Sarah and Tom came home from a concert to find their Irish Setter Brigitte curled up in a ball. When they walked into the next room, they immediately noticed that the dog had vomited on the carpet. When the same thing happened a few days later, they took Brigitte to the vet. The diagnosis was megaesophagus in dogs.
What is Megaesophagus in Dogs?
This condition occurs when a dog’s esophagus has decreased or no mobility, according to PetPlace.com. When this occurs, it’s difficult for food and water to travel all the way from the pet’s mouth to the stomach. The disorder causes the dog to regurgitate and dilates the esophagus.
Although some dogs are born with megaesophagus, it’s possible to develop it at any point in life. Sometimes the disorder is secondary to another medical condition such as cancer or certain congenital defects in blood vessels in front of the heart. In addition to nutritional problems, affected dogs face an elevated risk of developing pneumonia related to vomiting and aspiration of food into the lungs.
Veterinarians consider this condition hereditary in wirehaired fox terriers and miniature schnauzers. Other breeds that commonly develop it are the German shepherd, Newfoundland, Great Dane, Irish Setter, Chinese shar-pei, pug and greyhound.
Signs and Symptoms of Megaesophagus
Owners should be watchful for regurgitation of food and water. Dogs with this disorder frequently experience fever, cough and nasal discharge. They might salivate a lot and sometimes have trouble swallowing. A foul odor might be obvious on their breath.
Megaesophagus in dogs typically results in weight loss and poor overall body condition. Some dogs also experience respiratory distress and severe aspiration pneumonia.
Diagnosis and Treatment
After reviewing a dog’s history, the vet will carefully piece together a description of the animal’s clinical symptoms from the owner and during a physical exam. A number of diagnostic tests are necessary to confirm megaesophagus.
The most common are a complete blood count (CBC), a biochemical profile, a urinalysis, thoracic X-rays and an acetycholine receptor antibody titer. The vet will also probably order an antinuclear antibody titer to check for immune diseases. Also common are hormonal tests such as adrenal stimulation and thyroid function as well as a blood lead level.
In order to treat this disorder, the vet must find any underlying disease or associated condition. If there is one, any treatment will be for the underlying cause.
If it’s impossible to link megaesophagus to a specific cause, a vet will follow symptomatic and supportive steps such as prescribing drugs to boost gastrointestinal motility or antibiotic and fluid therapy for secondary pneumonia.
Once the dog has returned home, it’s important that the owner carefully heed the vet’s prescribed medications and dietary instructions. Following any special feeding instructions to the letter helps minimize the risk of aspiration of food into the dog’s lungs. Although most cases of megaesophagus in dogs can’t be prevented, those associated with swallowing foreign bodies or toxins can be avoided by carefully monitoring a pet’s environment.