Understanding Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus is a common condition that affects dogs. It refers to an enlarged esophagus, a tube that connects the throat to the stomach and serve to transport food down the throat for appropriate digestion.

When this tube is partly blocked over a period of time, it slowly enlarges and becomes a storage organ. This process normally results in regurgitation, loss of weight and regular occurrences of aspiration pneumonia.


Megaesophagus in dogs normally results from two major causes. The first cause results from the failure of the esophagus muscles to contract. Since food passage from the throat to the stomach is aided by nerve muscles, dogs often develop this condition in case they suffer from an underlying nerve disorder. This has the effect of preventing food from being propelled into the stomach. In essence, this impaired movement results from a hereditary condition in puppies as well as an acquired ailment in adults. 

Apart from that, Megaesophagus is also caused by physical blockage of the esophagus. This may be caused by cancer or blockage caused by a foreign object. Besides denying food the ability to serve its nutritional purposes, the condition poses even greater danger to your dog. It can cause food to move in the wrong direction and enter the trachea and the lungs.


This condition in dogs is normally divided into two main groups. The first group is the acquired Megaesophagus, which commonly affects older dogs. The other is congenital Megaesophagus, which normally manifests in the first weeks to months of the dog’s life.

Congenital is the hereditary form of the ailment that occurs in puppies. It results from a development disorder of the nervous system located in the lower esophagus. Such malfunction prevents food movement at the point where the esophagus is paralyzed. This causes the esophagus above the paralyzed section to enlarge and balloon out. Puppies suffering from the condition usually show signs the moment they begin to eat solid foods. 

Acquired occurs due to injury or obstruction caused by a foreign object. Additionally, it may be caused by various diseases affecting the nervous system. Cancer, nervous system disorders and lead poisoning are some of the conditions that may result to weakening of the esophagus muscles. Symptoms of acquired Megaesophagus usually start soon after the dog starts eating solid food.

Most Affected Breeds

There are various dog breeds that are more prone to the condition. For the congenital form, the affected breeds include the Great Dane, Newfoundland, Irish Setter, German Shepherd Dog, Labrador Retriever and the Chinese Shar Pei.

In the acquired version, the breed tendency normally varies in accordance to the various disease processes that cause this condition. Nevertheless, the affected breeds include the German Shepherd Dog, Irish Setter and the Golden Retriever. These three breeds are at a higher risk since they can be affected by both forms of Megaesophagus.


The condition is not easy to detect as it can occur at any age, in an older dog or a puppy. However, you can detect it by observing the difference between regurgitating and vomiting. Vomiting is necessarily not a by-product of the condition but regurgitating is always one of the symptoms.

Basically, vomiting involves retching and heaving as the body actively expels contents of its stomach. On the other hand, regurgitation is passive and occurs when the food is swallowed in the mouth but then remains at that point. Dogs suffering from Megaesophagus will often regurgitate the food immediately after eating. 

Another symptom is weight loss. This is due to the fact that food is not reaching the stomach, thereby denying the animal the required nutrition. Some may develop respiratory problems as well as fever. This is often the case if the condition results to aspiration pneumonia. Other common symptoms include persistent coughing, nasal discharge, salivation, foul odor to the breath, and sometimes difficulties in swallowing.


For the purpose of establishing the correct diagnosis, it is often recommended that you carefully monitor your dog and keep the vet informed regarding all the symptoms exhibited. Normally, a thorough physical examination and various tests are performed so as to rule out other conditions.

Generally, an X-ray may be carried to help detect any variations to the thoracic region. Also blood tests as well as antibody titer tests may help determine the existence of any defects in the body. A thyroid test will also be conducted to look for any signs of overactive or underactive thyroid gland.

Treatment of Megaesophagus

In case Megaesophagus occurs due to another disease or condition, treatment would normally involve treating the underlying problem first. Generally, the dog may benefit from surgery. In most cases, however, changes in eating habits and diet may help prevent the problem.

In essence, the affected animal may require to eat small regular meals from a raised bowl. This forces the upper part of the body to assume a slope of at least 45 degrees. Such a posture allows food to easily move down the stomach due to gravity.

The food texture should also be put into consideration as it will determine how easy the food will be swallowed. So it is very essential that you select the food that your pet will have no difficulties swallowing. Also, certain drugs can be prescribed so at to boost abdominal movement.


Many causes of this condition are not preventable. Nevertheless, if this condition results from ingestion of certain kinds of foreign bodies or poisons may be prevented through close monitoring of your dog's environment. Also it is advisable to remove the affected animals from breeding programs, no matter the cause of the ailment. Their parents and siblings should also be diagnosed for the disease underlying the condition before being allowed to carry on with or enter breeding programs.


Megaesophagus is a serious condition that needs to be immediately addressed whenever detected. It is essential that you follow any special feeding guidelines given to you by the vet so as to minimize the risk of aspiration of food or vomit into the lungs. Despite having various treatment options for the ailment, prevention of this condition is always the best choice.

Return from Megaesophagus to German Shepherd health

"If dogs could talk, perhaps we would find it as hard to get along with them as we do with people.." - Karel Capek

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