Megaesophagus in Dogs
No, megaesophagus is not a dinosaur: it is an unfortunate disorder that affects a dog’s ability to swallow food and water. The esophagus is the tube that leads from your dog’s mouth to her stomach: it expands and contracts, allowing food and water to pass into her digestive system. Megaesophagus is a condition that causes a decrease in the mobility of the esophagus, making it difficult for food to pass into the stomach.
There are several potential causes of megaesophagus. Dogs can be born with this disorder, it can develop shortly after a dog is weaned from his mother, or it can materialize later in life. Dogs that have a neuromuscular disorder at birth are also at risk, as megaesophagus can develop as a secondary condition to certain neuromuscular disorders, as well as to certain diseases, such as myasthenia gravis, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, and cancer. Finally, dogs can develop megaesophagus due to a foreign object or a mass located in or near the esophagus.
Some breeds that are at higher risk for inheriting this disorder include:
- Great Danes
- Irish setters
- German shepherds
If your dog suffers from megaesophagus, you may encounter the following symptoms:
- Bad breath
- Regurgitation of food and water
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Poor body condition
If your veterinarian suspects your furry friend suffers from megaesophagus they will work with you to understand exactly what signs your dog is exhibiting at home. They will perform a very thorough physical exam and recommend specific tests to confirm the diagnosis.
These may include:
- An endoscopy to evaluate the esophagus and the gastrointestinal tract
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic disease or dysfunction, as well as sugar levels
- Urine tests
- A complete blood count to screen your dog for infection, inflammation, or anemia and other blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Pancreas-specific tests
- X-rays of the chest and abdomen
- An ultrasound to image the pancreas and other abdominal organs
- A thyroid test to evaluate if your dog has too little thyroid hormone
- A cortisol test to evaluate if your dog has Addison’s disease
- Antibody titers to rule out immune-mediated diseases and other abnormalities
Treatment for your pet will vary depending on the severity of the condition and if there is an underlying cause.