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Megaesophagus in Dogs… What is it? And how can I help treat my dog?

So, here’s a condition which we here at IndulgeYourPet are about 100% certain that most pet owners never knew existed until their vet first mentioned that this cold be what is giving their dog so much trouble.

Which is why…

We wanted to take a moment and discuss what it might be like to own a dog who is suffer from this condition, this way you might be able to better prepare yourself for what’s to come.

After all…

For most of us, our pets are very much a part of our families which means that if they do get sick or injured, we’ll stop at nothing to make sure that the get the best care that they deserve and any treatment that is required so that they can become healthy again.

And in our experiences…

The best way that you can be sure that your pet is getting the best care out there is by becoming an educated owner and have at least a basic understanding of what your dog is going through.  So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Megaesophagus in Dogs

Megaesophagus in dogs is a neuromuscular disease. This means that it is related to nerves and muscles at the same time. In this case, it’s the esophagus that gets bigger than it should be.

Now, the esophagus…

As you probably know, is the muscular tube from the mouth/throat to the stomach. That means that the food and liquid that the dog ingests is not able to reach the stomach and the dog is not able to attain any nutrients from the food. Subsequently the food and liquids get balled up together and regurgitated.

And while…

Megaesophagus would seem to be a gastrointestinal disease it is actually a more complicated disorder then that. This is because the with this condition, it is the nerves that do not function properly to get the esophagus to contract and push the food and liquids down into the stomach.

This accumulation…

Causes the esophagus to stretch which in turn allows for greater food accumulation resulting in megaesophagus thus resulting in an ever-enlarged esophagus. Which will inevitably lead to an ever-increasing risk that the food will move in an incorrect direction which will result in the food going into the lungs and the trachea. This can lead to what is called aspiration pneumonia.

Potential Causes of Megaesophagus in dogs

Megaesophagus in dogs has two different causes. Dogs with megaesophagus are either born with this disorder, which generally shows up in the first few weeks or months of a dog’s life, which is congenital or there is an acquired form that is found in dogs that are typically older.

With congenital megaesophagus…

Affected dogs it is most of unfinished development of the nervous system or it is because of a physical blockage in the esophagus which is usually caused when an embryonic section of the aorta wraps around the esophagus when the puppy is born. This persistent right aortic arch is the main cause of congenital megaesophagus in pups.

Now when the megaesophagus…

Is an acquired form it is usually the result of a particular nervous system disease, like myasthenia gravis and Addison’s disease, but that does not mean that it is only occurs with these two diseases.

In fact…

There have been a lot of other conditions connected with megaesophagus, in particular hypothyroidism and laryngeal paralysis.  Regrettably though, most of the cases of megaesophagus cannot be associated with any known cause.

When this is the case…

The dogs are said to have what is called the “idiopathic” form of megaesophagus. It has been found that dogs presenting with idiopathic megaesophagus had actually had myasthenia gravis.

Symptoms of Megaesophagus in Dogs

A typical symptom associated with megaesophagus is regurgitation which is when the dog brings up undigested food and there is no abdominal movement (unlike the abdominal movement that can be seen when a dog is vomiting food that is partially digested).

Other symptoms that may be found in dogs with megaesophagus may include the following:

  • Coughing
  • Nasal Discharge
  • Increased Repertory Noises
  • Weight Loss (cachexia)
  • Extreme Hunger or Lack of Appetite (anorexia)
  • Excessive Drooling (ptyalism)
  • Bad Breath (Halitosis)
  • Poor Growth

Commonly Affected Breeds

When the megaesophagus is congenital the listed breeds show a predisposition;

  • German Shepard
  • Great Dane
  • Irish Setter
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Newfoundland
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Wire Haired Fox Terrier

When the megaesophagus is acquired the listed breeds have shown a predisposition;

  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Irish Shepherd

Diagnosis of Megaesophagus in Dogs

If aspiration pneumonia occurs (which is quite common) a dog will cough a lot, they will develop lethargy and a fever will ensue. In cases like these, your veterinarian will typically verify that the dog has megaesophagus together with the clinical signs and x-rays which typically average between $200 to $275. When x-raying the chest of the dog a distension of the esophagus will be observed as well as possible aspiration pneumonia.

The hardest part…

In diagnosing megaesophagus is not the actual diagnosis of the megaesophagus itself but the determination of the root cause (if this is even possible). Now in order to determine the possible cause, your veterinarian will likely perform a series of blood tests (approximate cause may range from $200-$350) to look for particular diseases of the nervous system which cause megaesophagus.

 An endoscopy….

May also be required to make a definitive diagnosis in some cases (approximate cause may range from $800-$2500).  This is where your vet will use a tool called an endoscope to examine the inside of the digestive tract and then a biopsy of the area which is being affected.

Treatment of Megaesophagus in Dogs

If the underlying cause can be identified then treatment will be employed.  In cases where some type of foreign object is involved surgery ($3000-$3750) will need to be performed immediately in order to provide relief. If aspiration pneumonia occurs it is life threatening and will require immediate hospitalization ($1000-$6000) which can include oxygen therapy ($200-$300 per event), antibiotics ($20-$150), and other medications.

In a lot of cases…

Treatment of megaesophagus in dogs tends to be relegated to symptomatic approach.  With this it is important for dogs to continue to receive the nutritional requirements that are needed daily along with adequate liquid in order to avoid dehydration ($250-$800). Some common strategies that a veterinarian may recommend to control regurgitation include;

  • Feeding from above in order to assist in the food moving down
  • Food slurries in lieu of crunch food or wet food
  • Keeping the body elevated after eating
  • Esophageal feeding tube ($500-$1500) or surgical stomach tube ($900-$2000)

There is a chair that was created for dogs that suffer from canine megaesophagus that is called the Bailey Chair. The Bailey Chair allows for a dog to sit with it in an upright position allowing for esophageal mobility, perfect for canine megaesophagus.

Now if…

The underlying cause of megaesophagus is able to be determined then treatment of the cause may be able to control or possibly eliminate the megaesophagus. Often times though some lasting damage to the dog’s body from a dilated esophagus and nerve damage has already been done.

Which brings us to…

Where we like to remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians or medical professionals.  All we are is bunch of folks who just happen to be extremely passionate about animals.

This is why…

We always encourage anyone who believes that there may be something wrong with their pet to immediately take him or her to their local vet.  This way they can ensure that their loved one is getting the care that they need and also possibly avoiding any costly medical bills as a result of any “complications” which could result from waiting too long.

Which brings us to…

Another point that we like to bring up which is cost.  As you may have noticed, we try to give folks a few approximations on what things might cost so that you can get a “idea” about what it might cost to treat your dog if he or she does develop a megaesophagus.  We also like to point out these costs because they often help us drive home just how important it is for folks to at least consider possibly purchasing a pet insurance policy for their pet.

This way…

If you pet does ever get sick or injured, you won’t necessarily be on the hook for 100% of his or here veterinarian bills when they come in.  For more information about information on who we feel currently offers the “Best” pet insurance policies in the industry, feel free to check out our Best Pet Insurance Companies article.

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