Let’s first look at why they are prescribed, then how they work, then finally talk about options to consider including how to figure out when (if) antacids might be appropriate.
Veterinarians prescribe antacids for two reasons: they either read it in a journal article somewhere or they assume unexplained vomiting will be taken care of with antacids. (The implication is vomiting is due to increased acid production.) Unless the journal article was specifically about acid levels, peer-reviewed veterinary journals do not evaluate stomach acid production in the test subjects; instead, they assume test subjects are making extra stomach acid based on whether dogs vomit and whether giving the antacids stops the vomiting.
It seems like such an innocent thing to do – like, even if it’s not needed, giving pets antacids can’t be causing any harm. Afterall, the pet stops vomiting – at least for a time.
But what is the purpose of stomach acid in the first place? Acid has numerous functions. First, a very acid environment kills bacteria. We all know dogs eat things we humans think they shouldn’t; often because these things may contain bacteria (or just be gross). But they are dogs 🙂 Stomach acid kills that bacteria. Dogs and cats taking antacids have higher risk of bacterial infection – Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium that can invade and colonize the stomach) infection is linked to use of antacids and is a causative agent in ulcers. Antacids are used to “treat” ulcers – but antacids are implicated in bacteria-related ulcers – that’s an oxymoronic situation!
High levels of stomach acid is also required for proper digestion. Protein digestion begins in the stomach, the first amino acid derived from dietary protein is used to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals that make the brain (and intestines) function well. Antacid use in humans is linked to depression suggesting the neurotransmitters can’t be made if there isn’t enough stomach acid. It’s hard to know when pets are “depressed”, but it’s easy to see behavior change. Any behavior change while taking antacids may be related to improper digestion in a pet.
Additionally, stomach acid is needed to activate enzymes produced by the pancreas; it’s possible some presumed cases of pancreatitis are actually due to the pancreas not being able to do its job because the stomach did not deliver enough acid. There are other conditions associated with use of antacids: osteoporosis (believe it or not, dogs get osteoporosis too), dementia, cancer, bladder and kidney infections, and even leaky gut.
Clearly, it would be irresponsible to think that an antacid is a harmless dietary addition.
Surprisingly, there is increasing evidence that patients believed to have high acid conditions actually have low acid conditions. It’s a really easy, at home, inexpensive test. All you need are pH strips and a bit of time to check the salivary and urine pH at several times throughout the day. Average the numbers. (Avoid checking pH after eating or drinking.) Everything should range between 6.5 and 7. The body works very hard to keep the pH between 6.5 and 7. pH higher than 7 means acid in the body is low. I have very frequently seen high urine pH associated with bladder infections; antacids may not be helping these pets prone to bladder infections.
If your pet’s urine pH is too high, again, not enough acid, dietary changes and working with an holistic veterinarian will determine the appropriate supplement to acidify the body. Sometimes, we are surprised and find that our pets body chemistry is actually quite acid. I have seen dogs dog’s urine pH constantly run low, which is very acid, around 5.5. These dogs can also be helped with diet and appropriate supplements and a bit of help from a holistic veterinarian. Antacids can be avoided completely for all of the reasons listed above.
There are cases where antacids are prescribed because pets regurgitate. Regurgitation should be distinguished from vomiting. In regurgitation, a blob of liquid or solid matter just kind of comes up without a lot of retching. This regurgitation may be a pH condition, it may be a hiatal hernia which can easily be corrected by a chiropractor or someone who does bodywork. Just because a dog is prescribed prednisone or some other medication that can lead to stomach upset, does not mean antacids are appropriate. In fact, the use of the antacids may interfere with the bodies ability to digest and metabolize the prescribed medications.
Has your pet been put on antacids? Have they been on antacids for longer than a month? Have you been told there’s no harm in giving antacids? Saying yes to any of these is reason to question how you want to handle your pets healthcare. A holistic veterinarian or healthcare provider should be able to provide options.