Did you know your dog can have acid reflux? Like humans, dogs are also susceptible to indigestion and other stomach problems that result in acid reflux. If you’ve ever had acid reflux before, you know that it can be uncomfortable, painful, and even result in vomiting.
Let’s discuss what dog acid reflux looks like, how it’s treated, and lifestyle changes that may help your dog avoid this uncomfortable affliction.
- How to Identify Canine Acid Reflux
- What Causes Acid Reflux in Dogs
- Suggested Acid Reflux Treatments
- What to Feed a Dog with Reflux
What Is Canine Acid Reflux?
Dog acid reflux is very similar to acid reflux in humans. It happens when intestinal or gastric fluids come up from the stomach and flow into the esophagus. These fluids can cause inflammation, irritation, and even damage to the esophageal lining.
Typically, these fluids would be unable to reach the esophagus because of the sphincter, which is a muscle opening located at the base of the esophagus. The sphincter in a healthy dog prevents these stomach fluids from coming up. However, in a dog suffering from acid reflux, the sphincter muscle relaxes and allows the intestinal fluids to reach the esophagus which can result in a variety of bad side effects and discomfort.
Typically, the dog will vomit the contents of their stomach once the fluids have reached their esophagus. This is even more prevalent in brachycephalic breeds, who have much shorter esophaguses than other dog breeds.
Acid reflux in dogs is also known as gastroesophageal reflux and can be a sign of a greater gastrointestinal tract issue. Many times acid reflux is a one-off reaction to something, but it’s prudent to check with your veterinarian to make sure there is not a larger problem present. Severe acid reflux or recurring vomiting from other causes can damage your dog’s throat lining, which is why calling your veterinarian is important to prevent or minimize long term damage to their esophagus.
Signs of Acid Reflux in Dogs
Dog acid reflux is unique to other canine illnesses in that your dog may appear completely fine until they vomit the contents of their stomach up.
Here are other signs of acid reflux in dogs:
- Lip licking or trying to lick the air
- Decreased appetite
- Vomiting bile
- Grinding their teeth or snapping their jaw
- Painful swallowing (they may cry or whine)
- Regurgitation of their food
- Weight loss
- Restlessness or signs of discomfort
If your dog has acid reflux, they may vomit bile. Bile is a yellow substance that will sometimes be thrown up when a dog is suffering from acid reflux and has an empty stomach.
Food regurgitation occurs after a dog has eaten and increased pressure on the esophagus and stomach muscles cause their food to be spit back up or regurgitated. Regurgitated food will typically be undigested.
If repeated regurgitation and/or vomiting happens, a dog is at risk of being nutrient deficient and losing weight suddenly. They may also develop esophagitis, which is painful inflammation of the esophagus that results in difficulty eating and even chest pain.
Not all dogs will vomit or regurgitate food when they have acid reflux, so it’s important to still talk to your veterinarian if you’re noticing other signs, such as a reluctance to eat, whining, or lip licking.
What Causes Canine Acid Reflux?
There are many reasons why a dog can have acid reflux, which is why a veterinarian’s assessment of your dog’s particular condition is always important.
Here are some potential reasons that may cause your dog to suffer from acid reflux:
Anesthesia: Anesthesia can cause acid reflux because anesthetic drugs relax the sphincter, which prevents intestinal fluids from coming back up. This can be aggravated even more if a dog’s head was lower than its stomach during the procedure.
Per the Veterinary Centers of America, anesthetized dogs are unable to swallow normally and the epiglottis, a flap that protects the entrance of the windpipe, is relaxed which may cause vomiting into their lungs. For this reason, dogs must properly fast before any procedure involving anesthesia. Follow up with your veterinarian if you have any concerns pre- or post-procedure about your dog vomiting or developing acid reflux.
Allergen irritation: If your dog is allergic to something in their food, this may cause them to develop acid reflux. Common canine allergens include gluten, soy, and GMOs. Other irritants may be ingredients like additives, colorings, and preservatives. Here at Pet Plate, we take pride in using only ingredients that are high-quality, free of preservatives, colorings, and flavors to provide optimal nutrition to your pet.
Chronic vomiting: Chronic vomiting, whether from previous bouts of acid reflux, an unrelated disease, or medication, can cause damage to a dog’s throat and stomach. This can result in further acid reflux as the dog’s system is weaker and less able to prevent stomach fluids from entering the esophagus.
Brachycephalic dog breeds: Brachycephalic dog breeds, such as pugs, English bulldogs, and Boston terriers, are more prone to vomiting and regurgitation due to their shorter esophaguses and their increased risk of Hiatal hernias. Both of these factors make it easier for acid reflux to occur in these “squished” nose and “short-headed” dog breeds.
Overproduction of stomach acids: This can be the result of a variety of stomach and gastrointestinal health problems. Stress, hernias, bacterial infections, spicy, or oily foods may also cause overproduction of stomach acids.
