Medical Monday: What is Megaesophagus and Why is it Dangerous?

MMMegaesophagus

Welcome to another edition of Medical Monday where we discuss veterinary medical issues experienced by pets and their families.

Hi Everyone! I know it has been a few weeks since my last Medical Monday, but I promised they would be returning, so here we are to talk about a disease called Megaesophagus.

What is Megaesophagus?

Megaesophagus is the generalized enlargement of the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the stomach to the throat (PetMD).

Photo Courtesy of www.veterinarypartner.com

Photo Courtesy of www.veterinarypartner.com

Why is this an issue for my dog?

The ability to move food or liquid down the esophageal tube is called motility, megaesophagus causes a decrease or complete absence of motility (PetMD). Meaning, that the esophagus itself is too big to efficiently and effectively move food and liquid from the throat to the stomach.

If food is not appropriately consumed in the esophagus, your pet may begin regurgitating or vomiting, which can lead to food going down the trachea, to the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.  Additionally your pet may become malnourished and dehydrated if they are unable to consume the appropriate amounts of food and water.

Are certain breeds of dog more prone to this disease?

Yes.

Firstly, this condition occurs more often in dogs than it does in cats.

Breeds that are more prone to this condition include (PetMD):

Miniature Schnauzers

Wire Haired Fox Terriers

German Shepherds

Dachshunds

Great Danes

Irish Setters

Labrador Retrievers

Pugs

Chinese Shar-Pei

What causes megaesophagus?

If this is a congenital disease for your dog (i.e. they were born with it) than the cause is often considered idiopathic (which is a fancy term for unknown).

However, if they acquire megaesophagus overtime it could be due to a number of other reasons, including (PetMD):

Neuromuscular Disease

Esophageal Tumor

Foreign Body in the Esophagus

Inflammation of Esophagus

Toxicity

Parasitic Infections

In these situations, your dog’s medical history and behavior will help your veterinarian determine a probable cause for this condition.

What should I look out for as a pet parent?

Vomiting or Regurgitation: Specifically, what type of material are they vomiting or regurgitating and is there any undigested food? Also, it is important to know how long vomiting or regurgitation occurs after they eat.

The condition may cause aspiration pneumonia in some dogs (PetMD).

Diagnosis: Typically, blood work and urinalysis will look normal for a pet suffering from megaesophagus, but the x-rays will show an enlarged esophagus filled with fluid, air ,or food (PetMD).

What is the available treatment for my pet?

If the cause of the condition is a foreign body, than surgery may be necessary. However, if your pet does not have a foreign body, than there may be several options for living with megaesophogus.

Water Consumption

Veterinary Partner recommends controlling your pet’s water intake, i.e. never giving them free access to water bowls, toilets, puddles, sinks, or any other body of water.

Ideally, after your dog drinks water, you will hold them vertical for at least 5 minutes. You would want to hold them by their front paws with their back even with your legs. This will obviously take some training and getting used to, but it will prevent your pet from regurgitating the water, and prevent them from becoming dehydrated (Veterinary Partner)

Think of it like controlling your own acid-reflux. Whenever humans suffer from acid-reflux, it is recommended that they don’t lay down, but sit up right.

In a multi-pet household, this may mean offering water to your other pets several times a day.

Exercise

You will want to discuss your plan for exercising your pet with your veterinarian. Your pet may benefit from exercise at regular times, that may need to be scheduled around their eating times.

Veterinary Partner does reassure owners that there are many dogs with megaesophagus that are able to exercise regularly just like healthy dogs.

Food

Feeding your pet in a vertical position is key for getting the food to fall from the throat into the stomach, due to the lack of motility associated with the esophagus.

I know what you must be thinking…if my dog suffers from megaesophagus am I going to have to hold my dog up after every meal and every drink of water?!?!

Well, one dog owner has already thought through and awesome solution, its called The Bailey Chair.

Veterinary Partner recommends emailing the inventor for access to the DVD on how to build your own Bailey Chair matthew1@earthlink.net.

This video below shows a super cute lab using his Bailey Chair to eat…

You can feed your dog either in a liquified or meatball format. Both of these formats decrease the chances of aspiration pneumonia, and don’t irritate the lining of the esophagus by leaving small particles behind. Ideally their food should be high density so that they get more calories by eating less.

Other options for treating megaesophagus include surgically placing a feeding tube so that your pet can receive their nutrition directly into their digestive system.

This condition can be quite overwhelming for some pet parents, so if you know someone whose pet suffers from megaesophagus, please encourage them to seek support through support groups like the Yahoo Megaesophagus support group.

Do you know anyone whose pet suffers from megaesophagus? What do they do to improve their pet’s quality of life?

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2 Comment

  1. Reply
    M. K. Clinton
    November 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Wow! This is another condition that I did not know about and we have had four German Shepherds! Yikes!! Thanks for the insight. ☺
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB Channel 7 NETWoof News ~ 11/10/14My Profile

    1. Reply
      Rachel
      November 20, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Of course! I am glad you didn’t have to experience this with any of your German Shepherds!

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