Have you ever noticed your dog’s vomiting and burping intensify by night? This is a common sign of acid reflux in dogs.
Acid reflux is when gastric/stomach fluids move from the stomach into the esophagus. This act causes irritation and vomiting. Food allergens, gastrointestinal problems, or certain medications cause this condition.
Acid reflux can make dogs uncomfortable and in pain. If not well handled, acid reflux can damage a dog’s throat lining. This guide will explain all you need to know about acid reflux in dogs and why it worsens at night.
What causes acid reflux in dogs?
In normal situations, the sphincter, a muscle at the base of the esophagus, prevents the backflow of fluid from the stomach. However, when this sphincter relaxes, fluid can return to the esophagus—this is called acid reflux (the stomach content is acidic). There are several reasons why acid reflux happens in dogs; some are discussed below.
One of the major causes of acid reflux in dogs is the existence of gastrointestinal problems. When there is an issue with a dog’s digestive system, it can lead to a disruption in the balance between stomach fluid and other stomach content.
This imbalance can be presented as either a low level of stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) or a high stomach acid level (hyperchlorhydria). Other conditions like indigestion, hormonal secretions, or bowel conditions can also lead to an imbalance in the gastrointestinal system and cause acid reflux.
You may need a consultation with your veterinarian to determine if your dog’s acid reflux results from gastrointestinal problems.
Food allergies or sensitivities
Like humans, dogs can be intolerant to certain foods or substances. Hence, acid reflux may develop if your dog consumes a meal containing substances to which they are sensitive or allergic.
You can tell it is a case of food allergies when your dog burps, belches, or vomits after consuming a particular food. It may take some time to realize what your dog’s digestive system is sensitive to. However, highly-processed foods, gluten, and soy are some common allergens for most dogs.
If your dog has recently added some weight, then it could be the reason for their acid reflux. Overweight dogs are more likely to experience cases of acid reflux. The extra weight places pressure on the stomach region. Thereby pushing against the stomach and forcing fluid from the stomach and back to the esophagus.
The pressure caused by this extra weight might keep the sphincter from closing and then allow stomach fluid backflow into the esophagus.
The drugs or medications your dog takes can also be responsible for causing mild cases of acid reflux. Drugs or medications sometimes interfere with the normal metabolic processes of the body to be effective.
For example, some drugs may slow down the process of digestion. Hence, food substances spend more time in the digestive system—leading to a risk of acid reflux.
Some other medications, like anesthesia, can cause a general relaxation of muscles, including the esophageal sphincter, thus increasing the risk of acid reflux.
Why is my dog’s acid reflux worse at night?
Your dog may experience acid reflux more at nighttime than during the day. One of the primary reasons is that, during the night, your dog is at rest. This means their whole system, usually active during the day, is also at rest, including the sphincter. Hence, it is much easier for fluids to return to the esophagus at nighttime, causing acid reflux.
Some other factors that can make acid reflux worse at night are lying down after dinner or eating a heavy meal before bedtime.
Laying down after eating
Laying down after having dinner is one of the common causes of severe cases of acid reflux in dogs. If your dog has just eaten their meal at night time and he lays down only a short while after, there is a chance his acid reflux could get worse.
One factor responsible for this is that gravity no longer acts on a dog’s stomach when he is in a sleeping position. Gravity helps to keep stomach acid on the right path when your dog is up and about.
However, there is no gravity when your dog lays down for a while. So, the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus is much easier in this condition.
Eating a heavy meal before bedtime
We often show our love to our dogs by ensuring they are well-fed before retiring to bed. While this is a sweet thing to do, it is not the best thing for a dog prone to acid reflux.
Overeating or having too much food can put pressure on a dog’s digestive system. This pressure is enough to push the esophageal sphincter and allow the stomach content into the esophagus.
It is clear that when a dog lays down immediately after his meal, he is at risk of having acid reflux. Hence, there is a relationship between a dog’s position and the way its digestive system acts.
Certain sleeping positions can lead to severe cases of acid reflux. Suppose a dog sleeps in a position that places their upper body lower than the stomach; they increase the risk of acid reflux.
This sleeping position allows stomach fluid to escape from the stomach to the esophagus, and it could remain trapped there. After a while, this would lead to irritation and, thus, acid reflux.
Tips on managing acid reflux in dogs
Taking care of a dog with signs of acid reflux requires determining the cause of the condition and taking steps to address it. Acid reflux does not always mean your dog is in a difficult medical situation. However, you would need a visit to the vet to rule that out certainly.
If your dog presents with a case of acid reflux, here are some things you can do to help ease your dog’s pain, along with your doctor’s recommendations.
Diet/ Feeding schedule changes
Your dog’s diet or food intake significantly influences its digestive system. Foods containing allergens can increase your dog’s acid reflux risk. If your dog’s acid reflux worsens when they consume certain foods, you might want to adjust your dog’s diet.
Generally, you should avoid feeding your dog foods that are spicy, extra oily, and contain preservatives and colorings. These ingredients tend to irritate dogs’ stomachs and cause acid reflux.
Also, feed your dog smaller portions of food at more regular intervals rather than large portions at once; this will reduce the pressure on the digestive system.
Obesity or being overweight has been linked to acid reflux conditions in dogs. So, if your dog is overweight, you can help to reduce the pressure caused by the extra weight by placing your dog on a weight management program.
Weight management would include monitoring food intake, reducing excesses, and increasing physical activity.
While it is possible to do this at home, you should speak with a professional before taking any steps. A vet will guide you on what to do and to avoid to ensure your dog’s condition is well managed.
Acid reflux is not a pleasant experience for dogs. It is not just uncomfortable; it can also get painful, depending on the severity. Sometimes, veterinarians prescribe certain medications to help manage the condition. These medications act in various ways.
Medications like Omeprazole reduce the production of stomach/gastric acid, while other medications like sucralfate protect the esophagus’s lining and thus reduce discomfort. Seek your vet’s counsel before making any decisions on medication use.
Monitoring for signs of worsening symptoms
Helping your dog through this difficult time also requires you to pay particular attention to your dog. You should check on your dog occasionally and contact your emergency vet if you notice any abnormalities.
For example, severe vomiting, increased pain, or restlessness can indicate that something serious is going on.
When should I seek veterinary care?
As discussed above, when you notice some additional symptoms along with your dog’s acid reflux, you may need to contact your vet. Some of these symptoms are discussed below:
- Persistent symptoms: You may have tried to manage your dog’s condition by taking the abovementioned steps, like changing your dog’s diet and working on weight management. However, if things remain the same even after doing these, it’s time to get professional help.
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing: Sometimes vomiting or regurgitation caused by acid reflux can cause swallowing or breathing difficulties. This situation is usually caused by fluid blocking the airway or the digestive tract. So, if you notice your dog is finding it hard to swallow or breathe, you should contact your vet immediately.
- Loss of appetite/weight loss: Dogs that experience acid reflux tend to lose their appetite and lose weight. Acid reflux can be quite uncomfortable, and it affects a dog’s eating pattern. If this is consistent, it results in weight loss. Also, in cases where acid reflux results from gastrointestinal problems, it may affect the digestion of meals. A dog may eat regularly but be unable to provide the body with needed nutrients, leading to weight loss.
Seeing your dog with acid reflux symptoms at nighttime can be scary and worrisome. However, you must be calm and patient to help your dog through this rough phase.
There are various steps that can help manage your dog’s situation. You can adjust their diet, adopt weight management strategies, and get medications to ease discomfort.
While all these methods are effective, you should contact your veterinarian for professional guidance. A bit of professional advice from your vet will also help address the root cause and ensure the condition does not worsen.