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Canine Megaesophagus

 We are so glad you've found us!  You're probably worried, scared, and feeling slightly hopeless after your dog's diagnosis -- Don't Be Discouraged!  It CAN get better!

CanineMegaesophagusInfo.com is your one-stop destination for:

  • Information (We're all experienced with the condition, so we know how it works!)
  • Management Tips (Chairs, Food, Treats!)
  • Recommended Veterinarians (We know they're good because we use them!)
  • Awareness Events (Let's get ME off the "rare" list!)
  • Support (Who better than ME parents to laugh, and cry with you throughout your journey!?)  

Welcome to our family -- Welcome to our crazy ME world -- Let us help your dog live a long and healthy life with Megaesophagus  ♥

*DISCLAIMER* We are NOT veterinarians, and we are NOT speaking on behalf of any companies or others.  We ARE a community of pet parents with ME/MG dogs.  The information contained on this website is not meant to diagnose, treat, or take the place of advice from your vet.  Utilize this information at your own risk. - Thank you*

 

Megaesophagus (ME) is basically a "floppy" esophagus.  The esophagus is a tube connecting the mouth to the stomach.  A normal esophagus moves food to the stomach with wave-like contractions called peristalsis.  An ME dog's esophagus loses its muscle tone, becomes enlarged, and can develop pockets where food can become trapped.  Since the esophagus does not function normally, food sits in the esophagus and doesn't make its way to the stomach.  This can cause malnutrition and regurgitation of vast amounts of undigested materials.

ME can be idiopathic (no known cause), or a result of a secondary disease.  The most common secondary diseases causing ME are Persistent Right Aortic Arch (PRAA), which is most commonly seen in puppies and can sometimes be successfully treated with surgery, and Myasthenia Gravis (MG), which is a neuromuscular condition that can be treated with medication.  Please see the links on our homepage for more information about PRAA and MG.

 
 
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One of the main symptoms of Megaesophagus is regurgitation.  Regurgitation is different than vomiting.   When a dog regurgitates, it does not usually require much effort from the dog, and the food comes out looking a lot like it went in (undigested), sometimes in a tube shape (like the esophagus).   When a dog vomits, there's a lot of effort involved.  A vomiting dog will exhibit a heaving motion (the ribcage and stomach will rapidly contract multiple times) before partially or totally digested food and/or bile is expelled.   A dog will also lick his lips often prior to vomiting (this is a sign of nausea).   It is important to know whether your dog is regurgitating or vomiting, as it aids in diagnosis.   Often, a vet will not even consider ME if he or she is told that a dog is "vomiting."

When a dog regurgitates, some of the regurgitated material (food, water, saliva) can be inhaled into his lungs.  Inhalation of foreign material into the lungs can cause another, more dangerous, symptom of Megaesophagus, Aspiration Pneumonia (AP).   It is imperative that your dog be seen right away by your vet if you suspect AP.  In some cases, a bout with AP is the trigger for an ME diagnosis.

Common symptoms of aspiration pneumonia in dogs include  trouble breathing (heavy panting without strenuous exercise), shuddering/shaking/shivering,  lack of appetite (not drinking water or eating), lack of activity (not playing), and fever.  Not all of these symptoms may be present at the same time if your dog has AP.  Again, if you suspect your dog has inhaled material into his or her lungs, it is our recommendation that you seek veterinary treatment.

 
 
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The most common method of diagnosis for Canine Megaesophagus is an x-ray (radiograph).  Since an enlarged esophagus can be difficult to see on an x-ray, often a Barium Swallow will be done.  In a Barium Swallow, the dog is fed a contrast material that makes the esophagus stand out on an x-ray.  This contrast material is used regularly in humans to provide clearer x-ray results.

 
 
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With proper management, ME dogs can live long and healthy lives!

The most important management technique for ME is Vertical Feeding.  Since the esophagus isn't working correctly in an ME dog, gravity is needed to get food to the stomach.

