Enlarged Esophagus (Megaesophagus) in Dogs
Adult-onset megaesophagus is an acquired condition that occurs with several
rare neuromuscular diseases, including myasthenia gravis. Other known causes
hypoadrenocorticism, esophagitis, autoimmune diseases, and heavy metal poisoning. In most cases the cause is unknown.
A chest X-ray may show an enlarged esophagus, opaque material in the
esophagus, or aspiration pneumonia. The diagnosis can be confirmed by
administering a barium meal and then taking an X-ray of the chest. Ultrasound
will also detect megaesophagus.
Treatment: The primary goals are maintaining nutrition and preventing
complications. Divide a puppy’s daily ration into four or more small meals. It
is important to provide food and water from raised bowls to maximize the
effects of gravity. A semiliquid or gruel mixture is easier for some dogs to
swallow. Others do better with solids. This should be determined by trial and
error. If possible, the dog should remain standing up-that is, front feet on a
stepstool or ladder-for 15 to 30 minutes after eating so gravity will help move
the food into the stomach.
Even with dedicated care, many dogs with megaesophagus will remain somewhat
stunted and have bouts of aspiration pneumonia. Episodes of aspiration
pneumonia require antibiotics, selected after culture and sensitivity
tests. Signs of pneumonia are coughing, fever, and rapid, labored breathing.
Puppies with congenital megaesophagus may eventually outgrow the condition.
Surgical correction of some vascular ring anomalies is possible. Dogs with
congenital megaesophagus should not be used for breeding.
Adult-onset megaesophagus is irreversible, but some dogs do well for many
years with careful attention to feeding and prompt treatment of respiratory