Does your dog lick the air? Do they appear to be gulping when they have nothing in their mouth? Do they have episodes where they lick the carpet, their bed, or themselves obsessively – sometimes even eating bedding or other inappropriate items? Does that sometimes lead to drooling or vomiting?
My Boxer, Pebbles, has done ALL of the above and we’ve recently discovered she’s got GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (A.K.A. Acid Reflux). In the last year or so, I’ve experimented with a lot of supplements and foods and I’m going to share my discoveries with you here since I’ve had a lot of people with GERD dogs that’ve asked for our natural treatment protocol!
*This post contains affiliate links which means if you make a purchase using my link I’ll receive a small fee to continue bringing you these helpful blog posts!*
What is GERD?
Disclaimer: This blog post is not meant to diagnose or replace medical advice from your holistic Veterinarian. It’s merely an account of my own personal experiences with GERD.
According to PetMD:
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition characterized by the uncontrollable reverse flow of gastric or intestinal fluids into the tube connecting the throat and the stomach (esophagus). This may be due to a brief relaxation of the muscular opening at the base of the esophagus (referred to as the sphincter), as well as chronic vomiting. Gastroesophageal reflux is fairly common in dogs, and may occur at any age, although younger dogs are at greater risk. The gastric stomach acid, pepsin, bile salts, and other components of the gastrointestinal juices cause damage to the protective mucus lining the esophagus. This can result in inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis).
When Pebbles has a GERD episode, it can last anywhere from hours to days, and during that time we’re ALL miserable. Here are some of the symptoms that Pebbles may experience during an episode:
- Air and/or lip licking
- Licking bedding, the floor or herself frantically
- Eating socks, shoes, or bedding
- Gulping (as if she’s swallowing something over and over again)
- Regurgitation (sometimes water or small amounts of vomit fly out of her mouth)
During an episode, we can’t leave Pebbles unattended in fear that she’ll eat something inappropriate and hurt herself. If we have to shower or leave the house, we have to crate her without toys or bedding.
Is GERD Hereditary?
Like many conditions, it’s believed that GERD has both environmental and genetic contributors. In our case, we can confirm that Pebbles’ mom and at least one sister both have had similar symptoms.
7 Tricks that may help your GERD Dog
I’ve read every blog. Every website. I’ve asked our vet and our chiropractor what they would recommend for GERD and honestly, there isn’t a lot good info out there. Most of the tips I am sharing here have no studies behind them (that I am aware of), it’s me simply trying anything and everything I can to make Pebbles feel better.
If you are interested in trying anything below, keep in mind there could be some trial and error. If you find something that’s helped, be sure to leave your feedback in the comments for others!
1. Fresh Ginger
My chiropractor suggested we try ginger once per day for Pebbles since it appears to help people with the same condition. I purchase fresh ginger from the grocery store, peel and grate/finely chop a few days worth at a time. I store the unused portion in the fridge. Ginger is very strong tasting, so you might want to start small and work your way up. Be sure to mix in with food (raw or canned) to help mask the taste a little.
Recommended Dose: With any new food item, try small amounts to start and work your way up to a full dose. There is really no official “dose”, but try adding a “pinky nail” sized amount to start (for a medium to large dog) and see if your dog will eat it. We’ve worked Pebbles up to about a quarter of a teaspoon, 1x per day in the morning. Pebbles is about 60 lbs.
Best Brand Options: Since I am peeling the ginger, I don’t worry too much about it being organic. Just choose a small, fresh piece and replace each time you go shopping as you would with other fresh produce.
2. Slippery Elm
Slippery Elm is a tree native to North America that contains mucilage. Mucilage acquires a “snot” like consistency when mixed with water, and this is why it behaves like mucus and creates a protective coating or barrier in different parts of the body, such as the esophagus and the gastrointestinal tract. Slippery Elm is also believed to stimulate more mucus production in the body which can also help further protect inflamed tissues.
If the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus doesn’t properly close, the contents of the stomach can creep into the esophagus causing inflammation and pain and it can develop into more serious conditions, like ulcers and Cancer. Slippery Elm is believed to coat the esophagus – protecting it from stomach acids.
Recommended Dose: Varies based on brand. Please follow your brand’s recommendations. I give Slippery Elm with each meal, but I use straight Slippery Elm in one meal, and Gut Soothe in the second. See Pebbles’ regime below.
Best Brand Options: I alternate between the Carnivora and Thrive Slippery Elm supplements. They’re both great brands! We alternate what we carry at Tail Blazers Legacy and Tail Blazers Copperfield based on availability. I also use Adored Beast’s, Gut Soothe which contains Slippery Elm, pre and probiotics, as well as other gut soothing herbs.
HOT TIP: I have recently discovered that Slippery Elm MAY interfere with the absorption of some medications. Therefor, it’s best to take medications at least 2 hours away from feeding Slippery Elm. If your dog is on medication, speak to your holistic Veterinarian before adding Slippery Elm to their diet.
3. Pre and Probiotics
SO MANY things seem to lead back to gut flora and the microbiome. Probiotics are a supplement that I will always add to my dog’s food – problems or no problems. I feel that in this day and age they are essential in maintaining a healthy immune system.
When choosing a probiotic, there are HUGE variances in quality. To determine quality, look for the CFUs on the bottle (colony forming units). The brand we carry in our locations has around 30 Billion CFUs (depending on the product). A popular vet brand has only 100 Million. This is a MASSIVE difference in the viability of the supplement!
You’ll also want to check how many strains of bacteria are in the product and how species appropriate the strains are. Some popular human probiotics don’t survive in a dog’s digestive system. That same popular vet brand from above has only 1 strain, and our top probiotic has 16 strains – 2 of which were originally cultured from other canines (ie species specific)!