# 1 Feed your Dog Upright - You can use a “Bailey Chair," a high chair, a laundry basket, ANYTHING that keeps your pup vertical!  After each feeding, have your dog remain upright in the chair for at least 10 minutes.  Some dogs may need more time upright than others -- this part is trial and error.

Sunny in Chair tulip in her milkbone containerNiah in Travel Pillows

*Please check out the Bailey Chairs 4 Dogs link on the homepage to purchase a chair, request a chair donation, or even get plans to make your own MegaE chair!*

# 2 Food Consistency- Yet another area that requires some trial and error.  Some dogs do well with a slurry or milkshake consistency.  Some dogs thrive on soaked kibble (water or broth overnight to make into a "mush"), and some dogs do better with food shaped into little meatballs (be sure that they are small enough so that your dog can swallow them--chewing negates the benefits of the meatball shape).

Many ME dogs do not do well with water, so water is added to their food (in addition to the softer easy-to-swallow consistency of softened food, it's a great way to incorporate water into your pup's diet).  Dogs that eat meatballs can get their water with something called Knox Blocks -- basically jigglers for your pup!  *See Recipes under link on homepage* Other dogs may do well with a large hamster style bottle mounted high enough to keep the throat in an elevated position.

There are several recipes you can try to add nutrition and weight to your dog, like “satin balls,” or you can try adding coconut milk or “Ensure” to their food.   Please continue to check the Recipes link for new concoctions!

What works for one dog may not work for another, so keep track of what you try so that you can find what works best!  

# 3 Smaller more frequent meals. Some dogs can eat twice a day while others may tolerate smaller, more frequent meals better.  Say it with us, "this requires trial and error!"

Don't get discouraged and don't give up -- you'll find something that works!

# 4 Try a “Pro Collar” or “Neck Hug”.  These devices help to elevate your dog's head while reclining.  Keeping your dog's head elevated helps keep any food that's still in the esophagus, or saliva (face it, that's always there), from being regurged.  Some dogs take a while to get used to this large fluffy collar -- This elevates your dog’s head off the floor when they are laying down.   You can find inflatable Pro Collars at Petsmart or Petco.  The Neck Hug from Wag Tail Farms is a stuffed elizabethan collar.

Teddy in his neck hug.

Please check out the Wag Tail Farms website via the link on our homepage!

# 5 Try medications - Antacids, like famotidine or omeprazole can to help control stomach acid. Your vet may also prescribe a motility drug.  One more time, "this requires trial and error!"

Each dog is different, so don't be afraid to try new things! Don't give up!

 Bully shows us how it's done! Click Here to see Bully eat!

 
 
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Listed here are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs associated with Canine Megaesophagus.
Not all ME dogs take the medications listed below - trial and error (and the advice of your vet) will help you to find what works best. 

Antacids 

The sphincter between the esophagus and stomach in ME dogs does not work properly and often allows acidic stomach fluids to reflux (leak back) in the esophagus. Acid can cause burning and ulcers and lead to esophagitis.  Here are some common antacids that your vet may prescribe:

  • (esomeprazole magnesium)                                                                                                      
  • ( famotidine )
  • (omeprazole)
  • (cimetidine)
  • (ranitidine )

Antibiotics to treat AP (Aspiration Pneumonia)

It is very important to recognize the signs of AP and act on it right away. If your dog shows signs of being lethargic, coughing, wheezing, sneezing, increased respiration rate, fever, off of their food or water, incessant panting it’s best to get them in for x-rays.

Many times a vet cannot tell just by listening on their stethoscope.  Your vet may take two x-rays of the lungs –one with the dog on its stomach or back, and one with the dog lying on its side.

Often, two antibiotics will be prescribed for 2-6 weeks, consisting of  a broad -spectrum antibiotic, like Enrofloxacin, along with one other.  If a dog has chronic or recurring AP, the drugs can be administered through a Nebulizer to avoid taking orally.

