Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Acid Reflux, GERD in Dogs, Cats - Natural Remedies, Causes, Symptoms

In this article…
  1. What is Acid Reflux - GERD
  2. Who is at Risk of Acquiring GERD
  3. Causes of Acid Reflux – GERD
  4. Other Conditions That May Mimic the Symptoms of GERD
  5. Symptoms of GERD
  6. Strategy for Natural Treatment and Remedy

1.0 What is Acid Reflux - GERD

Acid Reflux in dogs is called Gastroesophageal reflux – GERD for short. GERD occurs when the sphincter muscle of the lower esophagus is damaged or weakened. The malfunctioning valve of the esophagus allows an uncontrollable reverse flow of gastric or intestinal fluids - bile salts, stomach acid and other GI juices to pass into the muscular tube that connects and passes food from the throat (pharynx) to the stomach. The lining of the esophagus is not designed to tolerate the strong stomach acids. As a result the lining of the esophagus can become irritated and further damaged.

GERD can result in a mild or more severe condition:
  • Mild esophagitis is a mild inflammation of the esophageal lining;
  • Severe esophagitis causes damage to the deeper layers of the esophagus.

2.0 Who is at Risk of Acquiring GERD

  • Dogs and cats of all ages;
  • Dogs and cats with a genetic pre-disposition to acquiring GERD – this includes Brachycephalic breeds (short nose, flat face breeds) that are most susceptible to GERD;
    • For example:
      • American Bulldog
      • American Pit Bull and Staffordshire Terrier
      • Boston Terrier
      • Boxer
      • Cane Corso
      • Presa Canario
      • Pug
  • Other dog breeds such as:
    • American Cocker Spaniel
    • Lhasa Apso
    • Shis Tzu
  • Feline breeds such as:
    • Himalayan
    • Persian
  • Dogs and cats that may be subject to any of the conditions listed under ‘Causes’ of Acid Reflux - GERD’ as provided just below.
3.0 Causes of Acid Reflux - GERD
The following is a partial list:

  • Diets that contain starchy carbohydrates including: grains and starchy seeds, beans and some types of legumes, starchy root vegetables
  • Consumption of a meal (or a daily diet) that is very high in fat, or contains inappropriate fats.
  • Consumption of too much food when the stomach is already full
  • Food hypersensitivities
  • Foreign matter in the esophagus
  • Genetic predisposition – brachycephalic breeds as noted in section 2.0 above
  • Hiatal hernia in the upper portion of the stomach – dogs with genetic pre-disposition for condition
  • Megaesphagus – a condition caused by improper functioning of esophagus muscles
  • Result of surgery
  • Side effect or adverse reaction to a veterinarian prescribed antibiotic or other drug
  • From improper fasting prior to surgery
  • Improper positioning of the dog or cat during surgery
  • Damage resulting from surgery
  • Placement of the breathing tube (used to provide anesthesia) and oxygen during surgery

4.0 Other Conditions That May Mimic the
      Symptoms of GERD
  • Abscess
  • Cancer of the throat or mouth
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Ingestion of toxins
  • Tumor in the esophagus
  • Megaesophagus – a condition where the muscles of the esophagus fail to push the food into the stomach

5.0 Symptoms of GERD
  • Appetite loss
  • Burping
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Excessive salivation or drooling (in the case of severe esophagitis)
  • Gagging after eating
  • Inactive after eating
  • Inflammation of the esophagus
  • Fever (in the case of severe esophagitis)
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Pacing
  • Pain while swallowing – dog or cat may whine, cry, howl, etc
  • Weight loss

6.0 Strategy for Natural Treatment and 

  1. Reduce factors that promote bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid
  2. Replace enzymes, nutrients and stomach acid that are essential for digestion and enable health
  3. Restore beneficial bacteria and healthy mucosal lining in the gut
  4. Avoid using gut destroying, dementia triggering conventional prescription and OTC medications, for example Gas X, Pepcid AC and Pepto Bismol.

Step One
  • With hold (fast) your dog for 12 hours up to 24 hours (not for hypoglycemic dogs, not for very elderly or otherwise frail dogs). Fasting provides the esophagus with a chance to relax and reduce inflammation
  • Offer bone broth or short cooked broth during the fasting period
  • After fasting change the feeding schedule                

Step Two
  • No more large meals, (i.e. 1 or 2 meals per day) instead do:
  • Frequent small meals throughout the day – i.e. 4 to 6 small meals/day
  • Don’t add water to the food in the bowl as this can make acid reflux worse

Step Three

Avoid Exacerbating GERD with the Wrong Dietary Choices...

Step Four

Add some nutraceuticals and herbs that help support good digestive health.

Probiotics to support health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • Add kefir to the daily diet this article explains how to choose a good quality kefir product for your dog or cat;
  • If you don't want to use kefir you can use fresh sauerkraut (fresh sauerkraut can be found in the refrigerated section of a grocery store or specialty food store or you can make it yourself – don’t use wine sauerkraut or the non-refrigerated type of sauerkraut)
    • If you want to make your own sauerkraut you can use this recipe
  • If you don't want to use a probiotic food then purchase a good probiotic supplement
    • Most probiotic supplements are not worth buying - make sure you really know how to select a good product - read here
Avoid using fermented foods (e.g. kefir, sauerkraut if your dog or cat has an active yeast infection.

Bone Broth, for Gut Healing Support
  • Make bone broth:
    • Bone broth contains glutamine – a metabolic fuel used by intestinal cells which helps the lining of the gut
  • You can offer the bone broth as a mini-meal once a day
  • You can use this homemade bone broth recipe.

Natural Honey for protection and healing of the GI tract 
Natural honey (raw, unpasteurized) is called the world's perfect food - for very good reason.
Honey is a very healing food. Adding natural honey to your dog's and cat's daily diet can help in the reduction of the symptoms of GERD and the elimination of the condition.    
Honey also contributes to overall health in multiple ways including supporting the immune system, provides antioxidants is a prebiotic, a probiotic and an anti-carcinogen. 
Make sure you read this article for a full list of health benefits, cautions, daily dosage and important information on selecting an appropriate honey product for your dog or cat. If your companion animal is a puppy or kitten make sure you read section 10.0 of the honey article.
Aid Digestion with Herbs

Prior to using any herbs make sure that you check each herb’s drug interactions if your dog is on any conventional medicines, and cautions if your dog has any additional medical conditions.

  • Add two to three of the following bitter herbs (dry herb or tincture) to each meal
  • Bitter herbs stimulate stomach acid production which helps with the proper digestion of food
    •  Add two to three of the following bitter herbs (use either dry herb or tincture form with no alcohol) to each meal
      • Use 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of each herb if using dry herb or powder
        (of the two or three herbs that you select from the list below)
      • Add 1 to 2 drops of each herbal tincture (of the two or three herbs that you select from the list below)

You can also add a papain or bromelain based digestive supplement to your dog or cat’s food or use fresh minced Papaya – you can read about that here.


Add fresh garlic to food once a day – make sure you read this article on garlic to understand best preparation methods, daily dosage, cautions, drug interactions.

Mix the following together and add to each meal.



Holistic Remedy

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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats