Many dog owners notice that their dog's acid reflux is worse at night. The annoying lip smacking, sighing, yawning and panicked state can keep dogs and dog owners awake for several hours at night. Some dogs start also licking their paws, the carpet, upholstery and the bed or may ask to be taken out to eat some grass.
Eating grass or licking carpets and other surfaces are a dog's desperate attempt to make themselves vomit when they cannot eat grass. Dogs who manage to vomit bile may feel better after a while, only for the same scene to repeat over and over each night. Acid reflux can be a dog's and dog owner's worst nightmare, but why is your dog's acid reflux worse at night?
Why Your Dog's Acid Reflux is Worse at Night
Raise your hand if you ever had a terrible case of heartburn in the middle of the night? It may have been so terrible that you may have been wondering whether you were having a heart attack. Well, there are several reasons why acid reflux in humans and dogs is worse at night.
First of all, consider position. While during the day you or your dog are for a good part in standing position, gravity is on your side keeping acid where it belongs, inside the stomach. However, lie flat for some time and that's when problems start. With no more gravity, it's far easier for the acid to backflow into the esophagus.
On top of lying horizontally, consider that during sleep both people and dogs are prone to swallow less frequently. Once awakened from the reflux though, dogs will likely resume swallowing and they may even do it a whole lot. Most likely this is an attempt to prevent the acid from moving back up and in order to dilute it.
"Acid reflux is usually worse at night (I thought I was having a heart attack in the middle of the night.) because the gastro-esophageal sphincter relaxes when we're asleep and because we're horizontal, gastric acid doesn't have to fight gravity to enter the esophagus." Dr. Michael Salkin, veterinarian
A Burning Sensation
Acid reflux in dogs can be quite a scary experience to endure. Many dog owners report that their dogs act panicky when they get symptoms.
Some become extra clingy and almost seem to plead their owners for help, others may rush to the yard to swallow leaves and grass in hopes of alleviating their discomfort. Perhaps, the fact that dogs don't understand exactly what is happening to them makes them act this way.
Just as in humans, acid reflux in dogs must cause similar symptoms. The dynamics are after all the same. The lower esophageal sphincter which is responsible for controlling the opening between the esophagus and the stomach fails to remain tightly closed as it should.
With this failure, acid contents from the stomach seep through and make their way back up into the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation, what is often referred to as "heartburn" or the more technical term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Problems With Aging
In humans, heartburn becomes a frequent companion in the elderly and there are chances the same occurs with dogs. Most likely, this is due to the fact that, with aging, the lower esophageal sphincter starts to relax more compared to the past. While it still works for the most part, it just might not be able to shut down as it used to do in the past.
On top of that, with aging, digestion tends to slow down as they digestive system starts slacking off. This means that the stomach takes more time to empty. Food that sticks around for prolonged periods of time has a higher chance for creating problems such as indigestion and annoying heartburn.
Last but not least, as in people, many senior dogs start gaining weight due to a slower metabolism and a decrease in exercise. Extra weight has been known to be a factor in acid reflux due the extra pressure put on the stomach which pushes more acid into the esophagus. All of these contributing factors combined act up to make a dog's acid reflux worse at night.