You might know GERD by its more common name: acid reflux. Vets also call it esophagitis. The fact that it's difficult to diagnose in cats, as compared to dogs, once made vets think it rare, but that opinion has changed. Thankfully, diet change can help your furry friend.
GERD is the acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition that both people and animals can get. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Esophagitis, or acid reflux, starts when this tube is irritated or inflamed by gastric acids coming back up into the tube instead of staying in the stomach where they belong. This happens when the esophageal sphincter, which is like a valve that keeps stomach fluids from flowing back up the tube, doesn't do its job properly.
Causes and Symptoms
According to veterinarian Eveline Han, quite a number of things can cause your furry friend to develop reflux. A structural problem, such as a hiatus hernia, is one of the main causes. Alternatively, she might have a foreign body lodged in her gut, or she could have swallowed some burning substance. Symptoms to look out for are increased saliva and decreased appetite leading to weight loss. You might notice her coughing and gulping more often. Difficulties with swallowing are another sign, and she's likely to vomit.
If your vet suspects that your kitty has acid reflux he'll probably want to do a range of tests, starting with a complete blood count and a urine analysis. He may also decide to do a chest X-ray. If these tests are inconclusive, he may do a fluoroscopy to see your furball's esophagus in motion; an esophagoscopy will enable him to take a close look at the condition of the esophagus and determine the cause of the symptoms.
It's likely that the vet will recommend changing Kitty's diet to a low-fat, low-protein one as the main treatment option. Reducing the fat your furball consumes helps strengthen the esophageal sphincter, and reducing protein reduces the amount of stomach acid. However, consult your vet about exactly how to cut back on protein, as Kitty needs certain amounts for her general health. The vet may also recommend giving her smaller, more frequent meals help relieve the symptoms. While diet is usually a successful treatment, in some cases the vet might suggest an antacid medication. Use an antacid only under veterinary supervision, as they are toxic to some cats.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.