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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

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    What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs?

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    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?

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    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. 

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    Gastritis in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

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      What is Gastritis in Dogs?

      Gastritis is a condition that causes gastrointestinal inflammation or inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The condition can occur as a short episode which is defined as acute gastritis or have a longer duration which is defined as chronic gastritis. Chronic gastritis is often associated with other conditions such as allergy or parasitic infection. The condition often results in gastrointestinal upset including excessive vomiting. 

      What Causes Gastritis in Dogs?

      Acute gastritis actually occurs quite frequently in dogs. This is because many dogs are likely to eat unsolicited items such as garbage, spoiled food, foreign objects, grass, and table scraps. When acute gastritis occurs, most dogs recover within a few days when food is withheld. The likelihood of recovery is very good, even when the initial cause isn’t determined. There are many conditions and causes that are associated with gastritis in dogs including:

      • Severe allergies 
      • Parasitic infection 
      • Liver Disease 
      • Mast cell tumor 
      • Bacterial infection 
      • Foreign body 
      • Viral infection 
      • Kidney Disease 
      • Endocrine Disease

      Who’s At Risk of Developing Gastritis?

      Chronic Gastritis is most commonly observed in dogs under 5 years of age. Breeds that are at a higher risk of developing Gastritis include German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Shar-peis. 

      What Are the Symptoms of Gastritis?

      The majority of dogs that suffer from gastritis will experience excessive vomiting, often times the yellowish, foamy bile variety. In addition to this, you may observe signs such as: 

      • Blood or food in the vomit (especially if your dog has consumed something inappropriate such as a foreign object or table scraps) 
      • Gagging or breathing heavily following eating or drinking 
      • Tenderness around the stomach region
      • Loss of appetite 
      • Lethargy 
      • Dehydration due to persistent vomiting 
      • Hunching of the back (in an attempt to ease their abdominal discomfort)

      How Can Gastritis in Dogs Be Prevented?

      Whether or not Gastritis can be prevented is dependent upon the cause behind the condition. Oftentimes, Gastritis is the result of a change in diet, a new food allergy, or medication. When this is the case, it’s easier to prevent or stop Gastritis in its tracks. Many dogs will also develop Gastritis in response to getting into something they shouldn’t such as garbage, plants, or other foreign objects. Ensure that garbage and any other objects that pose a risk to your dog are not accessible in your home and yard. 

      However, if your dog’s case of Gastritis is associated with an underlying condition or disease, it is likely unpreventable. 

      How Is Gastritis Diagnosed?

      Tests for gastritis may include blood tests, urinalysis, fecal tests, abdominal X-rays, abdominal ultrasound, and endoscopy. In acute cases, only minimal diagnostics such as blood and urine tests are required.

      If the gastritis is chronic, more involved testing will be undertaken to determine the exact cause of your dog’s condition and symptoms. 

      What is the Treatment for Gastritis?

      Treatment for Gastritis is based on the specific cause. Most acute cases resolve without medical intervention. Non-medical treatment guidelines for acute gastritis typically include:

      • Withhold food for 24-48 hours 
      • Offer small amounts of water frequently during the first day  (if vomiting continues upon giving water, seek immediate veterinary treatment)
      • Once vomiting has subsided for 24 hours, feed half amount of typical food 
      • Resume feeding with small meals given frequently (usually about ½ of the normal daily amount of food, divided into 4-6 meals)
      • Over the next few days, gradually increase the amount of food offered 
      • if vomiting returns, notify your veterinarian and seek treatment 

      Medical treatment for dogs with gastritis may include:

      • Anti-vomiting medications
      • Fluid treatment if dehydrated 
      • Medications for ulcers if detected 

      What is the Prognosis for Gastritis?

      The prognosis is good for cases of acute gastritis. However, for chronic gastritis, the prognosis is dependent upon the underlying cause.