Just like humans, cats can suffer from uncomfortable symptoms associated with gastric reflux. Also referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, or acid reflux, gastric reflux occurs from an abundance of stomach acid. Fortunately, you can help your favorite feline find relief through a change in diet.
During an episode of gastric reflux, intestinal fluids flow backward from the stomach into the esophagus. Most common after meals, this can cause varying amounts of damage to the esophageal lining. You may notice your cat regurgitating undigested food, mucus or fluid. Chronic gastric reflux may make eating painful for your cat, resulting in weight loss. Other symptoms include salivation and excessive gulping, or coughing due to secondary pneumonia.
Gastric reflux is fairly common in cats; it can occur at any age. Some of the more common causes for gastric reflux include poor positioning during an anesthetic procedure or failure to fast prior. Ensuring that your pet has properly fasted prior to surgery can greatly reduce his risk of gastric reflux. Gastric reflux also occurs more frequently in younger cats, as their lower esophageal sphincter muscles are not yet fully developed. As they get older and their muscles fully develop, this risk is reduced. Certain medical conditions can heighten your cat’s risk of acquiring gastric reflux, such as congenital hiatal hernia and cancers of the esophagus. Cats who experience long-term or chronic vomiting are also at risk for gastric reflux.
Diagnosing a case of gastric reflux is fairly easy. Your vet will most likely begin with a routine examination, followed by a complete blood count, urinalysis and a chest X-ray to rule out major medical conditions. To check the extent of damage, a vet may perform an esophagoscopy while the cat's under light anesthesia. Using an internal camera, your vet will check your cat’s esophageal lining for active bleeding or an irregular surface.
Treatment for gastric reflux consists primarily of dietary changes. Your vet may recommend withholding food for a day or two to allow your cat’s esophagus to heal. Cats who suffer from gastric reflux should eat a low-protein, low-fat diet served in frequent small meals. This is because fat decreases the strength of the muscle that runs between the esophagus and stomach. Proteins should be limited as they stimulate the production of gastric acid. In severe cases, cats may require hospitalization and nutritional support via intravenous feeding or stomach tube. Your vet may prescribe medication to help soothe your cat’s troublesome tummy problems and improve digestion.
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