The key to avoiding acid reflux: keep large or high-fat meals off the menu--they increase the propensity for the disorder.
A dog suffering acid reflux may lick his lips, gulp, salivate excessively and wander about the room before regurgitating undigested food, mucus and gastrointestinal fluids. He may also have foul-smelling breath. It's hard to distinguish, but a dog with GERD tends to regurgitate, with fluids quickly coming from his mouth rather than his chest heaving and body crouching, as in vomiting.
"Because it can be difficult to truly diagnose or is often treated empirically, the true prevalence of GERD is unknown in dogs and cats," says Meredith Miller, DVM, ACVIM, a lecturer in small animal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Feeding large or high-fat meals will increase the propensity for acid reflux. High-fat foods take longer to leave the stomach."
Acid reflux is often secondary to an underlying condition such as a hiatal hernia, which occurs when part of the stomach pushes through the opening of the diaphragm. Shar Peis, Chow Chows, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs are more prone to upper airway obstructions and at greater risk for congenital types of hiatal hernias.
"Acquired hiatal hernias, however, can occur in any breed at any age and the pathogenesis [the condition that led to it] is not well understood," says Dr. Miller.
Anesthesia Risk. Surprisingly, acid reflux can occur when a dog is in surgery. Anesthetic agents may reduce the lower esophageal sphincter pressure, causing an opening between his stomach and esophagus. Dogs who do not properly fast for the prescribed time before surgery are at greater risk.
Chronic vomiting or disorders in gastrointestinal motility can lead to acid reflux in dogs. The signs can also be similar to esophageal diseases or esophageal foreign bodies.
For suspected GERD cases, veterinarians will likely perform an X-ray to look for abnormalities of the esophagus and abdomen. If they believe additional diagnostics are needed or your dog doesn't respond to therapy, they may refer you to an internal medicine specialist to perform esophagoscopy to rule out other conditions, such as a foreign body in the esophagus or a mouth or throat disease. An endoscope, a device with a small camera, scans the lining of the esophagus to reveal inflammation, bleeding or ulcers.
In addition, veterinarians may take blood and urine samples to perform a complete blood count, serum biochemistry profile and urinalysis to look for underlying conditions that could be contributing causes, such as kidney disease.
Treating the underlying cause can be most effective if it's evident. This may involve corrective surgery to repair the hiatal hernia or clear obstructions in the airways. Afterward, veterinarians may recommend homemade meals (cooked, seasoned vegetables and lean chicken) for several days while your dog recovers.
In addition, just like people who suffer from heartburn, antacids can help tame your dog's stomach. "We use antacids like famotadine or omeprazole to reduce gastric acid secretion," Dr. Miller. "We can use motility modifiers to speed up the time it takes for the stomach to empty. They include metoclopramide or cisapride.
"Fortunately, with proper dietary and medical intervention and a careful search for underlying diseases, most dogs with acid reflux can be successfully managed or even cured," Dr. Miller says.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Adjustments to your dog's diet may be necessary if he's prone to acid reflux. Board-certified internist Meredith Miller, DVM, at Cornell recommends:
* Serving your dog's dinner meal early so he has time to digest the food. When a dog sleeps, his esophageal sphincter relaxes and that can worsen acid reflux episodes the next morning.
* Providing daily clean water served in clean bowls.
* Paying careful attention to administering medications. Some should be given on an empty stomach or given apart from other medications.
* Working with the veterinarian to select quality low-fat commercial diets that contain moderate levels of protein.