Hiatal hernias: Hiatal hernias, otherwise known as diaphragmatic hernias, can dramatically increase a dog’s risk of developing acid reflux. Diaphragmatic hernias are typically congenital (a dog is born with them) or a result of trauma, such as being in a car accident. With a Hiatal hernia, the diaphragm is opened and the stomach, intestines, or liver may enter part of the chest cavity. As a result of this strange positioning and added pressure, a dog may develop acid reflux.
Underproduction of stomach acids: Alternatively, having too little stomach acids, otherwise known as hypochlorhydria, can cause the stomach to be upset, resulting in acid reflux. This may be an overreaction to acid-reducing drugs.
Acid Reflux Diagnosis
Oftentimes, a veterinarian will perform a procedure called an esophagoscopy to diagnose acid reflux. Esophagoscopy involves a camera being placed down your pet’s esophagus to look for any changes in the lining of their esophagus or bleeding. Your veterinarian may also do blood work and a urinalysis to access their health and look for underlying problems that may cause acid reflux.
If nothing is found through these methods, your veterinarian may take X-rays to look for hernias, foreign bodies, tumors, or anything abnormal that could be affecting your pet’s ability to use the muscles of their esophagus properly or upsetting their stomach.
It’s crucial that your pet is checked out by a professional to rule out potential causes and treat their acid reflux before they become dehydrated and depleted of nutrients.
Common Questions About Dog Acid Reflux
Now that we’ve covered the causes and symptoms of acid reflux, let’s look at some common questions pet owners have about this uncomfortable gastroesophageal issue.
Is My Dog Eating Grass a Sign of Acid Reflux?
If your dog is eating grass, it could be a sign of acid reflux, gastrointestinal issues, or a fiber deficiency. When a dog’s stomach is upset, they may try to throw up to relieve the discomfort. Eating grass can help with this as it tickles their throat and helps induce vomiting. Grass also contains pectin, a fiber commonly used to treat acid reflux in humans, so it’s possible that a dog with acid reflux is eating grass to ease their symptoms.
Eating grass isn’t a sure sign that your dog has acid reflux, but it is a common way that dogs try to self-treat stomach issues or dietary deficiencies. If your dog is eating grass to the point of retching, or they have other signs of illness such as regurgitation, excessive lip licking, or weight loss, you should contact your veterinarian to get a diagnosis for your pup.
Can Coughing Be a Sign of Dog Acid Reflux?
A dog with acid reflux may have short bouts of coughing. Acid reflux can make dogs cough to clear away painful stomach acid or food particles that have entered the esophagus. A persistent cough could be a sign of GERD, a chronic form of acid reflux, or another illness like kennel cough or canine influenza.
In most cases, an occasional cough is not cause for concern. However, if your dog also exhibits other symptoms such as whining when swallowing or vomiting bile, they likely have acid reflux or another type of gastroesophageal ailment. If your dog has a persistent cough or an occasional cough with additional acid reflux symptoms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Is Honey for a Dog with Acid Reflux a Good Home Remedy?
Honey is safe to give to dogs and is a good home remedy for a dog that has a sore throat caused by acid reflux. The viscous texture of honey will coat your dog’s throat, and its natural antimicrobial and healing properties will reduce the inflammation and pain caused by acid reflux. To help heal your dog’s sore throat, you can give them about one teaspoon of honey per day.
It’s important to note that honey doesn’t actually treat acid reflux. It simply works to soothe and heal the esophageal irritation caused by vomiting or regurgitation due to acid reflux. To treat the cause of your dog’s esophageal inflammation, you will still need to consult your vet to get an appropriate treatment plan.
Is Dog Acid Reflux the Same as GERD?
Acid reflux, sometimes called gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is an acute affliction. This means that the problem is short-term, often lasting only a few days or weeks. In contrast, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic form of acid reflux.
Short-term acid reflux is most likely caused by your dog eating something out of the ordinary, such as table scraps that are high in fat or heavily seasoned. These types of treats are difficult for dogs to digest and result in the overproduction of stomach acids. If your dog goes back to their regular diet and treats, the acid reflux episode should pass quickly.
With GERD, the culprit is more likely to be something your dog is eating on a regular basis such as their normal dog food. Many commercial dog foods contain highly processed ingredients and preservatives that some pets have difficulty digesting. Your dog may also be allergic to one of the ingredients in the food, such as wheat or dairy, and as a result their body produces an acid reflux reaction.
It’s very difficult for a pet owner to distinguish between acid reflux and GERD because the symptoms are the same. The only significant difference is the amount of time in which your dog exhibits the symptoms. It’s best to bring your dog to the vet at the first signs of acid reflux to ensure it doesn’t develop into GERD or cause esophagitis, a painful inflammation of the esophagus.
Both acid reflux and GERD respond well to treatment, especially if it’s administered early on before any serious damage to the esophagus occurs. Your vet can help you identify the most likely cause of your dog’s acid reflux and create an appropriate treatment plan for your pup.
