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Megaesophagus in Dogs

Written by Anna Hollisey


Dog eating food off the floor

Megaesophagus is a condition in which the dog’s esophagus malfunctions. While it can cause serious problems, it can be managed through a treatment program to give your dog the best possible prognosis.

In healthy dogs, the esophagus carries food to the stomach for digestion. But when a dog develops megaesophagus, the pipe swells up and stops transporting food. So when the dog eats, that food is quickly regurgitated. 

Megaesophagus can be inherited or acquired due to external factors. Some breeds are more prone to it, including: 

  • Greyhounds 
  • Labradors 
  • German Shepherds
  • Irish Setters
  • Shar-peis
  • Schnauzers 
  • Wire-haired Fox Terriers 

If it develops, it’s usually because of trauma (such as a blockage in the throat), toxins or inflammation in the esophagus, or some hormonal and neurological conditions. 

The main symptom of this condition is that your dog will begin to persistently regurgitate their food.

It’s different to vomiting. Regurgitated food comes out almost directly, while vomit comes from the stomach or intestines. Regurgitated food appears barely digested and doesn’t have a strong smell. 

Look at your dog and you may also see some swelling around their throat – where the esophagus has swollen up. Their throat will become tender and they probably won’t let you touch it. 

When these symptoms start, your dog may start to lose weight and become less interested in food. They may drool more than usual because swallowing has become difficult. It’s important to take them to the vet as soon as you realize that something is wrong, because early treatment can greatly improve your dog’s prognosis. 

Note: One of the serious complications which can arise from this condition is aspiration pneumonia. Monitor your dog carefully and head straight to the vet if they display:

  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Temperature
  • Fatigue.

At the vet, your dog will be examined to determine whether the esophagus is the cause of their symptoms. On diagnosis, your vet will discuss a range of treatment options.

  • Management of diet. Softer food will be easier for your dog to swallow and feeding them in an upright position (using a Bailey chair which is like a high chair for dogs) is another recommended technique.
  • Injections. Botox or sildenafil can be injected to improve the width of the esophagus. 
  • Surgery. Your vet may recommend inserting a stomach tube which bypasses the esophagus. This reduces their risk of contracting aspiration pneumonia and often has good results.

There are plenty of things you can do yourself at home to help your dog eat more comfortably. Your vet will recommend a specialist food which is high in calories so that your dog needs less of it. You can also experiment with blending food or rolling soft foods into small balls – the latter reduces the risk that food will be inhaled into the lungs.

The main concern will be feeding your dog upright, or as upright as possible. Using an elevated bowl might be enough to give your dog a more practical position. If not, you can try a ‘Bailey’ chair. It resembles a high-chair and permits your dog to keep their throat upright so that the food is encouraged downwards by gravity! 

What is the Prognosis for a Dog with Megaesophagus?

With careful management, some dogs are able to obtain adequate nutrition despite a diagnosis of megaesophagus; others will require surgery, which generally has a good success rate. 

It’s really important that your vet conducts a thorough investigation into the underlying cause, since megaesophagus can be linked with hormonal or neurological conditions – and if those are identified, your dog’s treatment plan is off to a better start.