What is Megaesophagus (Friesian)?
Megaesophagus is when peristalsis of the esophagus does not occur as it should. An enlargement of the esophagus causes the muscles to dysfunction and therefore, the esophagus is unable to push the food down into the stomach. Megaesophagus in your horse can be caused by a condition like a muscular disorder, or it may be hereditary. Either way, it needs to be addressed in order to offer your horse a good prognosis of survival. The veterinarian will want to find the source of the issue so she can treat the cause, not just treat the symptoms. Diagnostic tests and imaging will be performed to offer her the information she needs to make a good diagnosis. Treatment will then be started to try and help your horse. However, not all cases of megaesophagus can be treated. In some cases, it can even lead to choke and death. The severity of the issue will determine his prognosis.
Megaesophagus is a condition that can be acquired or congenital. It can be found in humans, cats, dogs, and horses, Friesian breed being the most commonly affected. If you suspect your horse has this condition, contact your veterinarian right away.
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Symptoms of Megaesophagus (Friesian) in Horses
Symptoms of megaesophagus may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Trouble drinking water
- Cervical esophagus enlargement may be seen externally
- Symptoms of an underlying disease may also be present
Megaesophagus in horses can be congenital or acquired. Some horses, especially Friesians, have a high rate of being born with megaesophagus possibly due to a hereditary condition. The acquired condition may be a consequence of chronic esophageal obstruction.
Causes of Megaesophagus (Friesian) in Horses
Esophageal obstructions or impaction cause a dilation of the esophagus. Typically the dilation is reversible, however, if the duration is long enough it may impair the esophagus permanently. It causes impairment of the motility of the esophagus proximal to the site of obstruction. Megaesophagus can also be caused by a neurological or muscular disorder.
Diagnosis of Megaesophagus (Friesian) in Horses
Your veterinarian will begin by performing a full physical exam on your horse. She will look for other symptoms that may be the underlying cause or a secondary condition from the megaesophagus. If it is not evident by appearance alone, she will continue on by collecting a history from you. She will ask you questions such as when the issue began, the symptoms he has been having, what changes have occurred during the time, and so on.
Another form of diagnostics includes transit studies. This means you must measure the time it takes for a bolus to get from the cervical esophagus to the stomach. This is done by fluoroscopy or contrast radiography. The studies will also show if there is pooling of contrast material and if peristaltic constrictions are occurring or not. Endoscopy is another method that can check for a dilated esophagus and the presence or absence of peristalsis.
Searching for a cause is also important when it comes to diagnosing the problem. By figuring out the source, it will help determine if the issue is likely to be treatable or not. For example, the veterinarian may need to do some neurological testing to see if it is related.
Other tests should be conducted to ensure there is no other health issue affecting your horse. A complete blood count and chemistry panel will both offer important information. Also, the veterinarian may want to collect cerebral spinal fluid to rule out neurologic disorders.
Treatment of Megaesophagus (Friesian) in Horses
Treatment of megaesophagus may vary slightly in each case but the overall goal is the same: to treat the underlying cause. Diagnostics should be completed in full in order to determine the correct cause of your horse’s condition.
You can offer your horse palatable feeds in a modified form in order to improve the transit of food. For example, you should offer him pellet food but in a slurried form from an elevated position in order to let gravity do most of the work.
Medications can also be prescribed depending on the underlying cause. In some cases, medications to decrease esophageal tone may be beneficial. No matter what, if you do not treat the cause, you will only be treating and masking the symptoms, not curing the issue.
Recovery of Megaesophagus (Friesian) in Horses
Prognosis of recovery depends on the degree of dilation and the underlying cause. If it is acquired, sometimes the horse responds well to treatment making prognosis good. In other cases, if it is a congenital condition in your horse or if it has been occurring for a long time, prognosis declines and is poor.
Megaesophagus (Friesian) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Can't drink water, comes out his nose and he gets muscle spasms, and shorty lays down after. Choke, pneumonia, little blood and infected mucus coming from nose, ..for the last 4 days, when hungry he can eat but can't drink. When he tries it's very painful and he gets body muscle spasms. He was been tuned today and no improvement. He's been scoped last month and they saw a mass close to his stomach . History of infections from complications. It's my nieces pony, she has had him for 20 years, and thinking he will be put down in the next couple days. We don't know what else or any meds that might help. Main issues seems to be when he tries to drink water. Thank you for any advice, Lori
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We have a 19 year old Friesian gelding who is having problems with eating his grain. His problem is his mid and lower esophagus near his stomach. We water down his pelleted food to make a broth soup consistency but he seems to have some issues sometimes with the first few gulps (he drinks it like water). When he has issues with his grain it is in the first few gulps and then you can hear gurgling in his throat like he has an air bubble that is trying to come out. He will then stop eating, hold his lip up and just stand there uncomfortably. Usually after about 5 minutes or so he will go back to eating/drinking his grain. This winter he lost a bit of weight and we are trying to get him to gain it back. We feed him Progressive nutrition feed and a little alfalfa pellets 2x per day (We increased him to 3x per day to get weight back on). He eats hay outside out of an extreme slow feed hay net by Hay Chix. He gets vitamin e supplement and always has his grain and hay elevated for eating. Any suggestions about additions or alterations we can make would be greatly appreciated.
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