Dog Acid Reflux Treatment
Depending on the cause of your dog’s acid reflux, a few treatments may be discussed with your veterinarian. If there is a disease, hernia, tumor, or foreign body affecting your dog, this will need to be dealt with first to lessen your dog’s acid reflux.
In mild cases, a dog will not need to be hospitalized and will likely be sent home with instructions on how to modify their diet and administer medications to treat the acid reflux while they heal. They may also be prescribed a medication to treat another problem, such as a bacterial infection that may be causing acid reflux.
Some veterinarians will take this a step further and suggest a permanent diet change, where aggravating foods are taken out of the diet and replaced with more soothing foods that are better for a sensitive stomach.
What to Feed a Dog with Acid Reflux
Your veterinarian may suggest a permanent change in your dog’s diet. If your dog’s regular diet consists of commercial kibble, your vet will likely recommend changing to a higher-quality dog food that doesn’t contain ingredients such as bone meals that are highly processed and difficult to digest. Your dog’s new diet will include soothing foods that are better for a sensitive stomach.
If you’re wondering what food you can give your dog for acid reflux, look for ones that contain fiber, healthy fats, or easy-to-digest proteins. These will promote healthy stomach acid levels and shouldn’t irritate your dog’s acid reflux. Your vet can help you identify what ingredients are causing your dog’s acid reflux and recommend good alternatives.
Good foods for dogs with acid reflux:
- Peeled, baked sweet potato
- Pumpkin puree (if buying canned, make sure pumpkin is the only ingredient)
- Bone broth
These foods are easy for most dogs to digest, and they don’t cause an overproduction of stomach acid. They are also nutrient-dense and great for your dog’s overall health.
Foods that May Aggravate Acid Reflux
There are a variety of foods to avoid feeding your dog if they suffer from acid reflux. As always, check with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog’s diet, but here are some commonly agreed upon foods to avoid:
- Spicy foods: Much like humans, spicy foods can be an irritant to the stomach and slow the digestive process down. This creates a larger window of time for the food to be regurgitated because the food stays in the stomach longer.
- Oily foods: Greasy, fatty, and fried foods can cause the esophageal sphincter to fully open which enables stomach acid to come back up. Like spicy foods, these foods are harder to digest which creates a larger window for acid reflux to occur.
- Allergens: Some veterinarians will recommend eliminating common allergens from a dog’s diet to see if this helps with their acid reflux. The most typical allergens are gluten, soy, and dairy. At Pet Plate, we avoid common allergens to provide your pet with the very best nutrition and allergy relief.
- Preservatives and colorings: Eliminating preservatives, colorings, flavors, and additives from your pet’s diet is another way to possibly reduce acid reflux and to also boost your pet’s health and nutrition! All of our Pet Plate meals are void of these things to provide your pet with a high-quality diet that is complete and balanced.
Dog Acid Reflux Diet Tips
A balanced diet is the most important factor in improving your pet’s overall health and preventing dog acid reflux. Diets rich in allergens, preservatives, oily, or spicy foods can irritate a dog’s stomach and should be avoided. It’s also important to avoid excessive table scraps as a treat or feeding human food that is unhealthy for them, as this may irritate a dog’s stomach further.
Late-night feedings should be avoided in dogs that are prone to acid reflux. At night, the esophageal sphincter relaxes during sleep which makes a dog more prone to vomiting in the morning if they’ve eaten close to bedtime.
Smaller, more frequent meals can also help to prevent a dog from vomiting bile, which usually happens on an empty stomach. Larger meals can place too much pressure on the system, so feeding your dog multiple times a day may help to prevent acid reflux.
Having your dog on a consistent, feeding schedule is also important for avoiding fluctuating levels of food in the stomach. Keep your dog on a consistent, frequent meal schedule will help reduce pressure on their gastrointestinal system and decrease the risk of acid reflux.
If your dog is prone to acid reflux, softer dog foods are a good alternative. Soft foods decrease how much work their digestive enzymes must do to digest their food. This is an amazing benefit for any dog with a weakened digestive system. Check out our softer, nutritious alternatives to hard kibble here.
Lastly, fresh dog food can be gentler and softer for a dog with delicate digestion. Fresh food may also be more palpable for a dog that is struggling with their appetite after recent acid reflux. Additionally, homemade meals allow you to know exactly what your dog is eating.
The only problem? 95% of homemade diets don’t meet the nutritional standards that dogs need to live a healthy life.
Ease your worries by switching your pet over to a human-grade, highly-researched diet that is softer than kibble, well balanced, and can be broken up easily into small, frequent meals. Since our meals are human-grade quality, you know your pet is getting the best! No strange ingredients or chicken meal to be found here. Our delicious meals are gentle on the stomach and great for allergy relief, which can help dogs struggling with acid reflux.
Are you ready to see the PetPlate difference? Take our quick questionnaire here to get personalized servings and recommendations for your dog’s healthiest diet.
American College of Veterinary Surgeons