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Acid Reflux In Dogs From a Chinese Medicine Perspective

Acid reflux in dogs is a condition where acid and/or the contents of the stomach move upwards into the esophagus. This causes irritation in the lining of the esophagus and causes discomfort in your dog.

Understanding Acid Reflux in Dogs

Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) will not close. We may also see delayed or slow gastric emptying, and acid and food move in the opposite direction.

Other symptoms may or may not include:

  • Burping
  • Lick smacking
  • Licking furniture
  • Stomach gurgling
  • Regurgitation
  • Retching
  • Discomfort
  • Coughing
  • Appearing to swallow repeatedly
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pacing or restless after meals

There may be medical reasons that this happens. Nothing replaces a hands-on examination and testing by your primary care veterinarian. Make sure to consult with your vet to check for the following:

  • Megaesophagus
  • Cricopharyngeal Dysphagia
  • Esophageal Dysmotility
  • Esophageal Strictures
  • Esophageal Diverticula
  • Esophageal Obstruction
  • Esophagitis
  • Esophageal Neoplasia
  • Bronchoesophageal Fistula
  • Hiatal Hernia
  • Reaction to Flea Preventative Medication *

This lower esophageal sphincter is the door that keeps food inside the stomach. This is because the stomach acid level has to be strong enough to break down the food. And if this acid escapes, it can cause irritation.

Knowing this, the next question is:

Why Doesn’t the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) Stay Closed?

The LES is a muscle and it doesn’t close when it’s too relaxed. Barring any medical conditions stated above, there are certain conditions that cause it to be too relaxed

  • Food is too cold
  • Food is too spicy (like turmeric)
  • Food is too hot
  • Food weakens the stomach
  • Food is pungent (garlic or peppermint)
  • Food is inappropriate to produce the right acid level

Acid Reflux from an Eastern Perspective

Chinese Medicine does not treat diseases or illnesses. Rather we look for disharmony patterns.

In the case of acid reflux, we look at the organs that may be affected. The Spleen (in charge of digestion) and the Liver (in charge of Qi).

The Spleen (not the anatomical spleen in Western medicine but the symbolic organ for digestion) is in charge of the intake, processing, and distribution of nutrients from food.

The Spleen turns the food into “Nutritive Qi” or “Gu Qi” and sends it to the Lungs.

There it mixes with Air and is sent to the Heart, which turns it into Blood.

The Liver, which is in charge of Qi, will then send the Qi and Blood throughout the body.

Identifying the root cause isn’t always black and white.

The good news is if the wrong food is what caused acid reflux, then the appropriate food is what can correct it.

When I work with clients to identify what might be causing it, I will first start off by understanding what patterns to focus on.

Stomach Cold

  • Watery stool
  • Burping
  • Acid reflux
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Cold ear, nose, mouth and lips
  • Purple tongue with greasy coat

Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency

  • Vomit
  • Indigestion
  • Heavy acid reflux
  • Stomach distention
  • Aversion to Cold
  • Loose stool
  • Light tongue with a white and greasy coat

Spleen and Stomach Damp – Heat

  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Red tongue
  • Possibly will have sloppy stools

Accumulation of Liver and Stomach Heat

  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth & bitter saliva
  • Bile vomit
  • Constipation
  • Red tongue, yellow and greasy coating
  • May be restless between 11pm and 3am

Pattern of Improper Diet Damaging Digestion

  • Sensitive tummy to the touch
  • Heavy acid reflux
  • Vomit
  • Bile vomit
  • Indigestion
  • Red tongue

Identifying The Pattern

I always say you, as the dog parent will have the most information on your dog. Your ability to observe and note down the signs and symptoms will be instrumental to identifying what the patterns are. Some examples of what that might look like are:

Is The Food Too Cold?

Dogs that eat cooked or raw meals oftentimes are fed food directly from the fridge.

This leads to a stomach cold. There will be other symptoms that validate this but if you are feeding cold meals, try feed the food at body temperature and see if that makes a difference.

Is The Food Too Hot?

Dry food (kibble) can be too heaty for some dogs. If you are feeding kibble, try feed your dog cooked or raw meals for a week and see if that makes a difference.

Hot can also be food that is too high in fat. For example raw food that has 20% fat will now be more warming than cooling.

