3 Core Principles of Megaesophagus in Dogs

Only a licensed veterinarian is in a position to offer diagnosis and treatment plans. Please use this article as a guide only! Never delay a trip to the veterinarian when your dog’s health is at risk.  I am not a veterinarian.

I can only imagine what megaesophagus in dogs is like.  Dog owners who deal with this disease deserve a medal. Personally, I just take feeding time for granted. My dogs chomp down their food and that’s the end of it. Imagine the responsibility of owning a dog who cannot naturally digest his or her food?  

Megaesophagus (or ME), affects the muscles of the esophagus whereby the esophagus isn’t able to do its job of moving food through the stomach properly.  Neurotransmitters in the brain are not able to make a connection that tells the esophagus to contract. As a result, the esophagus doesn’t do its job and the food that was just eaten can’t make it into the stomach.

Dog owners describe the following symptoms:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Regurgitation of food (not the same as vomiting)
  • The sound of their bark changes
  • Facial expression changes
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss

The how’s and why’s of the disease are a little complicated, but when it comes to treating your dog, it’s really all about 3 core principles:

  1. Understanding what the diagnosis means;
  2. Working as a family team in support of the dog;
  3. At-Home Care for Dogs with Megaesophagus

 

The video below expertly details what megaesophagus in dogs is all about and why you might need to feed your dog with a spoon! Take a minute or two to check it out.

Spoon feeding a dog!?!? How Megaesophagus dog eats

CORE PRINCIPLE #1 Understanding Megaesophagus in Dogs

Megaesophagus in dogs either presents itself as a congenital defect in puppies, or occurs later in life (in the dog’s adult years). It is either idiopathic (no known cause), or non-idiopathic (there is a cause).

NON-IDIOPATHIC

Occasionally, megaesophagus in dogs is a condition secondary (or caused by) myasthenia gravis, hypothyroidism, or Addison’s Disease.  Other less common causes include exposure to toxins, tetanus, botulism, cancer, and lupus.

  • Myasthenia Gravis

This autoimmune disorder stops the nerves & muscles from working together. Without a cue from the brain to the nerves, no signal is triggered to the muscles to contract. This muscle weakness affects the esophagus in that it isn’t able to contract properly, if at all.

  • Hypothyroidism

A dog with hypothyroidism won’t be able to produce enough thyroid hormone, which results in a metabolic disruption. Megaesophagus isn’t a common secondary condition to hypothyroidism. That said, a 2018 study of thyroid hormone treatment in dogs should promising improvement in megaesophagus symptoms.2Addison’s Diseas

  • Addison’s Disease

This is a hormonal disorder whereby not enough adrenal gland secretion occurs. This reduces the amount of cortisol (regulates stress) and aldosterone (regulates water & electrolytes).  This disease promotes overall muscle weakness which, in turn, affects the esophagus.

Of course, these are over-simplified explanations. For more detailed reports, please visit ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

IDIOPATHIC

An idiopathic case means that there is no known cause. This is seen in puppies born with this congenital defect.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to carrying this gene, including:

  • ·   Fox Terriers
  • ·   Great Danes
  • ·   German Shepherds
  • ·   Miniature Schnauzers
  • ·   Chinese Shar Pei
  • ·   Irish Setters

Before puppies are born, they have what’s called an “aortic arch”.  The aortic arch supports blood vessels that are necessary for fetus development.  They typically disappear once the pup is born.

However, sometimes these aortic arches don’t disappear, and when that happens, the dog is faced with a situation where his esophagus is eventually squeezed or pinched between the heart and the blood vessels, causing megaesophagus. In some cases, puppies can outgrow the condition.

CORE PRINCIPLE #2  Working Together to Help Megaesophagus in Dogs

Dogs are members of the family and probably one of your biggest responsibilities. Everyone needs to pitch in and become a “pack” in order to have a healthy, balanced, dog. However, when you add a diagnosis like megaesophagus to the mix, those responsibilities just grew by leaps and bounds.