And finally, to ensure that your probiotics have FOOD to sustain them, your probiotic supplement should also contain a PREbiotic.
Recommended Dose: Varies based on brand. Please follow your brand’s recommendations.
Best Brand Options: We carry exclusively the Adored Beast probiotics in our stores. Their Love Bugs, Healthy Gut, Gut Soothe and Fido’s Flora all contain pre and probiotics. They all have a slightly different use, so feel free to come and visit our locations and we can help you choose the one best suited to your pet.
4. Digestive Enzymes
Let’s face it – most of us are walking around with pretty unhealthy digestive systems. Probiotics are very important for improving gut health, but sometimes we need more support.
A Digestive Enzyme helps to break down food so that the absorption rate of the food is higher. When the food isn’t being broken down into small enough molecules for the body to utilize as nutrition, those large molecules can escape into the blood through a leaky gut. The body then wages an attack on these molecules and your dog can exhibit allergy symptoms.
If you notice your dog has unusually soft stool, or their stool contains undigested food or mucus, they will likely benefit from an enzyme. Kibble fed dogs especially can benefit from a Digestive Enzyme considering it is estimated that only about 30-40% of the nutrients in their food actually gets absorbed by the body. A Digestive Enzyme could increase those absorption rates to 65-80%! If you are paying all that money for a premium kibble, you may as well ensure your dog is getting full benefit from it!
You may be wondering what any of this had to do with GERD. The answer is… I have no idea! But, I DO know that Pebbles always has more “episodes” when she’s not taking a Digestive Enzyme. It’s now a permanent addition to her regime.
Recommended Dose: Varies based on brand. Please follow your brand’s recommendations.
Best Brand Options: We carry the Adored Beast, Healthy Gut that contains a pre and probiotic, as well as Digestive Enzymes. This is the only brand I am currently recommending.
5. Smaller, more frequent Meals
During my GERD research I found out a long list of foods to avoid (for humans) that most dogs never consume and therefore I don’t really need to worry about. However, another tip commonly mentioned is to eat smaller meals, more frequently. Pebbles is raw fed and I have noticed when she eats a large meal, she’s more likely to suffer from a GERD episode, so I would take this tip to heart.
I have also noticed that fattier meats can trigger her symptoms. She mostly eats beef, goat, llama, and buffalo although she’s ok on some brands of duck too.
UPDATE 2022: We’ve switched Pebbles to a freeze dried diet – feeding her 3x per day, and this has helped immensely in reducing her episodes. We are feeding several different brands: K9 Naturals, Acana, Open Farm, and Woof and they all seem to be okay!
Recommended Dose: Take your pup’s daily dose of food and divide it into 3 meals and see if that reduces GERD symptoms.
HOT TIP: Off topic… ish. Because Pebbles is eating predominately red meats, it’s important to balance the fats in her diet. Most dogs consume excessive amounts of the Omega 6’s found in poultry so there is no need to supplement with additional 6’s. However, Pebbles consumes very few so we supplement her with Hemp Oil.
6. Sleeping with an Elevated Head
During Pebbles’ latest episode I discovered this trick. Firstly, it was suggested to keep one’s head elevated for 3 hours after eating. When laying with the head horizontal to the body, the stomach acids have a higher chance of trickling into the esophagus which is when the burning and gulping starts for Pebbles.
Funnily, we’ve made fun of Pebbles for years for sleeping with her head and neck crammed up against the side of her crate because it looks so uncomfortable. Now we know that it likely made her feel better. So now if we catch Pebbles’ sleeping with her head low, we’ll stick a pillow under her head. It seems to have helped!
7. Chiropractic Adjustments
Our personal chiropractor loves dogs, and so I asked her recently if adjustments help GERD humans and she said emphatically, “YES!” So following a particularly bad bought of GERD symptoms we took Pebbles in for an adjustment out of shear desperation and I can confirm it did help her!
UPDATE 2022: We started Osteopathy for Pebbles this year and although she’s only had one treatment, the GERD episode she had afterward was less severe and didn’t last as long. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not!
A Word about Acid Blockers
You may be wondering why we just don’t try a Pepto-Bismol type antacid for Pebbles, and the answer is that we have! Besides not getting much relief from her symptoms, we read about how these over-the-counter antacids can really upset the gut flora – possibly worsening her condition. Also, they contain salicylates which are unsafe for dogs. So we gave up the acid blockers in favour of these more natural treatments.
Here’s what’s currently helping Pebbles to have fewer episodes:
- 1/4 Teaspoon of finely chopped ginger every morning
- Slippery Elm – AM feeding
- Adored Beast – Healthy Gut (Digestive Enzyme + Probiotic) – AM feeding
- Adored Beast – Gut Soothe (Slippery Elm + Herbs and Probiotic) – PM feeding
- Keeping head elevated for 3 hours after eating
- Chiropractic adjustments when she’s had a particularly long episode lasting more than a day
- Feeding smaller meals 3x per day VS 2x
Where to Buy
I’ve been contacted a lot lately asking where to buy some of these products. Follow the links below to find the Adored Beast products mentioned in this blog post online. You can purchase fresh ginger in any grocery store. Slippery Elm is available in most healthy pet food stores (SHOP LOCAL!). You can find many of the products discussed in this article at my stores in Calgary, the Copperfield Tail Blazers and the Legacy Tail Blazers. Feel free to call ahead to confirm if what you are looking for is available! 403-726-0558 (Copperfield) and 403-873-8884 (Legacy).
- Healthy Gut – ONLINE CANADA
- Gut Soothe – ONLINE CANADA
- Healthy Gut – ONLINE USA
- Gut Soothe – ONLINE USA