Congenital Megaesophagus In Dogs

Megaesophagus In Dogs

There’s a deadly disease that stops some dogs from being able to swallow food and water. It often shows up when they’re puppies.

Knowing about it so you can take early action could be a lifesaver for your puppy.

This congenital disease is megaesophagus. It’s a very sad and serious problem for your dog.

I’m going to tell you what to watch for … and what to do if your dog gets congenital megaesophagus.

The esophagus is the pathway for food from your dog’s mouth down into the stomach. It’s a hollow, distensible muscular tube … that propels the food with a wave of contraction of the muscular layers.

What Is Megaesophagus In Dogs?

Megaesophagus (ME) is when the muscles of the esophagus lose tone and motility.

This usually results in the esophagus enlarging or stretching … and regurgitation
of swallowed food. It’s not vomiting. There is no retching or effort. The food just falls back out with gravity. It never reaches the stomach at all.

Congenital ME is due to an inborn problem with the dog. There’s usually a genetic basis for it. Some breeds have higher incidence of ME.

Breeds At Higher Risk

These dog breeds are more prone to megaesophagus:

  • Chinese Shar-Peis
  • Fox Terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Irish Setters
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Newfoundlands
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks

So please don’t ever breed from a dog with congenital ME.

But there’s one other cause of ME besides the congenital condition.

Vascular Ring Anomaly

Some dogs have a vascular ring anomaly … that can cause regurgitation leading to irreversible damage to the esophagus … and ME. In this case a band of tissue constricts the esophagus.

This is due to abnormal development of blood vessels. The initial symptoms are very
much the same as congenital ME … but this problem is curable if caught early
enough.

A conventional approach would require surgery … but there is some evidence that holistic treatments can help. I recommend considering one or more of these therapies as part of your holistic treatment plan:

  • Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM)
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Low level laser therapy

You can find a holistic vet at the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy or the American Holistic Veterinary Association. Many will do phone consults so they don’t have to be local.

When Does Megaesophagus Happen?

Congenital ME usually becomes evident at around the age of weaning. Some milder cases aren’t evident until up to 1 year old.

So, how will you recognize the symptoms?

Symptoms Of Megaesophagus In Dogs

The most common symptoms are regurgitation and
failure to thrive.
Puppies may regurgitate many times a day.

Other Symptoms Of Megaesophagus
  • Cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loud breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Smelly breath

A common secondary problem in ME is aspiration pneumonia. This happens when the dog breathes in regurgitated food.

Some pups with congenital ME may only show mild symptoms. These puppies may not regurgitate food.

Sometimes the only signs will be repeated bouts of pneumonia … (this is aspiration pneumonia) …. or a wet cough that never seems to go away.

Some pups will grow out of the problem … and their esophagus regains normal function. We don’t know why this happens … and there’s no way to tell whether any pup affected by ME will recover.

If you suspect ME in your puppy, you’ll want to see your vet to confirm the diagnosis.

How To Diagnose Megaesophagus In Dogs

Definitive diagnosis uses chest x-ray, with a barium swallow being the best diagnostic tool.

Mortality is high. Up to 80% of pups affected with congenital ME will need euthanization. If pups have severe symptoms, the prognosis is grave at best.

Some pups have a better long-term prognosis than others with severe symptoms.  Pups with the best chance of survival are:

  • Pups who gain weight
  • Pups who are able to be calm and rest after feeding
  • Pups who don’t have repeated bouts of aspiration pneumonia

How To Help With Megaesophagus In Dogs

There is no cure for congenital megaesophagus in dogs.

In most cases the muscles in the esophagus will never regain function. So the best you can hope for is to manage the disease well enough for your dog to have a reasonable quality of life.

It’s important to understand is that it’s more likely than not that you’ll have to euthanize any pup with congenital ME.

And you’ll need to nurse him until he’s up to a year old … to see if it’ll be viable to keep him alive – from a welfare point of view.

If you’re willing to accept this harsh reality and you still want to give your ME pup a chance at life … there are some things you can do that may help him live a relatively normal life.

The key is to prevent him suffering from malnutrition.

3 Ways To Prevent Malnutrition From ME

The reason that pups with ME fade away is that no nutrients are getting into the stomach … so they are slowly starving to death.

Because the muscles in the esophagus don’t work, all the food gathers in it. Then it stretches, and when the pup puts his head down, all that food tends to simply fall back out. (This is regurgitation.)

#1 Bailey Chair

One way to overcome this is to train your dog to sit in a special chair that you close him into. This chair (the Bailey Chair) supports your dog to sit on his haunches with his body in an upright position. It’s a bit like our upper body posture when we sit on a chair.

This company makes Bailey chairs for dogs. Feeding your dog in this position allows gravity to move the food down into his stomach.

#2 Front Feet Up!

Another approach is to train your dog to stand with his front feet up on a chair. He’ll need to keep standing like this for a time after feeding. Again, this allows gravity to move the food into the stomach.

#3 Holistic Approaches For Megaesophagus In Dogs

You may want to consult your holistic veterinarian about ways to improve your dog’s megaesophagus. This may include holistic approaches:

  • Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM)
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Lower level laser therapy

Commit To Your Dog’s Health

In some cases these methods will be enough to help a pup get enough nourishment into the stomach. This will help him maintain reasonable condition. But it takes a significant commitment of time and energy by the owner to nurse the pups who do survive.

There has been a big increase in dogs with this disease, and many people are working to find better ways to help them. Two studies are worth reading about if you have an ME dog.

University of Missouri ME Treatment

University of Tokyo Research

All in all, it’s a terrible disease, and again, as an owner of an ME dog, you’ll need to take great care not to breed from your dog.

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