Picture this. After a big Thanksgiving Day meal (maybe a little too big), you’re relaxing on the couch when you suddenly get that unpleasant burning feeling in your chest. Heartburn. It’s uncomfortable and an unwelcome interruption to your day. But did you know that your favorite four-legged family member may “feel your pain,” literally? A dog’s digestive system has a structure similar to a human’s, and the design makes both species susceptible to heartburn and acid reflux. So it’s possible that your dog could have heartburn, too.
What Is Heartburn and Acid Reflux?
Heartburn (a burning sensation in the upper chest) is a symptom of acid reflux — when acid from the stomach enters the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth and stomach). The stomach acid irritates the esophagus which causes the burning sensation of heartburn. Sometimes it may also cause the dog to regurgitate or vomit.
In severe cases, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is the unrestricted flow of stomach fluids into the esophagus, can occur. This is caused by relaxation of the muscular opening between the stomach and the esophagus (the sphincter).
What Does Heartburn Look Like in Dogs?
The signs of heartburn depend on the severity of the esophageal irritation. They include regurgitating, gagging, drooling, vomiting, whining or yelping when swallowing (due to pain), disinterest in food and general discomfort. Heartburn could be a one-off episode or it may be due to a chronic condition, so it’s a good idea to speak with your veterinarian if you observe these signs in your dog and are concerned that they could be caused by acid reflux.
Taming the ’Burn
If your veterinarian determines that your dog has acid reflux, they will probably recommend a low-fat canned diet. If needed, medication prescribed by your veterinarian is available to treat acid reflux, including antacids with or without a mucosal protectant. However, avoiding high-fat foods (like table scraps and meat trimmings) and consuming an appropriately formulated diet for their life stage can also help prevent heartburn and acid reflux in dogs.
Dogs can get heartburn, but you can help prevent it by resisting the temptation to feed them “treats” from the Thanksgiving table. Instead, have some healthy, specially formulated treats available for guests (and you) to share with your dog. Your BFF (best furry friend) will thank you for it.
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