Dear Daisy Dog
Barney, my 8-year-old golden retriever, was diagnosed with megaesophagus after he regurgitated food and inhaled it into his lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia. What can you tell me about megaesophagus?
As the name implies, megaesophagus is characterized by an excessively large esophagus, the tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach. Not only is the esophagus dilated, but the normal motility is lost.
The result is that food remains in the dilated, flaccid esophagus or is regurgitated -– sometimes passing into the trachea, the windpipe that leads to the lungs, literally going down the wrong tube.
While some dogs are born with megaesophagus, most with the disease acquire it in middle age or as seniors.
Sometimes it accompanies another disease, such as myasthenia gravis, hypoadrenocorticism (underactive adrenal glands, also called Addison’s disease) or hypothyroidism. But most often, the underlying cause remains unknown.
Breeds commonly affected include the Chinese shar-pei, fox terrier, German shepherd, golden retriever, great Dane, Irish setter, Labrador retriever, miniature schnauzer and Newfoundland.
The most important aspect of treatment is to feed Barney in a vertical position and then keep him upright for at least 30 minutes, so gravity moves the meal into his stomach. Consider building or buying a Bailey chair (www.caninemegaesophagus.org) to help him remain vertical.