Heartburn, also known as acid or gastro-oseophageal reflux, commonly affects dogs of any age, although younger dogs are more susceptible. While heartburn is a fairly minor condition, ulcers can cause severe illness and sometimes death in any breed of dog. These ailments can occur separately or simultaneously and each have specific treatments, tests, causes and preventive care.
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The main causes of ulcers in dogs include: medication, bacteria, ingestion of foreign material, liver disease, kidney failure, extreme stress, chronic gastritis, shock and tumours. Heartburn occurs when the esophageal sphincter opens and allows stomach acid to flow upwards into the oesophagus. This relaxation of the esophageal sphincter can be caused by administering anaesthesia, the improper placement or positioning of the dog while under anaesthesia, a congenital hiatus hernia and foods high in fat content.
Ulcer symptoms include sporadic or chronic vomiting, weight loss, anaemia, loss of appetite, pale gums, weakness, abdominal pain, bloody vomit and passing black, tarry stools. Like ulcers, symptoms of heartburn include vomiting after or during meals, weight loss and painful swallowing. A fever and excessive salivation may indicate severe esophagitis, a condition commonly caused by heartburn where the lining of the oesophagus becomes inflamed or damaged. Heartburn symptoms are difficult to identify without careful observation of the dog's eating habits.
Identification and Testing
The primary tests for ulcers include a urinalysis, biochemical profile, complete blood cell count, abdominal ultrasound, contrast upper GI study and gastroduodenal endoscopy. An esophagoscopy is the only test available for heartburn. The test uses an internal camera to look for signs of irregular surface mucus, active bleeding or any changes in the mucus of the oesophagus consistent with esophagitis. Testing for heartburn in dogs is difficult if the condition is mild.
Ulcer prevention includes a bland diet, withholding of food when an ulcer is suspected and avoidance of high stress situations and gastric irritants. Treat dogs with an underlying ulcer causing condition regular to prevent secondary eruptions. Prevention of heartburn follows the same methods of ulcer prevention with the addition of a low-fat, low protein diet and feeding the dog smaller meals throughout the day to lessen acid production.
Ulcers are primarily treated at home with the same histamine blockers and antacids used to treat humans. Ruptured ulcers require immediate emergency surgery. The most effective treatment method for heartburn is a permanent change in diet. The same human medications used to treat ulcers may also be used to treat heartburn. Some human heartburn medications harm dogs so a veterinarian should be consulted before treatment.
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