If you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffer from acid reflux, you may be wondering, “Can dogs have acid reflux, too?” The answer is yes, just like humans, pets can suffer from occasional heartburn and indigestion. However, when these symptoms occur frequently or become severe, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
What causes acid reflux in dogs?
The causes of acid reflux in dogs are similar to the causes in humans.
When harsh, acidic fluids from the stomach flow past the sphincter muscle within the esophagus, the lower esophageal lining becomes irritated. This acid is the cause of that hot, painful feeling most commonly associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
It can be challenging to determine the exact cause of your dog’s acid reflux, but there are a few options worth considering.
1. Poor diet
One of the first steps when attempting to discover the root cause of acid reflux is to examine your dog’s diet. Ask yourself what types of foods your dog is eating, as well as how much. If your dog eats too much food or you are feeding them a poor-quality diet, it may be contributing to their symptoms.
Whether your dog’s issues stem from a nutritional deficiency, weight gain, or even food sensitivity, the answer may be as simple as changing their food.
2. Delayed stomach emptying
The medical term for delayed stomach emptying is gastroparesis. Gastroparesis occurs when the muscles of the stomach do not work properly, causing food to remain in the stomach for an extended period of time.
This can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and weight loss. Dogs with gastroparesis may need to change their diet or add digestive enzymes to help food move along more quickly.
3. Low stomach acid
Low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, is a condition that is often overlooked by pet owners and veterinarians. Dogs that do not produce enough stomach acid may have problems breaking down and digesting their food, which can lead to a variety of health issues.
While high stomach acid levels can also cause problems, low stomach acid is often the culprit when it comes to heartburn and acid reflux. Treatment typically involves changes to the dog’s diet and supplements to help increase stomach acid production.
When we face stress or anxiety, those feelings will sometimes manifest themselves physically. The same phenomenon can happen with dogs, possibly indicating that their acid reflux is a sign of new stressors appearing in their day-to-day life.
Has anything changed in your dog’s environment, such as a new pet, a move, or a change in their routine? If so, this may be the root cause of their symptoms. Stress can also slow down digestion, which can contribute to heartburn as indigestible food remains in the stomach.
Talk to your veterinarian about possible changes you can make to help your pet feel less stressed.
5. Hiatal hernias
A hiatal hernia is a congenital condition in dogs, meaning it is present from birth. This specific type of hernia forms in the diaphragm, which is where the esophagus meets the stomach. Naturally, one symptom of a hiatal hernia is the formation of acid reflux. This usually requires surgery to fix, although in some cases, medication may be able to help.
If your dog recently underwent a procedure that required anesthesia and they are now showing acid reflux symptoms, it may be possible that there was an issue with the anesthesia administration.
One possibility is that your dog was positioned incorrectly at the time of administration. It’s also possible that your dog didn’t fast long enough before receiving the anesthesia.
Other causes of acid reflux in dogs include frequent vomiting, poor gut microbiota (commonly after a round of antibiotics), tumors or foreign bodies that obstruct the esophagus, and anatomic abnormalities such as megaesophagus.
How do I know if my dog has acid reflux?
Determining whether your dog is showing symptoms of acid reflux may be difficult at first. However, mild cases may demonstrate any of the following:
- Burping, gagging, or vomiting bile
- Regurgitation of food
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive lip licking
- Restlessness or pacing
- Bad breath
If your dog is showing any signs of pain or is suffering from a loss of appetite or loss of weight, they may be experiencing a more severe case of acid reflux. Call your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Is my dog eating grass a sign of acid reflux?
While there are many theories as to why dogs eat grass, the most popular belief is that they do it for digestive reasons. Some believe that eating grass helps to promote the flow of gastric juices through the stomach. Others believe that ingesting grass may help to stimulate the production of saliva, which is used as a natural antacid.
If your dog is eating grass and displaying any of the symptoms mentioned above, they may be suffering from acid reflux.
Dog acid reflux diagnosis
When it comes to stopping acid reflux in dogs, it will first take a proper diagnosis from your vet. By taking blood tests and examining the esophagus, your vet should be able to confirm the issue or highlight other potential problems.
Once you have the official acid reflux diagnosis, it will likely be recommended that your dog begin a diet change, be prescribed appropriate medication, or a mixture of both.
Acid reflux in brachycephalic dogs
Acid reflux is most commonly seen in brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boxers, and Shih-Tzus. The problem is thought to be due to their physical characteristics, which make brachycephalic dogs more prone to respiratory problems and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
That said, there are no clear genetic links to this condition. While some dogs may be more prone to developing this condition than others, it is not considered a breed-specific problem.
What should you feed a dog with acid reflux?
Figuring out diet changes can be hard enough for people, but it’s another ball game when it comes to altering the diet of your dog. That being said, there are a few simple actions you can take to impact the effects of acid reflux on your dog’s life.
1. Small, frequent meals
The most crucial part of changing your dog’s diet to accommodate their acid reflux is to begin feeding them smaller, more frequent portions of food. By giving them less food over a couple of meals per day, your dog will likely have an effortless time digesting it, which should result in less rising acid. It’s also best to avoid late-night feedings.
2. Low-fat diet
Similarly, fats are responsible for the production of the gastric acid that rises through the esophagus. By lowering the fat content of your dog’s diet, it will have a definite impact on the amount of gastric acid being produced in their stomach. Some vets also suggest lowering the protein content of your dog’s diet to aid the digestion process.
