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Acid Reflux in Dogs and Cats

Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux, in dogs, cats, and other pets, is often referred to as GERD, which is the abbreviation of its more technical name – gastroesophageal reflux disease. Veterinarians often refer to this condition in animals as esophagitis. Although sometimes confused with gastritis, or esophagitis, and can be related, there is an important difference.  This article will help to clarify this, as well as explain Acid Reflux in pets, the symptoms, and treatment options.

cat eating grassPeople tend to believe that it is not critical what animals eat. It may be surprising to learn that some of the things we suffer from as humans are identical to what our pets are experiencing, and may require similar remedies as well.

Technical Description:

GER, or gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when the contents of liquid and/or food flow backwards from the stomach, and into the esophagus, the muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. Gastric acids, which contain hydrochloric acid, are formed in the stomach, and when Acid Reflux occurs, the gastric acid mixed with food and/or liquid is what can cause irritation to the esophagus.

This involuntary and uncontrollable reversal of stomach content can be a result of many things. When the sphincter muscle in the lower esophagus close to the stomach is weakened or damaged, this leaking of stomach contents can be more predominant. Along with hydrochloric acid, the flow of content may also contain bile salts, and other GI juices that add to irritation.

GERD is the disease attributed to regular irritation due to Acid Reflux. As a periodic, or possibly chronic condition, various degrees of esophageal inflammation may result, from mild inflammation, to severe damage to deeper layers of the esophagus. The inflammation, identified by the “-itis,” in gastritis and esophagitis, is specifically the condition of damaged tissue, swelling and inflammation caused by the Acid Reflux.


What causes Acid Reflux?:

The list of potential causes for Acid Reflux is extensive. The more common ones range from professionally administered treatments, to daily diets.

Any procedure requiring anesthetic application that allows the sphincter muscle of an animal to relax should be monitored carefully by a professional. Proper positioning of the animal during the procedure is also critical. Also, proper fasting prior to anesthetic procedures is very important.

Certain breeds of dogs and cats can have a genetic predisposition to Acid Reflux. For instance, Brachycephalic breeds, which have short noses and flat faces (dogs – Bulldogs, Terriers, Boxers; cats – Himalayan, Persian. Etc.), are more susceptible to GERD.

Actual physical conditions, such as a hiatal hernia in the upper portion of the stomach, or megaesophagus (See Megaesophagus for more information), which alludes to an enlarged esophagus and improper functioning of the esophagus muscles, can result in Acid Reflux.

Diet is always a concern. A meal that has very high fat content, or a similar regular diet can trigger the reflux process. As well, the problem can be the result of simple overeating.

One must keep in mind that persistent vomiting is also associated with life-threatening diseases such as intestinal obstruction and peritonitis. Seek professional consultation in all cases where the cause of persistent vomiting is not known.


Symptoms and Signs:

The easiest signs to recognize do not necessarily mean that your pet has GERDS or Acid Reflux. The following are things that may pertain to your animal’s condition that may be attributed to Acid Reflux, and can be readily observed.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Regurgitation of food or chronic vomiting
  • Gagging after eating
  • Burping
  • Lethargy and inactivity after eating
  • Excessive Salivating or drooling
  • Eating grass, plastics, and other unusual substances

Your dog, cat, or other pet may not be able to convey their problems to you the way people would. However, with diligent observation a lot can be determined. For instance, your animal may be having pain when swallowing, or it could be ongoing, resulting in crying, whining, or howling. They may be lethargic, and noticeably inactive after eating. You may find them with their heads hanging over the food or water bowl, but not partaking. They may be wandering nervously for no apparent reason, or pacing back and forth. Hence, any behavior that is abnormal may be held in suspicion, and could be an indication of an Acid Reflux issue.

Hopefully, you will know your pet better than anyone, and will spot any “red flags,” or obvious signs of distress. But, it is best not to jump to conclusions, or rely on non-professional diagnosis. Any symptoms should be considered as alerts for seeking professional help.


Taking the next step to determine if your pet has Acid Reflux will be to arrange an appointment with your veterinarian. Your vet will start with a simple examination. However, if there is suspicion of an Acid Reflux problem, your vet may suggest a range of tests, including blood and urine analysis, or a chest x-ray. If these tests are still inconclusive, and advanced testing is required, a vet may perform a fluoroscopy (x-ray), or esophagoscopy (viewing scope), to get a better look at the conditions of the esophagus for determining the cause of symptoms.


Irvine Compounding Pharmacy recommends a treatment called Cisapride, which is a medication for dogs and cats. For Acid Reflux, Cisapride can help with the regulation of motility, or regular pace of muscular contractions that control the passing of food in the stomach, allowing for better digestion, and a decrease in excess acid generation. Barring anything unusual, such as a hernia, or a foreign body lodged in the stomach, intestines, or elsewhere, the Cisapride treatment can be very effective, and is often complimented with an adjusted diet. Invariably, a low fat, low protein diet is recommended. Reducing the fat consumption encourages the strengthening of the sphincter, while reducing the protein limits the generation of excess stomach acid. It also may require a change in feeding schedule, frequency and quantity. Smaller portions given more often will help the healing process. Also, specific attention to food composition will be essential. Some vets prescribe antacids in the diet. However, some animals are allergic or sensitive to these.

The presence of Acid Reflux in our pets can very elusive to recognize. Imagining a cat encountering a hairball, or a dog having issues with digesting a bone are much easier than conceiving of more complicated problems. Let’s remember to let the qualified professionals do the official diagnosing, while we stick to adding the love and devotion in exchange for the purring and wagging tails.