Megaesophagus in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Megaesophagus in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Megaesophagus in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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 may at some point cause your dog to aspirate the contents, resulting in aspiration pneumonia.

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Megaesophagus Average Cost

From 526 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $7,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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. 

  • Regurgitation
  • Refusing to eat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Exaggerated or frequent swallowing
  • Coughing
  • Sour or foul smelling breath
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Nasal discharge
  • Poor growth
  • Increased respiratory noises
  • Extreme hunger
  • Excessive drooling
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Causes of Megaesophagus in Dogs

Megaesophagus can be congenital or acquired. There is often 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 weaning, making it more difficult to diagnose it as congenital. Persistent Right Aortic Arch is one consideration.

Acquired megaesophagus commonly has no known cause, either. When a cause can be determined, it is generally from a neuromuscular disease such as myasthenia gravis, an esophageal tumor, inflammation of the esophagus, some form of toxicity, a parasitic infection or a foreign body in the esophagus.

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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 sometimes be difficult to see an enlarged esophagus. A barium swallowwill also be given so that the esophagus will stand out on the x-ray. A CT myelogram may be performed.

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.

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Treatment of Megaesophagus in Dogs

Any underlying condition must be managed first. 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. 

Surgery

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.

Hospitalization

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.  

Management

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. 

Medication

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.

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Worried about the cost of Megaesophagus treatment?

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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.

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Megaesophagus Average Cost

From 526 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $7,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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Megaesophagus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Chihuahua

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Three Years

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4 found helpful

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4 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Having Trouble Swallowing

My dog is 3.5 years old . He eats /drinks daily ,has no problem with either . But when he's laying down ,he has trouble swallowing ,I massage his neck and it seems to calm him down for a hour but then it goes back . He's very hyper ,plays, runs ,jumps with other dogs . But it's only when he's in a relaxed state ,laying down or sleeping ,that he has trouble swallowing .

Dec. 5, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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4 Recommendations

thank you for your question. That does sound very unusual, I agree with you. Without being able to examine him or look in his mouth, it is difficult to say what might be going on Sometimes dogs can't have diseases that affect their electrolytes, or there may be something going on with the muscles of his throat or mouth. Since this seems to be something that is not resolving, it would probably be best to make an appointment with your veterinarian so that they can examine him. Taking a short video of what you are describing might be helpful, as well for them, as it doesn't seem to be something that is consistently happening.

Dec. 5, 2020

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Bruno

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Labrador

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3 Years

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1 found helpful

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1 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Hair Loss
Vomitting
Weakness
Restless

my dog is 3 years old Labrador. He is suffering from enlarged esophagus from last 3 months. veterinary doctor has done his barium test. He has been advised to eat the food on the elevated table and include mostly liquid diet. But still my dog is vomiting whenever he eats. He now has eye infection as well and has become weak. Please suggest if any surgery is possible.

May 26, 2018

Bruno's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

There isn't a surgery available to cure megaesophagus, unfortunately. There are some medications that may help with motility, and I'm not sure if Bruno is on any medications. If he is not able to keep his food down and is becoming weak, he needs to be rechecked by his veterinarian to see if there is any other treatment that may help him.

May 26, 2018

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Megaesophagus Average Cost

From 526 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $7,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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