For Dogs, Gastro & Respiratory Ills Often Connected, Study Suggests

By   |  August 29, 2023

By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2022 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 29, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Does your dog struggle to breathe, especially at mealtime?

New research suggests the two might often be connected.

The University of Missouri researchers discovered that about 75% of dogs who had respiratory disease and were participating in a swallowing study were also found to have one or more digestive tract abnormalities. The scientists have been investigating the interplay between the two disorders for about a decade.

Based on their latest findings, they suggest that dog owners and clinicians should try to identify and closely monitor dogs with respiratory disease for potential digestive issues, even when the dogs do not appear to have trouble swallowing.

“Dogs that come into our clinic with signs of respiratory disease, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, may often have issues in their upper aero-digestive tract,” explained study author Dr. Carol Reinero, a professor in Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This makes sense because it is in that area where those pathways cross, a healthy dog should breathe in and not swallow or swallow and not breathe in, but when that goes haywire they can develop disease, including the potential for swallowing too much air or getting food or water into the lungs," she said in a university news release.

The study included 45 dogs who had clinical signs of respiratory issues, but not GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms, with 15 healthy dogs as a control group.

Researchers took a video X-ray while each dog was eating and drinking, so they could see any abnormalities in swallowing or movement of material into or back out of the animal's stomach.

The findings showed that the dogs with respiratory disease were far more likely to have abnormalities that include accidental breathing of food or fluid into the lungs, gastroesophageal (GERD) or extraesophageal reflux and trouble swallowing, than control dogs were.

Reinero and college colleague Dr. Aida Vientós-Plotts co-founded The BREATHE Clinic in 2022 to study and treat canines with these issues. Both veterinarians have specialty training in internal medicine.

Among the ways to improve quality of life for these dogs include changes in diet, water alternatives, surgery and recommendations to gain or lose weight.

“Sometimes we might recommend switching from kibble to canned foods or adjusting the macronutrients for more or less proteins or fats,” Vientós-Plotts said in the release.

French bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds are far more likely to have both respiratory and GI issues than most dog breeds, the vets noted.

“This is because their respiratory tissues are squashed in a much smaller area, so the holes to bring air in are smaller,” Reinero said. “As they struggle to breathe, this can cause reflux or herniation of their stomach, and they also tend to get very excited about eating so they may forget to breathe until they are mid-swallow, potentially causing food or liquid to get into their lungs.”

The findings were published earlier this year in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Funding was provided by the Canine Health Foundation.

More information

The American Kennel Club has more on how to keep your dog healthy.

SOURCE: University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, news release, Aug. 23, 2023