The uncontrollable reverse flow of gastric or intestinal fluids into the tube connecting the throat and the stomach (esophagus) is medically referred to as gastroesophageal reflux. This may be due to a brief relaxation of the muscular opening at the base of the esophagus (referred to as the sphincter), as well as chronic vomiting. Gastroesophageal reflux is fairly common in cats, and may occur at any age, although younger cats are at greater risk.
Gastric stomach acids, pepsin, bile salts, and other components of the gastrointestinal juices cause damage to the protective mucus lining the esophagus. This can result in inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis).
Symptoms and Types
Gastroesophageal reflux can cause esophagitis with varying amounts of damage. Mild esophagitis is limited to a mild inflammation of the esophageal lining, while more severe ulcerative esophagitis causes damage to the deeper layers of the esophagus.
Your cat’s behavioral history can reveal symptoms such as spitting up (regurgitation) of food, evidence of pain (mewling or howling, for example) while swallowing, lack of appetite, and weight loss. A physical exam will often not reveal any concrete findings. Severe esophagitis may include symptoms of fever and extreme salivation.