Study suggests connection between gastro and respiratory illnesses in dogs.

Study suggests connection between gastro and respiratory illnesses in dogs.

Dogs with Respiratory Disease May Also Have Digestive Tract Abnormalities


Does your dog struggle to breathe, especially at mealtime? New research suggests that the two might often be connected. The University of Missouri researchers have discovered that about 75% of dogs who had respiratory disease and were participating in a swallowing study also had 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 gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, with 15 healthy dogs as a control group. Researchers took a video X-ray while each dog was eating and drinking, allowing them to observe any abnormalities in swallowing or movement of material into or back out of the animal’s stomach.

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

Dr. Carol Reinero and Dr. Aida Vientós-Plotts, both veterinarians with specialty training in internal medicine, co-founded The BREATHE Clinic in 2022 to study and treat canines with these issues.

Among the ways to improve the 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,” said Dr. Aida Vientós-Plotts.

It’s important to note that French bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds are far more likely to have both respiratory and GI issues than most dog breeds. “This is because their respiratory tissues are squashed in a much smaller area, so the holes to bring air in are smaller,” explained Dr. Carol Reinero. “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 of this study highlight the connection between respiratory disease and digestive abnormalities in dogs. By identifying and closely monitoring dogs with respiratory issues for potential digestive problems, veterinarians can provide more effective treatments and improve the quality of life for these dogs.

The study was published earlier this year in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine and received funding from the Canine Health Foundation.

For more information on how to keep your dog healthy, visit The American Kennel Club’s website.


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