Acid reflux (GERD) in cats is fairly common but we don’t know the cause

Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) affects about 20 percent of people in the US and is ‘fairly common in cats’ (wagwalking.com). Today for the first time I considered it as a possible illness in cats. The reason? I have the disease myself and it is damned annoying.

If it is true that it is fairly common in cats shouldn’t we know what causes it? My research indicates that we don’t. They – the experts – speculate but we don’t know for sure.

GERD in cats in fairly common
GERD in cats in fairly common. Photo in public circulation.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In humans, true GERD is caused by the sphincter muscle at the top of the stomach (the lower oesophageal sphincter – LES) failing. This is a circular muscle which keeps all the acid fumes and food in the stomach. When it weakens the acid fumes float up into the throat and mouth and head. And sometimes food comes back up particularly when lying down. The acid can damage the throat. There are other multifarious symptoms.

Causes in humans doesn’t really help

The causes of the weakening of the LES in humans don’t seem to apply to cats. Obesity, smoking, alcohol, medications and certain foods can cause the LES to weaken in humans. Except for medications and foods these can’t be the causes for GERD in cats. So what is the cause?

The truth of the matter is that veterinarians don’t know the exact cause of chronic GERD. And GERD is chronic. It’s part of the definition of the disease. It’s surprising to me that the world’s veterinarians don’t understand the reasoning behind the weakening of the sphincter muscle.

In humans, I would expect drinking alcohol to be one of the favourite reasons for triggering GERD and people. They say that not only does alcohol relax the muscles in the LES, it causes damage to the LES over time. This indicates to me that the chemical composition of alcohol damages the muscle as the alcohol passes over it.

Something in the food weakens the LES?

Is there something in the food that we give our cats which can weaken the muscles of the LES? Another problem with GERD in cats is that the diagnostic process is quite complicated. It’s going to be expensive. It includes a complete blood cell count, biochemistry profile, urinalysis, radiographs and an endoscopy (a camera put down the throat).

They say that acid reflux in cats may not be curable but you can manage it with dietary changes and other recommendations. The symptoms are long and include, dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), pain when swallowing, regurgitation of food, drooling, salivation, frequent vomiting, chronic cough, chronic nasal discharge, general discomfort.

Chronic gastritis

I wonder how many cats suffer from some of these symptoms which are mystifying veterinarians? It also appears to me that GERD may be mixed up with acute gastritis and chronic gastritis. I’m speculating. Gastritis is an irritation of the lining of the stomach and when severe it causes vomiting. It can be caused by swallowing an irritant or a poison. A common cause of chronic gastritis is swallowed hair which forms a hairball in the stomach. Other causes of chronic gastritis might include a persistent habit of eating plant matter such as grass or eating a non-nutritious product such as plastic, paper, rubber which irritate the stomach.

Also, some cats are intolerant to certain foods or a specific brand of commercial cat food. I wonder whether there is an overlap between poor quality cat food, chronic gastritis, and GERD in cats?

Poor quality food?

As the cause of GERD in cats is unknown, the logical conclusion or common sense deduction would be that it is caused by the food they eat. This seems plausible bearing in mind that quite a lot of cat food is of quite poor quality. The catological.com website, on their ‘About’ page heavily criticise commercial cat food. They criticise the manufacturers as being deceptive and immoral.

The authors of that website are very upset by the poor quality of cat food. They say it is “beyond upsetting. It means so many poor cats are being fed foods that are not good for them”. I think you will find similar sentiments from a lot of well-informed cat owners. Perhaps a hidden consequence of poor quality cat food is feline GERD? What do you know? Please share.

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