Reflux in dogs - Symptoms, causes and treatment

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Reflux or gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the external esophageal sphincter allows the content of the most anatomically distal organs to rise: the stomach and the first portion of the small intestine (duodenum). So, not only gastric acid can rise, but also other irritants that cause further damage and injury to the lining of the esophagus. It is a process that can be very annoying and even painful in our dogs, they also run the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia.

Keep reading this AnimalWised article to know what is reflux in dogs, its symptoms, causes and treatment.

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  1. What is reflux in dogs?
  2. Causes of reflux in dogs
  3. Reflux symptoms in dogs
  4. Diagnosis of reflux in dogs
  5. How to relieve reflux in dogs? - Treatment
  6. How to avoid reflux in dogs?

What is reflux in dogs?

Reflux in dogs consists of the increased flow from the stomach or small intestine into the esophagus (gastric acid, pepsin, trypsin, bicarbonate and bile salts), which causes irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus, which can cause esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) more or less severe and can cause a lot of pain. Mild esophagitis occurs when only gastric acid rises and severe esophagitis occurs when all components rise.

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the cardia, a stomach sphincter that connects the esophagus with the stomach and prevents the contents from ascending, allows the reverse passage of stomach contents to the esophagus, causing this reflux. Sometimes it can reach the mouth.

Reflux in newborn dogs

Baby dogs are at higher risk for reflux because your sphincter is still immature and is more susceptible to allowing content to escalate.

Causes of reflux in dogs

The causes that can trigger gastroesophageal reflux in dogs are the following:

  • Chronic vomiting due to the frequent passage of the food content that carries gastric acid and digestion products that erode the esophagus and can induce the rise of the content by affecting the sphincter.
  • Hiatal hernia, which occurs when a part of the stomach enters the thoracic cavity through the diaphragm. This condition makes it easier for stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus due to sphincter dysfunction..
  • Anesthesia-induced reduction in caudal esophageal sphincter pressure. It occurs especially when the dog is positioned in the supine position (face up), the fasting prior to surgery has not been respected and due to the effects of anesthetic drugs.
  • Esophagitis or inflammation of the lining of the esophagus is generally accompanied by reflux, because the inflammation hinders the correct functionality of the sphincter, allowing the content to rise. One induces the other.
  • Gastritis or inflammation and irritation of the stomach wall. This alteration affects the sphincter, which allows its content to rise towards the esophagus.
  • Obesity, as it is considered a risk factor for the rise of reflux, mainly due to the pressure of fat on the organs and that the fat itself alters the functionality of the sphincter. The same would happen when the dog is fed a diet rich in fat.

Reflux symptoms in dogs

Gastroesophageal reflux in dogs, as we have mentioned, can lead to esophagitis, observing the following clinical signs in these animals:

  • Vomiting or regurgitation.
  • Excessive salivation.
  • Frequent licking.
  • Pain when swallowing (odynophagia).
  • Head and neck extension while swallowing.
  • Reluctance to eat.
  • Weightloss.
  • Depression.
  • Apathy.
  • Fever if there is severe esophagitis.

In some occasions, this content in the swallow can enter the lungs and lead to aspiration pneumonia. In these cases, the dog will also present coughing and wheezing (lung sounds).

Diagnosis of reflux in dogs

The diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux is usually presumptive on suspicion. Thus, the differential diagnosis of reflux should include:

  • Hiatal hernia.
  • Esophageal stricture.
  • Esophagitis.

X-rays do not help in the diagnosis because they do not usually reflect any alteration in the esophagus. The endoscopy it is the best diagnostic method to assess the state of the esophagus and the severity of esophagitis.

The procedure that achieves the definitive diagnosis of sphincter relaxation, but which the vast majority of dogs will not tolerate, is the continuous measurement of caudal esophageal sphincter pressure and intraluminal pH for a whole day.

How to relieve reflux in dogs? - Treatment

As we have mentioned, diets rich in fat favor the relaxation of the caudal esophageal sphincter and delay gastric emptying, which is why reduce daily fat intake in dogs with reflux to avoid it.

On the other hand, the medical treatment of reflux in dogs includes:

  • Sucralfate to protect damaged esophageal mucosa and promote healing.
  • Inhibitors of gastric secretion (cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine) to reduce the amount of reflux.
  • Proton pump inhibitor (omeprazole) to more effectively reduce this secretion and reflux.
  • Prokinetics (metoclopramide).

If the dog has developed a severe esophagitis and does not want to eat, a gastrostomy tube should be placed to feed parenterally without going through the damaged esophagus and keep the animal nourished and hydrated.

Home remedies for reflux in dogs

It is worth mentioning that no home remedies for canine reflux Beyond an adequate diet, so before the appearance of this problem, the dog should be taken to the vet to begin treatment and that the damage to the esophagus does not go further. The only way to alleviate reflux in dogs, we insist, is by following the advice of a professional after finding the cause that causes it..

Prognosis of reflux in dogs

If medical treatment is followed and its causes are solved, the prognosis of gastroesophageal reflux in dogs is usually good..

How to avoid reflux in dogs?

Reflux in dogs can be prevented as long as the animal carries out a correct diet, exercises and, in general, has healthy lifestyle habits. As we have seen, among its main causes is obesity, which is why it is very important to keep the dog at its ideal weight. Of course, it will also be important to go to the vet for routine check-ups and check that his health is in good condition..

This article is merely informative, at we do not have the power to prescribe veterinary treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the vet in the event that it presents any type of condition or discomfort.

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