It can be difficult to differentiate the symptoms of gastrointestinal problems and esophageal disorders in dogs. Regurgitation, most commonly a sign of esophageal disorders, can closely mimic vomiting, which is more common and is a symptom of gastrointestinal or stomach problems, according to Dr. Michael D. Willard, DMV.
Regurgitation is food that comes back up because it can’t pass through the esophagus into the stomach. While it is a common assumption that regurgitation occurs immediately after eating, regurgitation can actually occur hours or even days after eating. And regurgitated food can appear to be vomit. Food that is lodged in a dilated esophagus, sitting in water and saliva, may look partially digested like vomit. Your veterinarian can determine if the problem is regurgitation or vomiting by doing a pH test on the material with a urinary dipstick. Regurgitated material will have higher pH than vomit and it will lack bile.
Dogs that are suffering from stomach or gastrointestinal disorders will often show other signs such as salivating, licking lips or pacing followed by vigorous abdominal contractions before vomiting. Vomit will contain partially digested food and bile from the stomach.
Once it is established that the dog is regurgitating, not vomiting, the veterinarian will have to determine what particular esophageal problem is present: myasthenia gravis, a congenital weakness; esophageal cancer; obstruction caused by a foreign body; or esophagitis, which can be caused by ingestion of caustic substances, excessive vomiting, acid reflux and trauma.
Megasophagus is when the muscles of the esophagus fail and are unable to propel food or water into the stomach. Symptoms besides regurgitation can include loss of appetite or refusal to eat, difficulty swallowing, “hacking” or trying to clear the throat, foul-smelling breath and sudden weight loss. Many dogs suffering with megaesophagus may be misdiagnosed with a gastrointestinal problem. Pneumonia is a frequent complication when the dog aspirates food or water into the lungs.
Esophageal cancer is rare in dogs and accounts for less than 0.5 percent of cancers in canines. Symptoms of esophageal cancer include regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss that progressively gets worse, rank smelling breath and slobbering more than usual.
Gastrointestinal or Stomach Symptoms
Dogs suffer many of the same gastrointestinal problems as humans, including inflammatory bowel syndrome, colitis, diverticulitis, ulcers, gastroenteritis and pancreatitis. Symptoms that your dog is suffering from a GI problem include vomiting and diarrhea, excessive drinking, eating grass, running a temperature, loss of appetite and bloating.