Dog regurgitation is often confused with vomiting, yet, it's important to differentiate the two as they may require different diagnostics and treatment. Regurgitation is different than vomiting mostly for the fact that it's a passive, effortless movement of ingested material from the esophagus.
Generally, regurgitation takes place before the food reaches the stomach which is why it often takes place shortly after eating; however in some cases, it may take place much longer as seen in dogs suffering from megaesophagus.
The food is typically undigested and in a tubular shape. There is absence of stomach acid. When a dog regurgitates on an empty stomach, it presents as thick white foam. Compared to vomiting, regurgitation is less common.
Over all, regurgitation is not a disease, but a clinical sign that may be indicative of several disorders. It's important to seek veterinary attention as regurgitation can lead to aspiration pneumonia which occurs when saliva, food or vomit is inhaled into the lungs. A dog with a history of regurgitation that is coughing and has trouble breathing must be checked for potential aspiration pneumonia. Upon being visited by a vet, the dog may present crackling sounds when the vet listens to the lungs with a stethoscope.
Possible causes of regurgitation in dogs are the following:
- Esophageal blockage
- Esophagitis, the inflammation of the esophagus
- Presence of cancer
- Post-anesthesia esophageal stricture (usually presents within 1-3 weeks after anesthesia and initial symptoms may include vomiting, painful and persistent swallowing, drooling)
- Ingestion of caustic acid
- Myasthenia gravis (sometimes accompanied by weakness and collapse)
- Vascular ring anomaly (most common in English bulldogs, boston terriers, Irish setters and German shepherds.
- Diagnostic tests
Affected dogs should have x-rays done to rule out blockages and masses. If these are non-conclusive, a barium test may be helpful. When barium is mixed with food, it may help detect motility issues and look for strictures. An ACTH stimulation test may help rule out hypoadenocorticism, while an acetylcholine receptor antibody titer may help rule out myastenia. Serum lead levels may help rule out a lead toxicity. Endoscopy can help rule out esophagitis and strictures. If there are any blockages, endoscopy can also help remove foreign bodies. Contrast radiography, possibly with fluoroscopy, can rule out hiatal hernias.
Treatment for Regurgitation
As mentioned, regurgitation is only a symptom and not a condition per se'. This means that in order to treat it, the underlying cause needs to be addressed. If your dog is repeatedly regurgitating, see your vet to have the underlying cause treated.