Hot food can also be too much bone content that the body cannot digest.

Hot food can also be food that is too hot for a dog that has a hot constitution.

Is The Food Too Spicy or Pungent?

Well-meaning dog parents are feeding golden paste or food with turmeric as well as adding garlic or ginger to meals.

These ingredients are beneficial, but just like we cannot eat food with these ingredients daily or excessively, the same thing happens to dogs. For example, if you overeat turmeric, you can develop a stomach ulcer. If you feed too much turmeric to a dog … it will start off as acid reflux and at worst can lead to stomach ulcer.

I am alarmed by how concentrated golden paste is and the number of people feeding this to their dogs. I shall have to address this in its own article. I don’t question the benefits, just the quantity that is being fed. A small amount of turmeric can be beneficial to the digestive process.

Is The Food Too Damp?

Dogs who consume too much dairy (kefir or goat’s milk) or raw and cooked meals lacking vegetables can experience damp conditions. In this case, you may want to pause all damp engendering ingredients (like frozen or dairy) and add a digestive enzyme to your dog’s meals.

Is The Food Inappropriate?

Some raw-fed dogs cannot process bone while they have acid reflux.

Considering the acidity levels in the stomach are probably not high enough for the LES to close, it also probably isn’t high enough to process bone.

Try feeding ground bone or boneless meals (still need to add in a calcium source) to see if symptoms improve.

The Root Goal

The root goal is to feed the food that causes digestion in the Spleen/Stomach to occur properly.

We want to use supplements with caution because that would be putting a bandaid on the situation as opposed to correcting the root cause.

We want to understand why the body’s mechanisms are not functioning properly so that we can help bring it back into balance.

Foods That Can Help

  • Papaya – contains papain to help with digestion.
  • Pork heart – contains Vitamin B12 and Zinc which are two nutrients that can be low in food.
  • Green banana – contains pectin to help with digestion.
  • Bone broth – contains glutamine which helps heal the stomach lining.
  • Chamomile tea – contains carminatives to help relieve symptoms of stomach indigestion.
  • Oatmeal – provides healthy fiber for the gut bacteria.
  • Pureed cabbage (must be fed within one minute of pureeing it) – it helps regulate the stomach acid level and may help prevent the overgrowth of H. Pylori, a stomach bacteria that may be contributing to acid reflux.
  • Brussel sprouts – may help prevent the overgrowth of H. Pylori, a stomach bacteria that may be contributing to acid reflux.
  • Broccoli sprouts – may help prevent the overgrowth of H. Pylori, a stomach bacteria that may be contributing to acid reflux.
  • Cucumbers, asparagus, and bok choy – may help to cool the stomach if it is too hot.
  • Sweet potato and yams – may help to warm the stomach if it is too cold.
  • Goji berries – contain melatonin which can help improve symptoms related to acid reflux. Melatonin has a role in providing a mucosal protective effect by inhibiting gastric acid secretion while increasing gastric acid release, which in turn stimulates the contractility of the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Shiitake and oyster mushrooms – contain melatonin and can help reduce symptoms related to acid reflux.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – a small amount can regulate stomach acid. Put a few drops on your palm and let your dog self-select to lick it off it.
  • Manuka honey – (GMO 400 and up) to help soothe the stomach and prevent the growth of H. Pylori, a stomach bacteria that may be contributing to acid reflux.
  • Slippery elm to coat the stomach.
  • Citrus pectin – a prebiotic fiber that can help build a healthy gut and also detox body of any heavy metals.

If you try any of these tips above, do so one at a time. That way when the answer reveals itself you will know which one worked.

I would look to identify if the dog is running hot or cold and needs rebalancing with the temperature of the food.

I would then look to heal the gut lining with something like honey.

Then I’d look to what food ingredients can contribute to the right stomach environment so that Acid Reflux isn’t happening.

You may notice that I don’t talk about anti-acids or betaine hydrochloride. These two supplements can raise/lower acid levels and while they are effective I prefer to turn to whole food sources first. The body knows what to do with whole food and while it can respond to these other supplements it’s not the most natural approach.

How I Can Help

By properly identifying the pattern of disharmony, I can help to select which ingredients can help your dog.

I have different packages that range from simple wellness calls all the way to packages that include multiple calls and recipes. FIND THOSE PACKAGES HERE.

