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What are Enlargement of Esophagus?

Megaesophagus can be found in both cats and dogs. Siamese cats are more susceptible to a rare condition called congenital megaesophagus.

An enlargement of the esophagus is known as megaesophagus. The condition limits muscle contractions in the esophagus, preventing food from entering the gastrointestinal tract and even allowing it to enter the lungs. 

Your cat may have problems maintaining necessary nutrients because they cannot pass food through their body. The accumulated food becomes regurgitated and stuck in the trachea and lungs. Megaesophagus may cause your cat to develop another condition called aspiration pneumonia.

Symptoms of Enlargement of Esophagus in Cats

The symptoms of Megaesophagus are related to the enlarged esophagus or aspiration pneumonia. You should look out for the following symptoms:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Poor body condition
  • Weight loss
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Severe aspiration pneumonia

Causes of Enlargement of Esophagus in Cats

The cause of megaesophagus in cats is either a congenital or acquired case. 

A congenital case is when the condition has been present since your cat was born. It is usually the result of a problem with genetic development, and this problem prevents the nerves from functioning properly. Congenital megaesophagus affects Siamese cats more than other breeds.

Acquired megaesophagus occurs later in life from a primary or secondary case. The primary case is usually idiopathic, which means it is not easy to trace. A secondary case is when another medical condition keeps the esophagus from passing food to the stomach. Megaesophagus is known as a secondary case to the following medical conditions:

  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Esophageal tumor
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Parasitic infections
  • Foreign object blockage

Diagnosis of Enlargement of Esophagus in Cats

It is important to take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you notice any symptoms of megaesophagus. You can expect to talk to your veterinarian about their medical history and the symptoms your cat is displaying at home. Your veterinarian will also give your cat a complete physical exam to rule out other conditions. The physical exam helps them to figure out if your cat is vomiting or regurgitating.

Expect your veterinarian to order routine tests such as a biochemical profile, urinalysis and complete blood count. There is a chance aspiration pneumonia could show up on the test results. This is usually followed by a radiographic scan to check for food, fluid or air in the esophagus. 

Your veterinarian may order an esophagoscopy so they can look inside the esophagus, evaluate the condition and remove the foreign body.

Other possible tests include thoracic x-rays, checking the blood lead level, and an acetylcholine receptor antibody titer test.

Treatment of Enlargement of Esophagus in Cats

There is no cure for megaesophagus, but it can be treated to improve swallowing and digestion for your cat. The goal of treatment is to take care of the underlying cause of megaesophagus.

Treatment of Aspiration Pneumonia

Your cat will be hospitalized if they are suffering from aspiration pneumonia. Fluid therapy, oxygen therapy and antibiotics are used to treat the pneumonia, and then your veterinarian will start treating the megaesophagus.

Liquid Diet 

A liquid diet is easier for your cat to swallow and digest. The food is given to your cat from an elevated position. Your cat can stand on its hind legs as the food is pushed into the stomach. If your cat is unable to eat, the medical staff may have to administer a feeding tube.


There are several types of medication to help with megaesophagus. Your cat may be prescribed a medication such as Metoclopramide to increase gastrointestinal movement. Your veterinarian may also recommend administering an antacid or anti-nausea medication to keep them comfortable and prevent injury to the esophagus.


Your veterinarian may need to perform surgery to treat a specific cause, such as a foreign object. Surgery can be risky so your veterinarian will only resort to this treatment if it is necessary.

Recovery of Enlargement of Esophagus in Cats

A follow up appointment with the veterinarian is an important part of the recovery process. Your cat will be examined to ensure the esophagus is passing food into the stomach. Your veterinarian may recommended sticking with the feeding routine and medication to prevent a buildup of food or vomit in the lungs.

The prognosis depends on the health, condition and cause of megaesophagus in your cat. Your cat may adjust well to their medication, diet and feeding routine. Unfortunately, a cat with congenital megaesophagus may not recover from aspiration pneumonia. This is why taking your cat to the veterinarian at the first sign of megaesophagus is vital to their health.