Tigger Investigates... Canine Megaesophagus
I contacted Debbie McDermott, who, along with Roxie, were Co-Founders of Roxie’s MEGA Mission.
Roxie suffered from MegaE and they both worked to raise awareness and educate everyone about the condition.
Roxie Crossed the Rainbow Bridge on the 24th of July 2011 from pancreatic cancer and Debbie continues to raise awareness today.
What is it?
“Megaesophagus” occurs when the muscles of the esophagus fail, and it becomes a non-functioning organ. At this point, the esophagus can no longer propel food or water to the stomach. Thus, it will appear that the dog is “throwing up” and it can be mistaken for Gastro-intestinal issues.
- Regurgitation of food and water
- Loss of appetite, refusal to eat
-Sudden weight loss
-Swallowing difficulty, frequent swallowing action
- Continual throat clearing or hacking sound
The onset of Megaesophagus may be sudden or gradual, depending on the cause and severity.
Please note: These symptoms can result in a life-threatening situation. Seek veterinary care immediately.
An esophagus that has no function may appear completely “blown out of proportion” and is visible on a chest x-ray. However, cases that range from mild to less than severe, may not appear on an x-ray. At that point, a barium swallow study may be necessary to make a diagnosis.
Megaesophagus can occur at any age. If it afflicts a puppy, it is usually genetic. Some may outgrow the condition if properly managed until such time.
PRAA (Persistent Right Aortic Arch) is another cause of Megaesophagus. In this instance, an abnormality of the blood vessels of the heart impair the function of the esophagus. If diagnosed in the very early stages of puppyhood, it may be surgically repairable.
In adult dogs, Megaesophagus can be idiopathic. Or, it may be secondary to another disease such as Myasthenia Gravis, Thyroid issues, Addison’s disease or other neurological disorders.
If secondary, treating the primary cause may or may not resolve Megaesophagus. Once the esophagus loses all elasticity, it is often like a clothing garment’s elastic band. The difference is, the esophagus can not be replaced with a “new one.”
The vertical feeding method is the best option for the management of MegaE. Without it, food and fluid pools in the esophagus which generally results in aspiration pneumonia and / or starvation.
With a medium to large size dog, the “Bailey Chair” is the best option for maintaining the vertical position for feeding and for post meal “sit time.” This allows food to travel to the stomach via gravity and varies from 15-30 minutes. Smaller dogs can be held, or other items have been used to keep a small dog vertical.(No bending over to eat. ) Thus, the original design of the “Bailey Chair” with the owner holding the bowl up to the dog’s mouth is the best option. Other key points include food type and consistency (dry kibble does not work), possible medication to reduce acid reflux and the management of fluid intake.
While Canine Megaesophagus is not a “common” condition, it is not “rare” as was once thought. It was often misdiagnosed or missed entirely. In addition, prior to the vertical feeding concept developed by “Bailey” and his mom with the “Bailey Chair”.
Megaesophagus was considered unmanageable. With continued awareness & education of the proper management techniques, many dogs can still enjoy quality of life!
Roxie’s MEGA Mission sponsors the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) Megaesophagus Awareness poster.
For more information contact Debbie at :