Supplements That Can Help

Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associates or other programs I participate in). At no charge to you, as an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  

Digestive enzymes that help the body function as opposed to change the internal environment, can help dogs with acid reflux. I list a few below:

  • Digestive enzymes can help. I like Pan-tenex. It is a very simple formula that only has lipase, amylase, and protease. It must be fed low and slow. For example, a 20 lb dog should be fed 1/32 of a teaspoon (use these small measuring spoons and use the one labeled a SMIDGEN). Observe your dog’s symptoms and only increase and add another smidgen after three days. You can keep increasing up to the suggested dosage amount if you find that symptoms are improving slowly.
  • Probiotics can help establish good gut bacteria. I like very simple, time-tested brands that have mostly Lactobacillus. Mercola’s Bark and Whispers works for a wide range of dogs.
  • Slippery elm for dogs (this if if your dog’s stomach lining needs support or their stomach is very hot)
  • Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Enzymes: I don’t always love products that have all three because it’s rare that a dog needs all three. But this does allow you to feed all three digestive enzymes from one product.
  • Enzymes only: Hands down my favorite enzyme. I don’t get easy cases and oftentimes the clients that find their way to me have tried everything else and this is one of those enzymes that have a very simple formulation and presented to be extremely effective for those dogs that need help in digestion. Inch up to the dose recommended by the brand. Start out at 1/8th the suggested dosage and then work yourself up as or if needed.

There are a variety of different Chinese Herbs that can help. I will share my own TCVM vet below, and you can contact him for a phone consultation.

Dr. Dennis Thomas

Holistic Health Care for Pets
1707 E. 11th Ave, Spokane WA 99202
Call: 509-214-2676

If you would like to contact him via email: DrThomasHolisticvet@yahoo.com

I use him for my own dogs, and refer clients to him when a TCVM vet isn’t available in your city.

Avoid The Kitchen Sink Approach

There is no doubt that you want to help your dog, and in that love, you may want to try multiple ingredients or supplements all at the same time.

I would recommend a slow, methodical approach so that you can try one thing and observe if it improves the situation or makes it worse.

Simplify the Diet – Clean It Up

Our dogs suffer from too much excess in the context of the fact we are overfeeding:

  • Dairy
  • Fermented
  • Exotic treats
  • Too many supplements
  • Supplements that are too hot in nature (turmeric)
  • Shellfish

One of the things I recommend is to clean up the diet and only feed what your dog needs in their meals. Avoid recipes with too many ingredients until your dog’s acid reflux is resolved.

What About Elevated Liver Numbers?

The Liver often acts like the “check engine light on a car”.

The Liver numbers may become elevated during the times your dog is on GERD.

Changing the diet to remove or lower the liver you are feeding might be one approach, but if the underlying issue isn’t addressed, this is akin to changing the condiments on your food without changing the food itself.

What About Betaine HCL?

Well-meaning dog parents are turning to feed their dogs Betaine HCL in an effort to correct their dog’s stomach acid levels.

I would use caution when using this supplement because you really have no way in knowing if what you are doing is going to help the dog or at worse, cause stomach ulcers.

This should be done under the guidance of your vet.

What About Slippery Elm or Marshmallow Root?

Both are demulcents and can help provide relief if your dog has a dry heat stomach condition.

Keep in mind that slippery elm coats the stomach lining and will block any supplements or medication from being absorbed so you should feed slippery elm one to two hours prior to meal times.

What About Anti-Acid Supplements?

You actually do not want to lower the acid levels in your dog’s stomach. I would caution against anti-acids.

3 Key Takeaways

Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close properly which allows acid to escape the stomach.

While the Western approach might look at this disease to treat it with medicine, the Eastern approach it to look at which organs are affected and then heal by bringing stability and harmony back.

The good thing is if food is what causes this pattern of illness then food is what will heal your dog.

As always, thank you for stopping by. Feel free to share this with those who might benefit from it, and I wish you and your dogs health and happiness.


Disorders of the Esophagus in Dogs

Gastrointestinal dysmotility disorders in critically ill dogs and cats

Esophagitis in Cats and Dogs

Diagnosis and management of reflux esophagitis

Megaesophagus in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

Sphincter mechanisms at the lower end of the esophagus

Author Biography

Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.

She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.

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