unusual for your veterinarian to recommend a combination of treatments.

    In order to decrease stomach acidity, antacid medications are often prescribed. This class of medication includes famotidine, cimetidine, omeprazole, and ranitidine. While reflux can still occur on antacid medications, the damage and discomfort can be greatly reduced. 

    In addition to antacid medication, your vet may prescribe another medication to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter by increasing muscle tone and decreasing the likelihood that stomach acid will enter into the esophagus. 

    A change in diet can also be beneficial to dogs with GERD. A low-fat prescription diet can reduce the production of stomach acid. Rather than larger, less frequent meals, feeding small frequent meals may help to reduce this reflux into the esophagus. 

    In most instances, even when all of these treatments are set into motion, it’s likely that some degree of reflux will still occur in your dog. A slurry called Sucralfate may be prescribed to coat the esophagus. The coating protects the esophagus’s fragile lining in turn reducing inflammation and progression of ulcers. 

    A variety of different treatments for GERD. It is not unusual for your veterinarian to recommend a combination of treatments.

    In order to decrease stomach acidity, antacid medications are often prescribed. This class of medication includes famotidine, cimetidine, omeprazole, and ranitidine. While reflux can still occur on antacid medications, the damage and discomfort can be greatly reduced. 

    In addition to antacid medication, your vet may prescribe another medication to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter by increasing muscle tone and decreasing the likelihood that stomach acid will enter into the esophagus. 

    A change in diet can also be beneficial to dogs with GERD. A low-fat prescription diet can reduce the production of stomach acid. Rather than larger, less frequent meals, feeding small frequent meals may help to reduce this reflux into the esophagus. 

    In most instances, even when all of these treatments are set into motion, it’s likely that some degree of reflux will still occur in your dog. A slurry called Sucralfate may be prescribed to coat the esophagus. The coating protects the esophagus’s fragile lining in turn reducing inflammation and progression of ulcers. 

    Facebook
    Twitter
    LinkedIn
    Pinterest
    Email
    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.