Megaesophagus in Dogs

Megaesophagus in Dogs

Megaesophagus in Dogs

All dogs throw up once in a while. But when your dog experiences episodes of repeated vomiting, you know you have a problem. The first thing to do is get him to the vet. Hopefully, it is just a passing viral infection or a little stomach upset. But you could be dealing with megaesophagus.

Megaesophagus: What Is It?

Megaesophagus is a condition in which the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach is not working correctly. When the muscle in the esophagus is not functioning the way it should, food and water don’t always make it to the stomach. The food can actually remain in the esophagus for hours. If the dog moves, runs downstairs, or jumps off the couch, he will regurgitate.

Regurgitation of this type is different from normal vomiting. The esophagus hurls up its contents without warning. There is no accompanying nausea or retching. A dog with megasophagus will give no signs that anything is wrong before the undigested food comes flying out of his mouth.

What Causes It?

When the muscles within the esophagus cannot contract, the throat will widen, enlarging with air. X-rays will show the condition.

Megaesophagus in dogs has two causes: congenital and acquired.

There are certain breeds of dogs that have a greater propensity than others to developing the condition. These include Irish setters, Newfoundlands, Chinese shar-peis, miniature schnauzers, and fox terriers. Young dogs with a propensity to develop the condition will experience delayed nerve development in their esophagus.

Some dogs will develop megaesophagus as a result of a neurological condition called myasthenia gravis, which causes muscle weakness and affects the dog’s ability to swallow.

A dog does not have to be born with a congenital issue to experience this problem. Dogs who sustain nerve damage can acquire the condition. If megaesophagus is acquired, it will fall under one of two categories:

  • Acquired Idiopathic

This is when the disease has appeared with no apparent cause. This is the most common form of the condition when seen in older dogs. 

  • Acquired Secondary

Acquired secondary megaesophagus occurs as a result of another illness. Dogs who are diagnosed with Addison’s disease, neoplasia, or vascular ring anomaly might develop secondary megaesophagus.


A dog with megaesophagus requires a special diet, as well as management. Because the food cannot be properly digested, the dog will drop weight. Therefore, it is important to feed your dog a diet that is high in calories but low in fat and fiber. Raw food is not an option, as it heightens the risk of bacterial infection and aspiration pneumonia.

When the dog is fed, it must be in an upright position. He needs to remain in this position for at least thirty minutes to give the food sufficient time to reach the stomach.

Many veterinarians will prescribe drugs for dogs that have developed secondary megaesophagus. The dog is diagnosed with an antibody titer. The sucralfate will prevent ulceration that can happen when the stomach acids enter the esophagus. If the dog has already developed ulcers in the esophagus or stomach, the sucralfate can help.


The owner of a dog with megaesophagus should be prepared for a change in lifestyle. Some dogs require a feeding tube. Other pet owners have to serve their dogs several small meals each day. They feed their dogs vertically, keeping them upright for some time period after each meal. Some owners of dogs with megaesophagus have employed the use of a Bailey chair, which is essentially a high chair for dogs, keeping them in a sitting position with a tray much the same as a high chair for human children.

Some dogs, through careful management, will experience a complete healing of the esophagus over time.

In the meanwhile, be prepared for a lifestyle with a dog that can only be described as high maintenance. Your veterinarian can outline the best treatment plan for you. All dogs are different, so you will need to be prepared to adapt to whatever care your furry friend requires. With proper management, your dog and you can enjoy a high quality of life and many great days together.

Why You Should Never Feed a Dog with Megaesophagus

A dog who is harbouring food and liquid in his esophagus is in danger of aspirating the food into his lungs, and he can develop pneumonia very quickly. If you have a dog who is vomiting repeatedly, do not hesitate to get help. Get him to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Sources Megaesophagus In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 

Pet MD: Tips For Feeding A Dog With Megaesophagus