What is Esophageal Disease?
Esophageal disease can lead to further life threatening complications such as infection or inflammation. Early identification of esophageal disease is important so the appropriate treatments can be given to alleviate discomfort and improve quality of life.
Esophageal disease in dogs, while not as common as gastrointestinal diseases, is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention. Esophageal disease can oftentimes be misdiagnosed since regurgitation, the main symptom of esophageal disease, is very similar to vomiting. Regurgitation is when the stomach contents of the dog move backward through the esophageal tract and into the mouth. Vomiting is the forceful contraction of stomach muscles to eliminate the contents of the stomach.
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Symptoms of Esophageal Disease in Dogs
Esophageal disease in dogs has few symptoms and is easily misdiagnosed. If you notice anything abnormal about your dog’s swallowing, consult with your veterinarian immediately.
Difficulty swallowing and regurgitation are the only physical symptoms of esophageal disease in dogs. Regurgitation occurs without effort; the stomach muscles do not contract. You may think that your dog is simply vomiting, when in actuality, they could be regurgitating. Excessive vomiting or regurgitation should be cause for concern and a thorough exam by your veterinarian is necessary.
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitation of stomach contents
Causes of Esophageal Disease in Dogs
Causes of esophageal disease in dogs can be either functional or structural. Your veterinarian will try to determine which, if any, of the more common esophageal diseases has afflicted your dog.
Genetics does play a role in the development of esophageal disease. Any dog has the potential to develop esophageal disease, but there are breeds where it is more common. Chinese Shar-Pei, Fox Terrier, German Shepherd Dog, Great Dane, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Schnauzer, Newfoundland, Boston Terrier and all Toy Breeds are more at risk for developing esophageal disease.
Diagnosis of Esophageal Disease in Dogs
When diagnosing esophageal disease in dogs, your veterinarian will use many tools and tests to determine the type and severity of the disease. There are several common esophageal diseases in dogs that require specific tests to properly diagnose.
Cricopharyngeal Achalasia or disorders of swallowing is where the cricopharyngeal muscle does not relax, making it impossible for your dog to swallow foods or liquids. An endoscope can be used to view the cricopharyngeal muscle to see if it is functioning properly.
Megaesophagus is when the esophagus has stretched abnormally. The main sign of megaesophagus is regurgitation but a chest x-ray will usually determine the severity of the stretched esophagus.
Esophageal Strictures are the narrowing of the esophagus. The use of fluoroscopy and endoscopy will be used to diagnose an esophageal stricture.
Esophagitis is inflammation of the esophagus and is generally caused by acid reflux or foreign objects in the esophagus. An endoscope will be used to view the esophagus and assess the amount of inflammation. Foreign objects lodged in the esophagus can be diagnosed using x-rays, endoscopy and sometimes just by physical examination.
Esophageal Diverticula are where pouch-like dilations of the esophageal wall occur. Contrast x-rays and endoscopy can be used to look for diverticula or scarring from these pouches.
Treatment of Esophageal Disease in Dogs
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed esophageal disease in your dog, a treatment plan will be put in place. The treatment plan will be tailored for your dog and the esophageal disease that was found.
Surgery is usually performed to cut the muscle. This will allow the muscle to relax and normal swallowing will be possible immediately after surgery.
Treatment of an associated disease is necessary or the disease will progress uncontrollably. There is no specified treatment for megaesophagus but environmental factors can be changed to aid your dog. Elevating your dog’s upper body when eating, and keeping him elevated for at least 15 minutes after eating will allow gravity to help move the food down the esophagus. Food texture is important, so a diet change may be necessary.
A balloon catheter can be used to stretch the stricture. Surgery is also an option, but not as successful as the balloon catheter.
Medications may be prescribed to reduce inflammation within the esophagus. A change in diet may also be prescribed. If the inflammation is severe, a feeding tube may be put in place until the inflammation has receded. To reduce the risk of a bacterial infection, antibiotics may also be prescribed.
Foreign Objects within the Esophagus
Depending on the location of the foreign object, your veterinarian may be able to remove it using a flexible endoscope and forceps. Sometimes the object can be pushed down into the stomach and then passed through feces. If the object is too large to push into the stomach or the esophagus has been perforated, surgery will be required to remove the object.
If the diverticula are small enough, a bland, soft diet will usually treat it along with eating in an upright position. Larger diverticula will require surgery to remove the pouch and rebuild the esophageal wall.
Recovery of Esophageal Disease in Dogs
Recovery times will differ with the type and severity of the esophageal disease. Always refer to your veterinarian for guidance during treatment and recovery. Use any prescribed medications as directed and schedule follow-up visits to ensure the esophageal disease is well managed. In some cases, your veterinarian will provide a long-term treatment plan that may need to be followed for the life of your dog.
Esophageal Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a 14 year old yorkie. My doctor said she has Esophageal disease. She eats well and keeps it down fine. But she gags after drinking water. My vet does not feel she is a candidate for surgery because of her age. What would be a natural way to help this
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Would esophageal disease cause my Labrador to vomit all of his meals up & then continue to eat the vomit? He is hungry, drinks fluids & is not lethargic. He just has trouble holding down his food & has begun losing weight from I️t. Had his stool tested a few months back & all of his levels were perfect. Whether he is given 1 cup or 3 cups at a time he gets sick & throws up his food which is clearly still in its full pieces. This probably began within the last year or so, he has bouts of non stop vomiting then he will go weeks/months without I️t, however seems I️t is getting worse. What would be best cause of action?
I am not a vet, but I can share my experience. We rescued a 6 month old Cavalier... he didn't put on weight, ate poop and regurgitated his food. He started getting thin and lethargic, we opted against surgery as research showed a low success rate. We were given a horrible prognosis. So... I purchased a high calorie kibble puppy food and ground it to a dust in the blender, I mix it with organic bone broth until it is the consistency of porridge. I have him eat from a bowl that I hold for him at his chest level and then I burp him like a baby after he finishes, the burping part is really important! I did this 3 times a day until he gained a pound, then twice a day. After a month, he is now 13.6 lbs (almost average) YAY, he started at 10.4 lbs. His energy is back, he plays constantly, he's happy and he even munches on regular dog food on occasion. Please don't put him down, we love our vet but doctors don't know everything.
my golden retriever is suffering from Esphageal disease, my vet confirmed that. she is 43 days old puppy. doctor said it may cure and in most of the cases it may not. she said if it gets worse mercy killing is the last option. Kindly let me is she can be saved. I am unable to control my tears.
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