Have you recently found your dog licking and gulping excessively for prolonged periods of up to an hour or longer?
Are you worried that your dog keeps hiccuping and swallowing regularly every 10-30 seconds or so- especially in the evening or after mealtimes?
It’s not only concerning, but positively heart-breaking, to see your beloved family member like this. There’s no worse feeling than the complete helplessness that engulfs you when your pup is suffering.
You don’t have to feel helpless any longer, because there is a name and a solution to this problem.
In most cases which involve these gagging, swallowing, throat spasms, the main culprit is acid reflux. Yes, the same acid reflux that we human beings also get- the only difference being that when we feel heartburn coming on we simply pop a Prilosec and go on our merry way.
In fact, you can do the same for your dog whenever it has an acid reflux episode for pretty rapid relief. Omeprazole and famotidine (Pepcid-AC) can both be given to dogs to soothe the acids in their stomach and make them feel significantly more comfortable.
However, these are only temporary solutions, and the best way to tackle this issue for the long term is by addressing the underlying causes of gastroesophageal reflux. This can be done through dietary changes, additional medication, and in more serious cases, surgical procedures.
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Does the above video look familiar to you?
If so, you’re in the right place.
I’ve experienced the same with my sweet 5-month old corgi puppy Olliver. It’s truly a distressing sight to see; a precious pup gagging and swallowing away with no end in sight.
What Olliver, and presumably your dog, is experiencing is something called acid reflux.
If you notice your dog swallowing a lot, gulping, and heaving and constantly having throat spasms, it is most likely because of esophageal irritation. Gulping and swallowing episodes occur as a painful spasm of acid is regurgitated, burning and aggravating the throat.
When acids and fluids of the stomach and intestines constantly flow back up the esophagus, it can cause significant damage to the esophageal lining. This results in serious pain, inflammation, and discomfort.
The pain and irritation will make your dog lick and swallow repeatedly in an attempt to push the troublesome acid back down.
Acid reflux is also commonly accompanied by nausea, which is characterized through a persistent licking of the lips.
Acid reflux in dogs occurs due to factors such as:
- Improper emptying of the stomach
- A weakened or damaged esophageal sphincter, either from birth or due to surgery
- Hiatal hernia (when the stomach pushes up through the an opening in the diaphragm)
- Metabolic diseases like kidney and liver disease
- Poor digestion
- Food intolerances
Common signs of acid reflux include:
- Swallowing repeatedly, as you already know
- Regurgitation of undigested food
- Regurgitation noises, such as gagging or burping
- Vomiting of bile
- Excessive grass eating
- Panting, especially after meals
- Pacing after meals
- Lack of appetite/anorexia
If a dog experiences chronic acid reflux repeatedly over months, it can develop into a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or esophagitis.
While acid reflux is the most probable cause, it is possible for esophagitis to result from other factors. These can include inflammation due to foreign bodies, certain drugs, anesthesia, ingestion of caustic chemicals, and certain infections.
Though it may seem like there is something stuck in your dog’s throat causing the worrying behavior, telltale signs are usually able to confirm or dismiss that theory quite quickly. For example, if your dog isn’t drooling or coughing, then it’s probably not choking-related.
While it is undoubtedly distressing when you have to wonder, “Why does my dog keep swallowing?”, the good news is that acid reflux and GERD in dogs can largely be resolved in most cases through diet changes, medication, and even the occasional home remedy.
Firstly, you will want to make sure as much as possible that it is an acid reflux issue, and not something more medically-urgent like choking or a stomach blockage.
You can do this quickly by checking whether your dog’s gums are a normal pink color, as pale or purple gums indicate that there is blood loss or a lack of oxygen going to its vital organs. Check for additional symptoms of lethargy, dry heaving, constipation, or bloody stools.
If those signs are not present, then you can proceed with treating the acid reflux symptoms. This can be done by administering two medications: one for coating the stomach and reducing acid, and another for coating the throat to facilitate healing.
Antacids such as famotidine (Pepcid-AC) and omeprazole (Prilosec) can be given to provide fast-acting relief from acid reflux and heartburn by neutralizing the acid in the stomach. Pepcid-AC is preferable as Omeprazole has a more delayed onset of action.
Pepcid-AC can be dosed at one 10mg tablet per 20-40 pounds of body weight every 12 hours, while Omeprazole can be given at a dosage of 20mg every 24 hours.
To coat ulcerations of the throat, Milk of Magnesia or liquid sucralfate can be administered orally at a dosage of 1 teaspoon every 4-6 hours. This will help to protect the irritated esophagus from any further stomach acid that might be regurgitated.
Honey can be used in between doses as an alternative soothing treatment. Just be sure not to give too much to your dog as excessive amounts of sugar or sweets can cause cavities, weight gain, and diabetes!
In the same vein, feeding your dog some plain bread during an episode can help to absorb some of the corrosive stomach acids.
Nevertheless, antacids like the ones mentioned above are all very safe to use in dogs, and can be used for long-term treatment if necessary.
If your dog seems otherwise normal and upbeat apart from the hiccuping and swallowing, take it for a quick walk around your neighborhood. While this may seem like a peculiar suggestion, this can actually provide a good distraction and help the esophageal muscles to relax.
Finally, in order to expedite recovery after your dog experiences significant acid reflux, it would be a very good idea to feed it a ‘bland diet’ over the next few days.
Replace its normal meals with a combination of ⅓ lean boiled beef or chicken and ⅔ white rice, given in 3 or more small portions throughout the day. This low-fat meal is easy to digest and will produce minimal stomach acids. After a few days, slowly mix back in your dog’s original food.
While Pepcid-AC and Prilosec can be used long-term, they should ideally be reserved as temporary, impromptu solutions. Do you really want to feed your dog antacids every 12 hours for the rest of its life?
I sure don’t.
Therefore, permanent changes are necessary in order to prevent acid reflux in the future.
One aspect that can make a massive difference is the diet and food that you are feeding to your dog. Fats and proteins are the biggest reasons for high stomach acid levels, so they must be controlled.
Providing your pup with soft, low-fat, high-moisture foods spaced out in 3 or more small meals throughout the day will go a long way in reducing esophageal irritation issues.
You can also look into adding powdered slippery elm into your dog’s food. The herb has been shown to be beneficial for bowel diseases, and has the ability to reduce inflammation in the GI tract.
Make sure meals are not given too late in the day, as late-night feeding results in lowered gastroesophageal sphincter pressure during sleep- which then leads to reflux.
Even if your dog shows clear improvement with acid reducers and an improved diet, it would still be a good idea to mention this behavior to your vet. They will be able to run blood tests to see if there are any other underlying or developing health problems behind the symptoms.
If there are other health issues, treatment may include an endoscopy to assess the stomach and throat directly, broad-spectrum antibiotics to clear up any bacterial infection, or surgery if something more severe is detected.
It can be a very scary experience when your dog keeps swallowing repeatedly and hiccuping for no clear reason. However, this behavior is usually a clear indication that it is feeling significant irritation in its esophagus, usually due to a relatively common cause- acid reflux.
Acid reflux in dogs can be treated the same way that it is treated in humans: with antacids such as Pepcid-AC and Prilosec. One 10mg (Pepcid) or 20mg (Prilosec) tablet can be given every 12-24 hours for safe, fast-acting relief.
Though very effective, acid reducers remain a temporary solution. The best way to prevent constant GERD episodes in your dog is to make improvements to its diet by providing low-fat, high-moisture foods.
By doing so, you just might be able to permanently eliminate these ordeals and save your best friend from a great deal of future pain and discomfort!