What are Megaesophagus?
Since the food and water are not making their way into the stomach, your dog is not getting the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy body. Megaesophagus can occur at any age and there are several breeds of dogs that have an increased prevalence. Those breeds include the Wire-haired Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Great Dane, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Chinese Shar-Pei, Irish Setter and Greyhound.
Megaesophagus is when the muscles of the esophagus do not work and food and water cannot be moved into the stomach. As a result, the food and water stay in the esophagus within the chest cavity and are never pushed into the stomach. The food and water that are stuck in the esophagus will at some point cause your dog to aspirate the contents, resulting in aspiration pneumonia.
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Symptoms of Megaesophagus in Dogs
Megaesophagus is very difficult to diagnose so if you notice any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian and schedule an immediate appointment.
- Refusing to eat
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Exaggerated or frequent swallowing
- Sour or foul smelling breath
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Nasal discharge
- Poor growth
- Increased respiratory noises
- Extreme hunge
- Excessive drooling
Causes of Megaesophagus in Dogs
Megaesophagus can be congenital or acquired. There is generally no known cause when a dog is diagnosed with congenital megaesophagus. They are simply born with the condition. In many of these cases, megaesophagus is not diagnosed until the puppy is much older, making it more difficult to diagnose it as congenital.
Acquired megaesophagus commonly has no known cause, either. When a cause can be determined, it is generally from a neuromuscular disease, an esophageal tumor, inflammation of the esophagus, some form of toxicity, a parasitic infection or a foreign body in the esophagus.
Diagnosis of Megaesophagus in Dogs
Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical examination and will palpate the throat area of your dog. While the examination is in progress, your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions regarding your dog’s symptoms. Be sure to answer with as much information as possible to help your veterinarian make a proper diagnosis.
A radiograph or x-ray will be done, although it can be difficult to see an enlarged esophagus. A barium swallow will also be given so that the esophagus will stand out on the x-ray.
A CBC or complete blood count, urinalysis and biochemistry profile will be conducted, although these tests usually come back as normal with megaesophagus. Underlying conditions, however, can be found with these tests.
Your veterinarian may also use an esophagoscopy to examine the interior of the esophagus. A thin, tube like tool with a lens and light is inserted into the esophagus to see if there are any foreign objects, neoplasia or other obstructions.
Treatment of Megaesophagus in Dogs
There are very few treatment options for dogs diagnosed with megaesophagus. The main goal of a treatment plan is to manage the disease. There are several options available to manage megaesophagus. Your dog can still live a good life, even when diagnosed with megaesophagus.
If an underlying cause of the megaesophagus has been found, surgery may be an option. When foreign objects are found within the esophagus, surgery may be necessary to remove the object and provide immediate relief while preventing further complications.
If your dog has been diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia, immediate hospitalization may be required as it can be life-threatening. Your dog will have constant medical care including oxygen therapy, IV fluids. and aggressive antibiotics.
Your veterinarian will recommend that your dog be placed in a slanted or even completely vertical position when eating. Usually a slanted platform with your dog’s upper body elevated at about a 45 degree angle will do the trick. There is also a Bailey Chair where the dog is completely upright when eating. Make sure your dog stays upright for about 30 minutes after eating. This allows gravity to work with your dog to move the food and water into the stomach. Water must also be given in this fashion.
Changing food to a different texture or a canned food rolled into small meatballs works best for dogs with megaesophagus. The meatballs should be swallowed whole for easier passing through the esophagus. Feed 3-4 small meals a day to ensure that the most nutrients are being absorbed.
Acid reducers given 1-2 times daily and a motility drug such as low dose erythromycin can help your dog by minimizing any acid reflux from the stomach from entering the esophagus.
Recovery of Megaesophagus in Dogs
Your dog can live a relatively normal life with megaesophagus if the disease was detected early and appropriate feeding techniques are being used. Also, you must learn to recognize the signs of aspiration pneumonia and seek immediate treatment when it occurs.
You have to be fully committed to caring for your dog and providing a safe, elevated feeding platform for your dog as well as continual monitoring of food intake and possible aspiration pneumonia.
Your veterinarian will set up an appropriate treatment plan for your dog. Be sure to follow all instructions given and if your dog’s condition worsens or there are significant changes, contact your veterinarian immediately. Some dogs that have been diagnosed late will not be receptive to treatments and their quality of life can be diminished.
Megaesophagus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Our 9 year old pug underwent dental surgery 2 weeks ago. Upon coming home, it was difficult for her to eat which we thought was due to 21 teeth being removed. Now she cannot eat or drink without regurgitating or choking. Even feeding with a syring is difficult for her. She finds it difficult to even make it through the night without going through choking and regurgitating phelm and mucus. She has been given metonia and formitadine, however no improvement. How does a surgery cause this?
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My dog is 12 years old was two weeks ago was diagnosed with Cushing disease and Megaesophagus.
I have visited two different veterinarians and their opinions are different.
One vet claims that cushing can be the cause of Megaesophagus and the second vet claims cushing can not cause it. In fact he thinks it's addison disease the usual cause which is completely the oposite of Cushing.
Torax and abdome aultrasound was performed
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