*Each of these meds has side effects that may or may not impact your pup.  Clavamox, for example, can cause nausea, loss of appetite, or vomiting.  You will need to monitor your pup while taking this medication for any complications.

  •  (enroflaxacin)
  •  Clavamox
  •  (cephalexin)
  • (azithromycin)

Esophagitis Prevention/Treatment

(sulcralfate)- is an anti-ulcer medication used in the treatment of ulcers of the esophagus, stomach , or small intestines.  Give orally on an empty stomach (1 hour before or 2 hours after feeding or giving other medications). It is best to crush them and mix with water (can be given with a syringe), so the medication is better absorbed.

(maropitant) - Severe Esophagitis can cause nausea. This is an anti-emetics drug that really works!

(neurontin)Esophagitis can be painful for your pup, causing him to avoid eating. This is a medication that helps manage your pup's pain.

Slippery Elm

Slippery Elm is an herbal treatment prepared from the inner bark of the Slippery or Red Elm Tree. The term “slippery” refers to the remarkable sticky gel that is formed when the powdered bark comes in contact with water.  It is a protector and lubricator for pets with gastrointestinal disease and esophageal diseases.  It is very soothing to the esophagus.

Recipe for Slippery Elm Soup can be found here  http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/the-soothing-qualities-of-slippery-elm/

 (Tramadol) - Pain medication that is used often for pain management associated with many illnesses/injuries in dogs.

(ondanestron) - anti-emetics for nausea caused by severe Esophagitis

 Pro-Motility Drugs

Pro-motility drugs help open up the sphincter between the stomach and small intestines, allowing stomach contents to more quickly enter the small intestines, so that it is less likely to reflux back up into the esophagus.

(Propulsid )- helps with reflux –give 15-30 minutes to an hour prior to eating

(metoclopromide)- helps empty the stomach – give 15-30 minutes to an hour prior to eating

(Bethanechol)- increases the speed of rhythmic contractions in esophageal muscle

Note:  Again, some dogs do not require drugs to manage ME, though most are on some sort of antacid.  Some have had success with the pro-motility drugs and others have not.  Keep trying until you find what works for your pup!  

*Any and all medications and dosages should be regulated by your veterinarian.*

 
 
 
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Reno's Satin Balls Recipe

5lbs ground beef
6.5 cups of a corn flake cereal
7.5 cups of quick oats
5 raw eggs with shell
2 cups organic wheat germ
5 packs of unflavored gelatin
1.5 cups vegetable oil
2/3 cup of molasses
2 tablespoons of elk velvet powder
6 tablespoons of powdered puppy milk
4 tablespoons of cranberry powder 

Mix together raw, and shape into meatballs that are the appropriate size so your dog can swallow without chewing.  Separate meatballs into meal sizes and store in freezer bags. Feed in upright position.   Recipe courtesy of  Reno's Mom, Chrissy Wilson.

 

Reno
Reno

Megaesophagus is NOT a death sentence! 

There is a frustrating lack of information accessible to pet parents given the Megaesophagus diagnosis;  it often seems as if there's no hope.  Our group,  pet parents living with ME dogs (congenital, idiopathic, Myasthenia Gravis - young and old) and a family who have been inspired by an ME story, have decided that it's time to dispel the myth that ME is a death sentence.  

Member Recommended Vets and Specialists

This list is made up of veterinarians and specialists recommended by members of the ME/MG community.  This list is only a starting point - please choose your vet based upon your own criteria.  

There are many knowledgeable vets that are not included in this list... YET!

Please send us your recommendations!

 Click Here For Recommended Vets and Specialists

 

Savannah in Chair

 

 

We've Come a Long Way, Baby!  (Before & After Pics!) 

 

MEatball!  MEatball Before and After

 

 

Foster!  Foster Dog Before and AfterFoster's After!

