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

So, here’s a condition that we here at IndulgeYourPet are 100% certain that most pet owners never knew existed until their vet first mentioned that this could be what is giving their dog so much trouble. This is why we wanted to take a moment and discuss what it might be like to own a dog suffering from this condition; this way, you can 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 they get the best care that they deserve and any treatment that is required so that they can become healthy again. In our experience, the best way you can be sure that your pet is getting the best care is by becoming an educated owner and having 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, the esophagus gets more significant than it should be. As you probably know, the esophagus is the muscular tube from the mouth/throat to the stomach. That means that the food and liquid the dog ingests cannot reach the stomach, and the dog cannot attain any nutrients. Subsequently, the food and drinks get balled up together and regurgitated.

And while…

Megaesophagus would seem to be a gastrointestinal disease, but it is a more complicated disorder than that. This is because, with this condition, the nerves 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 more remarkable food accumulation, resulting in a megaesophagus, thus resulting in an ever-enlarged esophagus. This will inevitables lead to an ever-increasing risk that the food is moving in an incorrect direction, resulting 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 an acquired form is found in typically older dogs.

With congenital megaesophagus…

In effect, it is primarily the finished development of the nervous system, or it is because of a physical blockage in the esophagus, 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 leading cause of congenital megaesophagus in pups.

When the megaesophagus is acquired, it is usually the result of a particular nervous system disease, like myasthenia gravis and Addison’s disease, but that does not mean it only occurs with these two diseases. There have been a lot of other conditions connected with megaesophagus, in particular hypothyroidism and laryngeal paralysis. Regrettably, though, most megaesophagus cases cannot be associated with any known cause.

When this is the case…

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

Symptoms of Megaesophagus in Dogs

A typical symptom associated with megaesophagus is regurgitation when the dog brings up undigested food and has no abdominal movement (unlike the abdominal exercise seen when a dog is vomiting partially digested food). 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;

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

Diagnosis of Megaesophagus in Dogs

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

The hardest part in diagnosing the megaesophagus is not the actual diagnosis but determining the root cause (if this is even possible). To determine the probable 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 that cause megaesophagus.

 An endoscopy….

Some cases may also require a definitive diagnosis (approximate cause may range from $800-$2500). This is where your vet will use an endoscope to examine the inside of the digestive tract and then a biopsy of the area that is being affected.

Treatment Options

If the underlying cause can be identified, then treatment will be employed. Surgery ($3000-$3750) must provide relief immediately when some torn object is involved. 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 a symptomatic approach. With this, dogs must continue receiving daily nutritional requirements and adequate liquid to avoid dehydration ($250-$800). Some common strategies that a veterinarian may recommend to control regurgitation include;

  • She was feeding from above to assist in the food moving down.
  • Food slurries instead of crunch food or wet food.
  • I am keeping my 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 a dog to sit upright, allowing esophageal mobility, perfect for canine megaesophagus.

Now, if the underlying cause of the megaesophagus can be determined, treatment of the reason may be able to control or possibly eliminate the megaesophagus. Often, though, some lasting damage to the dog’s body from a dilated esophagus and nerve damage has already been done.

Which brings us to…

I like to remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians, or medical professionals; all we are is a bunch of folks who happen to be highly passionate about animals. This is why we always encourage anyone who believes that there may be something wrong with their pet to take them to their local vet immediately. This way, they can ensure their loved one gets the care they need and possibly avoid costly medical bills due to any “complications” resulting from waiting too long.

Another point that we would like to bring up 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 an “idea” about what it might cost to treat your dog if they do develop a megaesophagus. We also like to point out these costs because they often help us drive home just how important it is for folk to consider at least possibly purchasing a pet insurance policy for their pet.

If your pet ever gets sick or injured, you won’t necessarily be on the hook for 100% of their veterinarian bills when they come in. For more information on who we feel currently offers the “Best” pet insurance policies, please check out our Best Pet Insurance Companies article.

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