Stomach acid helps break down and start the process of digesting food, specifically protein. Fats and carbohydrates are digested further down the digestive tract after the enzymes lipase and amylase are secreted and activated. The overall length of the gastrointestinal tract of a dog is much shorter in comparison to humans. Dogs are meant to eat a meat-based diet, with much of the protein breakdown occurring in the stomach. Humans have a more plant-based diet, needing longer intestines for breakdown and absorption of starches.
The pH of the stomach fluid in dogs and cats ranges from 1.5 to 2.1, which is much lower than the pH of 3.5 found in humans, making the acid about 10 times stronger in concentration than what we have in our stomach. The dogs have strong hydrochloric acid in their stomach to digest meat and even bones. The acid kills any bacteria that might come its way.
Researchers have found a general pattern in which birds and mammals that are scavengers and feed on decaying flesh, or carrion, had the most acidic stomach acid. They suggest that strong stomach acid might help to protect these animals from harmful bacteria and disease, acting as an ecological filter and preventing them from reaching the intestines where they could cause illness.
It has been suggested that humans and animals that take antacids to decrease stomach acid production may be more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses. Unfortunately, antacids are overused in both the veterinary and human medical fields.
Causes of acid reflux include obesity, hiatal hernia, administration of general anesthesia, food intolerance, food stagnation in the stomach, and stomach heat (ulcers or inflammation). In TCVM Stomach Heat may be generated from Liver Qi Stagnation which may arise from frustration, particularly in dogs with a Wood personality.
Symptoms of acid reflux may include excessive burping, lip-licking, regurgitation of stomach contents, pain associated with esophageal inflammation, bad breath, and lack of appetite.
Treatment should be directed toward solving the underlying cause rather than treating the symptoms with antacids. Diet changes, diagnosis by a TCVM practitioner, and treatment with herbal or homeopathic remedies may solve the problem.
For Stomach Heat my favorite herb is Jade Lady. For Food Stagnation I sometimes change diet formulation and add Bao He Wan. For bile accumulation on an empty stomach, ginger cookies may help. For Liver Qi Stagnation, find the dog a job and add liver-draining diet.