In this month’s article, we will be discussing a common condition known as ‘Megaesophagus’, in dogs. Megaesophagus means when the esophagus, an organ in the dog’s body which allows for passage of food from the mouth to the stomach, becomes enlarged and begins to cause health problems.

 

There are many reasons as to why your dog can develop a large esophagus, some include it being a congenital condition, Vascular Ring Anomalies, trauma, Hypothyroidism, Hypoadrenocorticism, toxin exposure, foreign body blockage, tumor, scar tissue, or it can be secondary to another health concern such as Myasthenia gravis or esophagitis.

One of the most common signs that you may notice in your dog, in the case of a megaesophagus, is regurgitation. It is important to note that regurgitation is very different from the act of vomiting. While vomiting is an active event, regurgitation is considered to be passive. This means that during vomiting, comparatively to regurgitation, the dog will experience active abdominal contractions when expelling its undigested food material. Regurgitation can occur hours after eating. For the food sits within the esophagus until the dog changes his position and causes the food to abruptly come out. Those who regurgitate, typically do so by expelling food with water. Additional signs seen in Megaesophagus are bad breath, abnormal lung sounds, fever, muscle weakness, wasting away from starvation,

It is more common to see Megaesophagus occur in dogs, rather than cats. There are certain breeds that are predisposed to this condition, such as German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, Great Danes, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, Greyhounds and Shar-Peis. In cats, the Siamese breed is very prone. It is known to be hereditary in Mini Schnauzers and Wire-Haired Fox Terriers. There are two types of Megaesophagus that can occur within the dog species. One is called ‘Congenital Megaesophagus’, while the other is known as ‘Acquired Megaesophagus’. The congenital type occurs in the breeds mentioned above naturally. The acquired type can occur later in the dog’s life, generally when they are young adults or middle-aged.

If you feel that your dog is experiencing any of the signs listed above, it is crucial to consult your local veterinarian and receive an official diagnosis. Your veterinarian will most likely perform a thoracic radiograph, which in most cases, shows the enlarged esophagus in plain view. If the Megaesophagus is occurring due to another underlying issue, then additional diagnostic tests may be needed to find the true cause for its presence.

The best treatment for Megaesophagus is by providing your canine companion with a high calorie diet. A diet that is high in calories with allow for a lower food volume to be present. Feedings should be done in an upright position and frequently in small amounts. Placing your dog in an upright position will allow for the aid of gravity to support the food to pass into the stomach through the flaccid esophagus. It is also ideal to keep your dog in this upright position for 10 – 15 minutes, after feeding, to ensure that the food has safely reached its destination in the stomach. To assist the process of keeping your dog in this position for a period of time, there are special devices, such as the Bailey Chair, that have been invented for your convenience!

 Dr. Sifti Bhullar