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Megaesophagus in Puppies – Your 2021 Guide

Edited: March 22, 2021

Megaesophagus in puppies (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.

Signs of Megaesophagus in Dogs

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

What Causes 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).

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

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.

Megaesophagus in dogs causes the trachea to collapse

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 in Dogs

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.

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

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

Treatment Options for Canine Megaesophagus

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 grow by leaps and bounds.

At-Home Care for Dogs with Megaesophagus

Bailey Chair for Dogs With Megaesophagus

Bailey chairs are designed so that your dog can sit completely upright while eating. This allows the food time to make its way down the esophagus and into the stomach. Normally, dogs eat with their necks down. A dog with this condition isn’t able to do that due to the risk of choking or not getting enough food.

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 megaesophagus need to be fed sitting upright

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.

Summary

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.

sources:

VCA HOSPITALS

LEADERVET.COM

HILLSPET.COM

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