What is Megaesophagus in Dogs?

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
fast facts

A long word with serious consequences – megaesophagus in dogs can cause problems when it comes to the intake of food and water. Here’s what you need to know about the disease.

Though the word “megaesophagus” sounds like some kind of dinosaur or exotic animal, it is actually the name of an anatomical abnormality affecting the esophagus. This disease is characterized by the general enlargement of the esophagus which can affect your dog’s ability to swallow food and liquid. Your dog needs food to live, so this condition can be very serious. Keep reading to learn more about what megaesophagus is, the symptoms it causes, and the options for treatment.

Related: What is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome?

What Is It and What Causes It?

Though it might seem like an enlarged esophagus would improve a dog’s ability to swallow food and liquid, the opposite is actually true. This condition frequently leads to a decrease in motility or the complete absence of it. One of the hallmark symptoms of megaesophagus is regurgitation and it can also lead to aspiration pneumonia if food or liquid enters the lungs. Other symptoms of megaesophagus may include the following:

  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Nasal discharge
  • Weight loss
  • Respiratory noise
  • Extreme hunger
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Stunted growth

Related: The Loving Bowl Puts A New Slant On The Way Dogs Eat

Megaesophagus is a condition that can be either inherited (congenital) or acquired. In cases where it is inherited, it is typically idiopathic – it has no known cause. The acquired form of megaesophagus can also be idiopathic, but may also be secondary to neuromuscular disease, an esophageal tumor, foreign body in the esophagus, esophageal inflammation, toxicity, or a parasite infection.

How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?

The first step in diagnosing megaesophagus is an examination of your dog’s history and symptoms. You’ll need to be able to tell the vet whether your dog is regurgitating food or vomiting and whether there are any other symptoms. You’ll be able to tell the difference because vomited food will be partially digested whereas regurgitated food may still have its original shape. The length of time between ingestion and regurgitation or vomiting will also be a clue.

In addition to an evaluation of your dog’s symptoms, your vet might also want a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry profile, and urinalysis. A radiographic study may also be helpful and, in some cases, your dog may even need an esophagoscopy. Treatment is usually aimed at treating the underlying cause, though changes to the dog’s diet will be beneficial as well. Feeding a dog with megaesophagus can be tricky – you might need to switch to a diet of liquid food, small pieces, or blended slurries. In severe cases, surgical repair might be the best option or, if the problem is a foreign body, removal of the object should resolve the issue. If your dog develops aspiration pneumonia, an entirely different course of treatment may be warranted and he may even require hospitalization.

Megaesophagus may not always present with obvious symptoms but it can seriously impact your dog’s ability to eat and drink. At the first sign of trouble, contact your veterinarian to discuss your concerns. If your dog does have the condition, you can then move on to talking about treatment options.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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