Megaesophagus is a disorder that affects the esophagus, making it difficult to digest food. This disorder can affect puppies as early as the weaning stage, and while some dogs will outgrow the disorder, others will need careful food management for the rest of their lives. In this article, we'll learn what Megaesophagus is, which breeds are predisposed to inherit the disease, and what forms of treatment are available.
What is megaesophagus
In order to understand megaesophagus, we need to understand how the esophagus works. Content, such as food, in this case, moves through the esophagus and other tubular organs through muscular contractions, which are coordinated in waves. This process is called Peristalsis. When the peristaltic function doesn't work, this disorder is called megaesophagus. Dogs can either be born with megaesophagus or develop it later in their lives. It is often seen in conjuction with other disorders, mainly myasthenia gravis, which disrupts the normal transmission of impulses from nerves to muscles, and peripheral neuropathies, which are the parts of the nervous system that are outside of the brain and spinal cord.
Which dogs are affected?
There are some breeds that have a predisposition to inherit megaesophagus, including Chinese shar peis, German shepherds, Great Danes, greyhounds, Irish setters, miniature schnauzers and wire-haired fox terriers. In order to help stop the spread of this often inherited disease, dogs that have it should not be bred and their siblings should be considered possible carriers of the disease as not bred as well.
What are the symptoms?
While megaesophagus can develop later in a dog's life, it is mostly seen in puppies around the weaning stage. These puppies may regurgitate their food and have difficulty thriving. They could develop respiratory problems such as aspiration pneumonia because of the inhalation of food particles. They could experience labored breathing, nasal discharge, fever or lethargy.
Some puppies with this disorder outgrow the condition after the first year, but others will suffer from the problem for the rest of their lives.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The most obvious sign of megaesophagus is the regurgitation of food shortly after it has been eaten. Veterinarians can perform x-rays as well as other laboratory tests such as a urinalysis or blood tests, because megaesophagus is often associated with other disorders.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to treat megaesophagus, but if it is being caused because of another disorder, treating the other disorder may help the esophagus to function on its own again. Otherwise, the disorder can be managed through food management. This usually means feeding the dog several small, high-caloric meals a day, and placing the food at an elevated location is a way that gravity can help the passage of the food. The handler and the veterinarian can work together to try different foods and amounts to find the best diet for the dog. Handlers should also be on the lookout for other problems associated with this disease, notably aspiration pneumonia.