Megaesophagus in dogs is a disorder in which the esophagus gets larger in size and consequently loses its ability to transport food. The esophagus is the tube in the body that carries liquid and food from the mouth to the stomach. When this disorder occurs, the food accumulates in the animal's esophagus.
When your dog eats dinner, the presence of food sends signals to the brain's swallowing center. The swallowing center then sends a signal to the swallow reflex. There are many moments during this process where a malfunction can take place that can cause megaesophagus.
As compared to cats, megaesophagus is more common in dogs. It is a hereditary disorder experienced often by Miniature Schnauzers and Wire Fox Terriers. The condition may also affect some other breeds, including:
- Irish Setters
- Great Danes
- Labrador retrievers
- German shepherds
Types of Megaesophagus in Dogs
There are two types of megaesophagus that can affect your pet. The first type is congenital megaesophagus. Dogs with this type of megaesophagus are born with the condition.
The second type is acquired megaesophagus. Dogs suffering from this type of the disorder experience it later in life, during adult or middle age.
What Causes Megaesophagus in Dogs?
In cases of acquired megaesophagus, the exact cause of the disorder is unknown. Acquired megaesophagus can often be the result or symptom of another condition entirely, such as:
- Blockage in the esophagus by scar tissue, tumor, or any other foreign body
- Trauma of the spinal cord or brain
- Damage to the muscles and nerves of the esophagus
- Inflammation in the esophagus
- Exposure to toxins
- Hormonal diseases
What Are the Symptoms of Megaesophagus in Dogs?
The most prominent sign that your dog may be suffering from megaesophagus is regurgitation (a passive process where food and liquid just roll out) and vomiting. Puppies, small dogs, and adult dogs with the condition will regurgitate when eating solid food. They will begin to lose weight.
Another common sign of the disorder is aspiration pneumonia. Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include nasal discharge, fever, and cough.
How is Megaesophagus in Dogs Diagnosed?
When suffering from megaesophagus, food gets stuck in the dog's esophagus rather than traveling to the stomach. Sometimes, you can see the esophagus bulging at the base of the animal's neck. You may find that your pet shrinks away at your touch, as the area may be tender or painful. Though they are hungry, your pet may pick at their food, since they begin to associate gagging and coughing with eating.
A common diagnostic test for the condition is the videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS). It is similar to an X-ray, except that the vet can watch video footage of food moving through the esophagus rather than just a still image. The vets examine the passage of food and liquid from the esophagus to the stomach to see why your dog is having trouble swallowing.
How is Megaesophagus in Dogs Treated?
Medication or Botox treatments. The vet may prescribe doses of sildenafil for a particular duration. Your dog may also have to undergo a procedure in which Botox is injected into the lower part of the esophagus. This treatment is done under general anesthesia.
Feeding Tube. Your dog may require a gastric feeding tube. This tube allows food to be delivered directly to the stomach. The food does not have to pass through the esophagus. Although it does not end regurgitation since your dog will still be swallowing saliva through the esophagus, it does help in controlling food regurgitation.
Food Consistency. Another way to reduce regurgitation is to determine whether your pet does better with a solid or liquid diet. Experiment with various food consistencies and eliminate foods that are causing regurgitation.
Surgery. You will have to bring your dog back for a follow-up videofluoroscopic swallow study after the vet has recommended a treatment method. The vet will use these results to determine if the treatment was successful. Depending on the test results, your vet may recommend a surgical procedure, which is a more permanent fix than medications.
Surgery may improve the quality of your pet's life and reduce the instances of megaesophagus. It can also lower your dog's risk of aspiration pneumonia, which can be very dangerous. Although researchers have seen a dramatic improvement in many dogs' conditions, surgery is not considered a complete cure.
At-home remedy. If you don't want to move forward with medication or surgery, you can see if elevated feeding helps prevent regurgitation. To do this, you have to feed your dog from a high position or keep them in a standing posture after you have fed them to ensure the movement of the food to the stomach. This treatment can be tricky with larger breeds, however.
Speak to a vet about your dog's condition, and they will recommend the best treatment, depending on your pet's size, age, and other conditions.