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Acid Reflux

Many dogs suffer from a slight digestive upset called Acid Reflux, however, most owners don't actually know their dog is suffering from this issue. Luckily, there are a few things we can do to support this condition and make things easier on our pup's digestive system!

Acid reflux, also referred to as "GERD" (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in dogs is the backflow of stomach acid and intestinal fluids into the esophagus. The fluids can damage the lining of the esophagus, causing inflammation and discomfort. It is typically caused by poor digestion, food intolerances, hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), intestinal dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbial flora) and bowel disorders.

Appropriate acid levels in the gut are incredibly important. Hydrocloric acid is also responsible for breaking down dietary proteins aiding in the absorption of nutrients. Healthy levels of acid (HCL) eliminates bacteria and viruses and prevents the overgrowth of pathogens in the upper GI tract, so hypochlorhydria (low HCL) can be a risk factor for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, fungal overgrowth, intestinal permeability and possible sensitivities and allergies. Acid in the stomach can be too high but most commonly, is presents as too low, incapable of fully digesting and emptying food into the small intestines, allowing chime to sit in the stomach and allowing regurgitation that we see.

Common symptoms of acid reflux are:

  • Vomiting of bile

  • Reluctance to eat, especially in the morning.

  • Throwing up undigested food shortly after being consumed

  • Coughing (pets with collapsed trachea often have acid reflux)

  • Excessive grass eating

  • Regurgitation noises, burping and gagging

  • Hunching over after eating

  • Gulping or loud gurgling noises

  • Licking or smacking of the lips

  • Panting a few hours after meals

  • Lick Fits (frantic licking of floors, walls, grass, dirt)

  • Restlessness or pacing after eating

Here is a short video clip below of a dog experiencing "the gulps" during an acid reflux episode. Many owners mistake this for the dog having something caught in their mouth or throat.

Acid reflux can be caused by a few things:

  • Chronic vomiting: Sometimes dogs will develop long term vomiting from medications or a disease process. This can lead to acid reflux.

  • Anesthesia: When a dog receives anesthetic drugs the gastroesophageal sphincter that normally prevents the stomach contents from going back up the esophagus relaxes. If a dog is positioned so that the head is below the stomach when it is under anesthesia these stomach contents may leak out.

  • Hiatal hernia: Also known as a diaphragmatic hernia, this defect is something that may increase the risk for a dog to develop acid reflux. Hiatal hernias occur when there is an opening in the diaphragm allowing part of the stomach, intestines, or liver to enter the chest cavity. Due to the abnormal positioning of the stomach this can result in acid reflux.

  • And some dogs, just like humans, just happen to suffer from things like acid reflux and heartburn just like us humans do.

How to treat and manage acid reflux in your woofer:

  • Start with a 24 hour fast. Fasting will reset the digestive system and give us a clean slate to build up from. This can reduce the production of gastric juices and give the esophagus a chance to heal

  • Add in digestive enzymes AND probiotics. Digestive enzymes are proteins that cut food into tiny pieces so that the body can absorb the nutrients. There are three main types of digestive enzymes: proteases, amylases, and lipases. Proteases break down proteins that make up foods like meats and eggs. Amylases break down carbohydrates and Lipases break apart fat molecules. This all aids in improving your dog's digestive system to better handle the digestion process. Probiotics; balanced gut microflora allows for a healthy ecology and functioning of the gut. We know from studies that good bacteria protects the gut mucosa, helps support immunity, aids the digestion of food and prevents bad bacteria and yeast (linked to reflux), in growing out of control. I recommend the Adored Beast Healthy Gut product.

  • Use an elevated feeder and keep the head higher than the torso while they are eating. This allows gravity to do its natural job and prevents regurgitation.

  • Feed smaller, more frequent meals rather than 1 or 2 large meals in a day. A smaller meal is less work for the gut and is easier on the digestive system

  • Give Slipperly Elm Powder. SEM is a insoluble fibre that tends to help regardless of the cause. It has mucilage properties where it creates a film, soothes, protects and helps to heal the entire gastric system, modulating acid levels in the gut. I recommend the Troop Advance from Amazon.

  • Feed a fresh, balanced diet. A healthy balanced diet rich in easily digestible proteins, good fats and vegetables (fibre) can help support gut microbiome and stomach acid levels. Feeding unbalanced or low quality food or kibble can lead to increased inflammation and increase your dog's chances of an acid reflux episode.

  • Add in whole foods immediately following meal times and also before bedtime that have antacid properties. These include Melons (watermelon, honeydew and cantelope), ripe bananas and whole yogurt or kefir.

Hopefully with these small diet and lifestyle changes you start to see some improvements in your woofer's acid reflux problem!

Please note if you dog is showing signs of major discomfort or pain, is repeatedly vomiting or having other signs of a bigger problem or if the condition does not improve with the above additions, please seek Veterinary care. Some dogs do require medication for this condition, but most are able to be managed at home with natural support.

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