This July, my Ira, who is two years old now, was diagnosed with a mild form of Mega-Esophagus. This is simply an enlargement of the esophagus which makes it difficult for the dog to swallow food. It can be in only portions of the esophagus, (or in one part as in Ira’s case thankfully) or in the whole region from the entrance right down to the stomach. The esophagus isn’t able to make it’s normal movements to get the food into the stomach and so it can sit there and usually comes right back up as regurgitation. The causes of this can be several different things or can be something undetermined.
I first noticed Ira’s issue as an older puppy. He would eat his breakfast, which was “high quality” dry dog food at the time, and then simply regurgitate it. It had not even reached the stomach yet and so there were no throwing up motions or noise or anything to indicate that at all. It just came up. But it did not happen every time. He always re-ate his breakfast and it would stay down.
Because of these symptoms and because I had heard of and researched dogs and dog health for years, I had my suspicions. So I did some more research but was satisfied that there was nothing really wrong because not all the symptoms were there.
As Ira grew, he would regurgitate only small portions of his meal even up to a half an hour after eating. This means that some of it was staying in the esophagus and not following the rest down.
About 8 months ago, I noticed that Ira had wet breathing on occasion. This alarmed me, so I kept an eye (ear) on it but again, did not hear it all the time so did not take him to the vet. At his regular checkup appointment, there was nothing unusual found on a auditory lung check by the vet so I let it go.
Not long after that, Ira started regurgitating his morning meals regularly. Sometimes it would be right after his meal, sometimes a little while later, and sometimes it would the whole meal, or just part of it. Since I was already feeding two of our other dogs raw diets, I decided it was time to put Ira on one as well.
Luckily, this stopped the regurgitating in it’s tracks.
At the same time as this happened, Ira’s bark started to sound funny. He would make two loud barks at something and then STOP as if something was hurting him and swallow several times. He would continue barking but only at a higher puppy-like pitch like he wasn’t putting his all into the bark. This was enough to get me to take Ira to the vet for a bunch of tests to get this figured out. If it was Mega-esophagus, there was nothing that could be done to fix it, but at least I would know and could try to manage it a bit better.
Ira was at the vet twice, once for a preliminary check and then a second time to be sedated for proper x-rays. The X-rays showed a small enlargement about halfway down his esophagus – not the worst place ever and certainly it could be worse in severity, but enough to cause some problems.
Ira already had aspiration pneumonia – a mild case again, but needed to be treated with strong antibiotics. This is likely something that we will have to do regularly now to keep him alive and well.
Mega-esophagus can be either congenital or acquired. Sometimes a dog can develop this condition later in life. It is not known why dogs develop Mega-esophagus in these situations and is called idiopathic. In Ira’s case, it was likely something he was born with since it showed up so early and is called congenital.
Dogs with Mega-esophagus can live almost normal lives except for eating and drinking time. With more severe cases of it, affected dogs can be fed in a special chair that keeps them upright and allows the food to get to the stomach. Once the food is there, the dog can be a normal dog and exercise the same as other healthy dogs. It is also important to make sure these dogs get enough water while not aspirating any.
It can be challenging and stressful for some to do this and some dog owners simply can’t. The management of this condition is the most difficult for people and many choose to euthanize the dog because of the amount of time and effort it can take.
Management of a dog’s mega-esophagus can include different things depending on the severity. In Ira’s case, he has to eat small meals more often. The softness of the raw meat has helped him keep food down as well as eating more often. Also, he cannot run around after eating to prevent regurgitation.
It is suggested that you don’t feed a dog with Mega-esophagus a raw diet because the bacteria count could be higher in the raw food and may make the aspiration pneumonia worse, if it occurs. I am going to continue with this diet since it has stopped his regurgitation to such a great degree that it is worth it to continue. Our vet has agreed with this choice.
If Ira’s condition were more severe or gets more so, a very large special chair called a “Bailey” Chair could be made – luckily Ernie is a carpenter and could easily make this for minimal cost.
To see what these chairs look like check out the link below.
For now we are lucky that Ira doesn’t have to get used to this but if he ever does, which might occur with age, it will likely save his life. For now he is a happy, energetic young Kuvasz.