Family, friends, and even strangers have to be aware of the dog’s condition. You have to be constantly aware of anything the dog could potentially swallow and I’m sure, if you are like me, you worry a lot.

Nobody can do this alone, so make sure family and friends are totally on-board as you work through this.  I imagine you might even get some resistance in the community.

When I was a little girl (a long time ago), treatment for megaesophagus in dogs wasn’t heard of.  Unfortunately, the dog likely would have been euthanized. People today have much higher regard for the health and longevity of their dogs.

CORE PRINCIPLE #3   At-Home Care for Dogs with Megaesophagus

  • High Chair/Bailey Chair for Megaesophagus in Dogs

These chairs are designed so that your dog can sit completely upright while eating. It might take time, in the beginning, to figure out how much food to offer and how long to keep the dog upright, but it will become clear.

Bailey Chairs are easy to find online and, if you are a DIY kind of person, you can also find instructions on how to build one yourself. Here is a link I thought you’d find helpful:  https://pin.it/hhcaenuyvlmc3n.

NOTE: You don’t have to purchase a Bailey Chair, but you will have to find a reasonable way of keeping your dog upright throughout the meal and for a while afterwards.  Some people with small dogs choose to hold the dog.

  • Pillows/Towels/Neck Hugs

Your dog might not fit comfortably in the high chair (or Bailey chair) and it’s important that he feels safe and secure. The less wriggling around he does the better. Some people use a small pillow or a towel to fill in the empty spaces when the dog is seated.  

Dogs with this condition must keep their head and esophagus in proper alignment all of the time…not just during meals.  To better explain what a neck hug is, I’ve added the video below.  Make sure you have a look. It’s an awesome video!

Neck Hug for Megaesophagus Dog

  • Support Forums

When you converse with others in the same situation, you learn from each other.  I recently joined a facebook support forum for people living with dogs who have ME. The information shared is an invaluable resource! Why spend hours combing the internet when you can easily pick up usable tips within the online community?

You can search any social media platform using keywords like “megaesophagus” or even just “dogs” for a list of all the groups and member sites available.

  • Emergency/Medical Tags

People use medical alert bracelets (or alternatives) when they have an illness that could leave them vulnerable or in danger.  If you are unconscious, you can’t speak for yourself. That’s where the medical alert comes in handy. It’s no different for your dog.Megaesophagus in dogs becomes dangerous with someone who doesn’t understand the significance.

 Of course, there’s no guarantee that someone would read the tag, but something is better than nothing.  Have a tag made, embroidered, or engraved to alert people of your dog’s condition.  Not everyone knows what the disease is, so it’s better to use a short, urgent alert that asks people not to feed the dog, but to call…(insert phone number).  

The best tags are the ones most durable and visible to the public. They should stand out against any other tags on the dog so that they’re readily noticeable.

  • Hydration

Keeping a dog with megaesophagus hydrated is not easy. Here are a few suggestions on making sure your dog is getting enough water:

  • make gelatin cubes
  • allow the dog to lick ice cubes while sitting upright
  • install a small water bottle in a place that the dog can drink with his head in proper alignment
  • purchase a thickening agent from the drugstore to add to the water

One of the most important aspects of megaesophagus in dogs is appropriate feeding. It can be tricky, but many people have success with:

  • slurries
  • semi-liquid foods
  • broths
  • small meatballs
  • watered-down dog food of any kind.

The Honest Kitchen  sells a nice variety of nutritional broths and supplements that are perfect for dogs with megaesophagus. I don’t get any money for promoting this company. I was told about it and when I looked into it, it seemed like a great place for all types of dog food.

At the end of the day, it’s going to take some trial-and-error to pin down the exact amount of food, frequency, and consistency, but a strong and healthy dog is worth every second.

I’ve given you the latest information and resources to point you in the right direction, and I hope you find it useful.  Please take a second to share this post. Before you leave, make sure to check out My Story!