3. Wet dog food
Another change you can make to your dog’s acid reflux diet is to start feeding them wet dog food. Whether you change from dry kibble to canned products or sprinkle some water over your dog’s usual meal, a hydrated diet is more manageable for dogs to process.
4. Hydrolyzed dog food
Hydrolyzed dog food is made by breaking down the proteins in the food into smaller pieces. This makes them easier to digest and can be helpful for dogs who have trouble digesting other types of food. It can also be helpful for dogs who have allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients.
5. Homemade dog food
If you have the time and energy, cooking for your dog is a great way to ensure they are getting the best possible nutrition. And no, I am not referring to table scraps. Foods like chicken, rice, and canned pumpkin, are nutritional in more ways than one and are perfect for your dog’s digestive system.
By preparing the food yourself, you can also cut out unnecessary ingredients that could potentially upset your dog’s stomach.
Some important things to remember when making homemade dog food are to make sure the food is balanced and includes all the essential nutrients, and that it is cooked properly to kill any harmful bacteria.
Dog acid reflux treatment
Your veterinarian may prescribe different types of acid reflux medications to aid in the alleviation of your dog’s symptoms.
Antacids: Antacids can be used to decrease stomach acid production. Although they provide quick symptom relief, they only work for a short period of time and may need to be given multiple times a day.
H2 blockers: H2 blockers, also known as histamine-2 antagonists, are another option for reducing the excess amount of stomach acid. The most commonly used drug in this class is famotidine (Pepcid AC, Zantac 360).
Prokinetic agents: Your vet could also suggest a prokinetic medication that helps food move through the digestive system with ease. This medicine should also help strengthen your dog’s weakening sphincter.
Sucralfate: Sucralfate is an anti-ulcer medication that can be used to treat GERD. This medication creates a barrier between the stomach and esophagus which helps to prevent acid from coming up.
Proton pump inhibitors: Alternatively, it may be recommended that your dog take a medication that uses omeprazole. Omeprazole is a proton-pump inhibitor, which means it works by lowering the amount of acid produced in the stomach.
It may sound nice in theory, but PPIs have unique disadvantages and side effects.
The short-sighted downside of using a medication that involves omeprazole is that it typically will not last. After a short while, your dog’s acid reflux will return with a vengeance. In the long run, omeprazole could cause health risks such as vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiencies, gut infections, and stomach cancer.
Can dogs have Tums for acid reflux?
There is no definitive answer to this question since there is limited research on the subject. However, some veterinarians believe that Tums are not as effective for dogs as they are for humans, and may even cause stomach irritation. Sugar-free Tums may also contain the sweetener xylitol, which is known to be poisonous to dogs.
If you are considering giving your dog Tums, please be sure to talk to your veterinarian first to make sure that the product is safe for your dog.
What natural remedy can I give my dog for acid reflux?
For those of you who are more interested in taking a holistic, natural approach to treatment, there are other options that you might find more appealing. These natural remedies can be found at most health food stores and online.
Slippery elm: Slippery elm is a type of herb that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. With its mucilage properties, it coats and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, making it an effective natural remedy for dogs with acid reflux.
The usual standard dose is 100-200 mg per 10 pounds of body weight, at least 2 hours before or after other medications.
Licorice root: Licorice root is another herb with properties closely resembling those of slippery elm. It protects the lining of the entire gastric system by forming a barrier against stomach acid.
While generally safe, licorice root should not be given to pregnant and nursing dogs, as well as dogs with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease. If you are unsure whether licorice root is safe for your dog, please consult with your veterinarian.
Fresh ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and may help relieve symptoms of mild to moderate heartburn. It may also help alleviate indigestion and upset stomach. Simply slice or grate a small piece of fresh ginger root and add it to your dog’s food.
If that’s too spicy, try mixing a bit of ground ginger with peanut butter for a tasty treat.
Probiotic yogurts: Yogurts contain live microorganisms, which enhance gut microbiota and digestive function. Most relevant to acid reflux is their ability to help with the digestion of food. To get the most benefit, look for active cultures like Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium lactis on the label.
If your dog doesn’t like yogurt, get probiotic treats instead. A small amount of sauerkraut may also do the trick.
Digestive enzymes: Enzymes increase the body’s consumption of proteins, fats, and carbs, meaning they can easily aid with digestive functioning. While there isn’t much available data on the use of enzymes for acid reflux, there is some evidence to suggest that they may help ease symptoms.
Natural digestive enzymes can be found in bananas, papayas, pineapples, ginger, honey, and fermented foods.
Bach’s Rescue Remedy: While not technically a remedy for acid reflux, Bach flowers are used to help reduce stress in dogs. This is especially helpful for anxious animals who suffer from gastrointestinal issues caused by stress. It can be given directly in the mouth or if the dog is unwilling to take it orally, on the paws, or ears.
Acid reflux in dogs is a condition that can be caused by several factors, including diet, stomach acid levels, stress, and hernias. While there is no one cure that will work for all dogs, there are some dietary and lifestyle changes that may help to alleviate the symptoms.
The first step is to consult with your veterinarian, who will be able to give you specific guidance on what will work best for your pup. There are also different herbs and supplements that can be effective in treating acid reflux at home. Be sure to do your research and talk to your vet before giving your dog anything new.