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Megaesophagus in Dogs

Updated on December 20, 2012

Overview about Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus in dogs is a condition that is characterized by inability of the dog's esophagus to function normally. The main problem associated with Megaesophagus in dogs is failure of peristalsis to occur normally. Peristalsis is the movements of the esophagus that pushes the food down the alimentary canal. Without peristalsis it is impossible for food to move to the stomach. Megaesophagus is not only seen in dogs but also occurs in cats and humans as well. Its occurrence is a serious concern that necessitates help from a veterinarian especially when the dog is severely affected by Megaesophagus. By understanding the normal functioning of the esophagus; you can notice any abnormal behavior in your dog that could indicate underlying Megaesophagus problem.

The normal function of the esophagus is to slowly push swallowed food down the gut. This occurs in rhythmic movements as the muscles of the esophagus expand and contract to push food down.Dogs with Megaesophagus suffer from an enlarged esophagus as the muscles lose their tone. The Megaesophagus result in inability of the esophagus to carry out the normal peristalsis function, thus food swallowed by the dog is regurgitated. This article should guide you on some important things that you should know as a dog owner about Megaesophagus; I hope you will learn something from this article.

What is Megaesophagus in Dogs?

Just like the name suggest Megaesophagus is a word that is descriptive of an enlarged esophagus in dogs. This is a combination of the word ‘Mega’ for big and ‘esophagus’. This condition in dogs could also be called Canine Megaesophagus. There is absolutely no difference the two names are used interchangeably.

In Megaesophagus the food may either be regurgitated or stays stuck in the esophagus or worse enters the trachea. In the cases of food that remains in the esophagus it may be discovered as rotting food in the gut.

Megaesophagus in Humans

In humans this condition has a pathogenesis that begins from Achalasia a condition caused by absence of Ganglion Cells in the Myentric Plexus. This is chiefly a nervous anomaly. Other associated conditions include esophageal carcinoma that may develop secondary to occurrence of Megaesophagus. In Chagas Megaesophagus is one characteristic manifestation.

Causes of Megaesophagus in Dogs

Subclinical Nervous Disease Cause:

By understanding the causes of Megaesophagus in dogs we can be able to help dogs that are affected by this condition. One of the causes of Megaesophagus in old dogs is a disease called Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular disorder characterized by nervous system failure. Megaesophagus is seen as the first sign of an ailing dog that is suffering from this neuromuscular disease.

The disease is caused by failing nerve receptor at neuromuscular junctions, where nervous transmission occurs. This results in failure of the muscles to coordinate properly. The smooth muscles of the gut are some of the first muscles to be affected and this is manifested as Megaesophagus problem in dogs.

Congenital Etiology:

Megaesophagus in dogs can occur as a congenital disorder. When it occurs as a congenital disorder it is noticed in puppies as a bulging of the neck side due to the inability to swallow. By carefully examining the puppy you can notice the bulging neck side when the puppy is laid on the back. This is a condition that occurs when the puppy is developing and can be due to abnormal development of the mesenteric nerves plexus.

Second congenital defect that causes Megaesophagus is retention of the fetal arteries in the chest of the puppy. These arteries may constrict the esophagus and therefore cause problem in swallowing a condition that is popular called Vascular Ring Anomaly. One such common condition is the persistent right aortic arch that constricts the esophagus and leads to Megaesophagus.

List of Other Diseases that may be associated with Etiology of Megaesophagus in Dogs

  • · Autoimmune Disorders
  • · Heavy Metal Poisoning
  • · Hypothyroidism
  • · Hypoadrenocorticism
  • · Inflammation of Esophagus (Esophagitis)
  • · Parasitism (Spirocerca Lupi )
  • · Idiopathic Causes

Frequency of Occurrence of Megaesophagus in Dog Breeds

It’s important to note the occurrence of Megaesophagus in certain breeds of dogs so that you can diagnose any suspected cases promptly. Megaesophagus in dogs is not limited to certain dog breeds only, but there is a high occurrence of this condition in the following dog breeds.

Large Breeds of Dogs

  • ·Newfoundland,
  • ·German Shepherd
  • ·Great Dane

Medium and Small Dogs

  • ·Labrador Retriever
  • ·Irish Setter
  • ·Miniature Schnauzer
  • ·Greyhounds
  • ·Golden Retrievers
  • ·Wire Fox Terriers
  • ·Purebred Shih tzu
  • ·Welsh Terrie
  • ·Shar Pei
  • ·French Bulldog
  • ·Basset Fauve de Bretagne
  • ·American Shorthair


Signs of Megaesophagus in Dogs

The following are clinical symptoms seen in Megaesophagus condition in Dogs

  • Regurgitation is the main clinical sign reported in many dogs, owners are advised to know the difference between regurgitation and vomiting in dogs.
  • Malnourishment the dog losses the body condition due to inability of food to get into the stomach for digestion and absorption into the blood stream.
  • Aspiration pneumonia as a secondary symptom of Megaesophagus in dogs.
  • When Chest X ray is done, there is presence of enlarged esophagus with a dark mass and respiratory area there is aspiration pneumonia
  • The dog refuses to eat and develops inappetence
  • Weight loss in dog
  • Swallowing food with difficulty and may retch when trying to swallow food.
  • Halitosis or foul smell coming from the dog’s mouth due to decaying struck food.
  • Palpable enlarged esophagus


· Clinical Signs

Clinical Signs may be useful for tentative diagnosis awaiting a confirmatory diagnosis done by Barium meal X-ray.

· X-Ray

The dog should be given a barium meal and X-ray done. This will reveal the stuck food bolus in the esophagus and may also be useful for diagnosis aspiration pneumonia

· Ultrasound

Ultrasound can be used for diagnosis of Megaesophagus in dogs

Dog Feeding on Bailey's Chair

Treatment and Management

Medical therapy involves drugs that will tome the muscles and make esophagus muscles well toned for peristalsis to occur. One such drug is Metoclopramide. Although this may be useful a management of feeding is the best approach to treating and managing dogs with Megaesophagus.

Megaesophagus in Dogs is a condition that can be treated with a medical approach but the most effective way of treatment is feeding management. The type of food should also be changed in the consistency to be liquid diet or semi liquid diets that make swallowing easy. The feeding method is called elevated feeding or vertical feeding where the dog is placed in a chair for some time to help swallowing. This chair is called Bailey Chair, specially designed to help dogs with Megaesophagus.

Have you seen a dog with Megaesophagus ?

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What Dog Owner should know about Care for Dogs with Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus in dogs may be unnoticed by may be of serious concern when aspiration pneumonia occurs. Aspiration pneumonia results from the regurgitated food moving down the wind pipe. You should therefore be very keen when feeding or taking care of a dog that is suffering from Megaesophagus.

The food that is stuck in the esophagus could end up being inhaled in the trachea. You can prevent this problem by sitting the dog after eating for a few minutes to avoid aspiration of regurgitated food. Basically aspiration pneumonia is a serious concern and may aggravate the condition of dog from bad to worse! This is something as a dog owner you should be aware of.

You should also consider giving the dog food in intervals to enable swallowing and also having significant amount of water intake can be of good help.

The bottom line: Dog should be supervised when feeding to avoid aspiration pneumonia resulting from regurgitation

Prognosis of Megaesophagus in Dogs

I believe that the prognosis of Megaesophagus in dogs is guarded and can turn out to be favorable when the dog owner is able to adapt important techniques that are essential for management of this condition. One such technique is Vertical Feeding.

Important Resources

Yahoo Group about Megaesophagus in Dogs


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