Megaesophagus is a condition where the muscles of the esophagus fail, similar to a limp balloon that has inflated several times and lost its elasticity:When the condition is present, the esophagus doesn’t contract normally and food can’t make it down into the stomach to be digested. Food can ‘pool’ in the esophagus causing regurgitation. Worse, the undigested food can be inhaled leading to a condition called aspiration pneumonia. Megaesophagus can affect puppies and adult dogs.
Vets normally have to diagnose the condition from its range of symptoms which include:
- Regurgitation of water or food
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss that is sudden
- Frequent clearing of the throat
- Sour smelling breath
- Difficulty in swallowing or frequent swallowing
- Aspiration pneumonia
Megaesophagus is a condition that can be managed, but it does take a dedicated and vigilant dog parent to do this.
Dogs with the condition have to eat and drink in a device called a Bailey Chair. The chair allows the dog to sit in an upright position for an extended period of time. A megaesophagus dog needs to be fed in the chair and kept upright for at least 20 minutes to allow gravity to take the food and water into the stomach.
Dogs with megaesophagus have special nutritional needs, too. Since dogs with this condition can’t drink normally, they often need water added to their meals and to receive high moisture treats that are thickened with gelatin or other ingredients.
A megaesophagus dog needs a diet that is calorie rich and nutritious but without too much fibre. Raw foods are a special risk to these dogs because of their sensitive digestive systems. There’s also a risk of bacterial contamination, particularly if even small amounts of raw food are aspirated.
Prescription medications like Carafate liquid can also help these dogs because it provides a protective coating for the esophagus.
It’s also important to think holistically for these dogs, with support with Bach flower remedies, herbs and supplements. In my practice, I work with the dogs to keep their digestive systems healthy through massage and acupressure and nutrition. The spleen, liver and stomach all need support when a dog has megaesophagus.
In older dogs with arthritis, having to sit in a Bailey Chair presents additional challenges that require holistic veterinary care.
The good news is that megaesophagus doesn’t mean a death sentence. It does mean that your special dog will need special care and attention to maintain its health throughout its lifetime.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand