Gastrointestinal reflux is characterized by an uncontrollable flow of gastric or intestinal fluid into the esophagus. This condition may be due to a brief relaxation of the sphincter (muscular opening from the esophagus to the stomach) or as a result of chronic vomiting. These gastric juices can cause damage to the lining of the esophagus and can be quite uncomfortable.
Acid reflux may not be something that is obvious to the average pet owner. Varying symptoms may include regurgitation or ‘involuntary spitting up’ of food, howling or whining in pain while swallowing, lack of appetite or weight loss may be seen. With any acute or chronic vomiting, you can assume there is esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus). Severe symptoms can include extreme salivation and/or the presence of a fever.
The best means of diagnosis is an esophagoscopy – an examination of the internal lining of the esophagus with a camera, done under an anesthetic. However, clinical signs and a thorough history from an owner can be very useful in determining a course of treatment.
Treating gastric reflux in dogs often begins at home by withholding food for one or two days. This can reduce the production of gastric juices and give the esophagus a chance to heal. A low fat, low protein diet given in small, frequent meals also aids in healing. Medications prescribed by a veterinarian may be necessary depending on the severity of the situation. Long-term management includes a bland, low fat, low protein diet fed at home and continued monitoring for signs of flare-ups.
Written by Dartmouth Veterinary Hospital