 

 

 

Shiloh!  Shiloh BeforeShiloh After!

 

Bully! Bully's weight gain

 

Reno! Reno before and after

Kris Long

Mom to ME dog, Shade.

"I've had Shade since she was a puppy. She was fine her first year. The older she got, the worse her regurg got. I had been in and out of the vet for years trying to figure out what was wrong, and they just gave her Pepcid and told me to feed her sensitive stomach food. No X-rays or other tests. I finally got a diagnosis a month and a half ago when I insisted on a better answer- clearly it wasn't just a case of food sensitivity or acid reflux. I has never even heard of ME, so I didn't know to ask about it. It amazes (and irritates) me that it took YEARS for vets to figure out what was wrong [...] It took 4 years to get an accurate diagnosis."

How to give subcutaneous fluids

Carter

 

Click here for Carter's Story

 

Carter's Story ♥

Carter is a Boxer/St. Barnard mix.

We call him a Boxnard.

Until 2013, he was a perfectly healthy 140+ pound lover boy.  Around April 2013, he began regurgitating everything he ate and drank. Our vet started treating him for acid reflux, but nothing seemed to be working.  

We watched as he dropped in weight to just under 100 lbs.  

We were afraid we were going to lose him.

On Memorial Day weekend he developed aspiration pneumonia.  We took him to a pet ER and we were promptly sent to MedVet Animal and Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. 

It was there that he was properly diagnosed with hypothyrodism. 

Once we got him back home it took a bit to get his meds and food regimen squared away, but he just couldn't handle any liquids.  We tried it all: ice chips, esure, thickening agents, gelatin blocks - you name it, we tried it. 

I would even make him an Elvis smoothie.

Anything with even the slightest amount of liquid would be proptly regurgitated.  We would end up in the vet's office 3 times a week getting our boy rehydrated.  

Our vet finally told us we could give him fluids at home.  He instructed us how to do it and my husband does it every evening.

We want to share it so that you can see that it isn't as scary as it sounds.  

We feel very blessed to still have our boy with us.  While he may never achieve his 140+ pre-diagnosis weight, I am happy to say that at his last vet visit he weighed 127lbs.

Since Carter was diagnosed, our vet has been amazing.  He apologized over and over for months of misdiagnosis.  Carter is his first ME patient (he did have a mega-colon cat, though).  Our vet has become our champion. 

*Sweet Carter lost his battle in 2014.  His spirit lives on in his story and video -- helping others manage and thrive with ME.

Your dog CAN live a long and healthy life!

A ME pamphlet to SHARE with your vet and others!

137 thoughts on “Canine Megaesophagus

    1. Acquire ME (not born with it) can resolve if there is an underlying disease that can be treated as in the case of acquired myasthenia gravis and other primary diseases. It has also known to resolve after treatment of esophagitis. If you know the cause of the ME, and can treat the underlying issues, there is a chance that the ME can resolve. See the tab marked “Why M.E.?” from the menu bar. As far as it getting worse, sometimes it does indeed get worse. Sometimes with proper management regurgitation can diminish quite a bit. Smaller more frequent meals may help keep the esophagus from stretching farther. Sounds like you are doing a great job with your pup! Thank you for weighing in!

  1. Our Mini-Dachshund “Tippi” turned 8 today. After she was initially diagnosed by the UGA Vet School, we were told we could “hope” for 2-3 years.

    Of course we were crushed; however, we followed their recommendations to the letter, and now – per Tippi’s vet – she is very healthy, and quite the “marvel”.

    At this time, we do limited medication (10 mg famotidine), and only feed her ‘Royal Canin Gastro Intestinal Low Fat’ canned food.

    She’s a small mini (9 lbs.), and eats from a dish that’s only very slightly elevated. [Although she does quite well when eating from a “normal” position…]

    Our “key learnings” have been to try and avoid undue excitement, and to keep her as calm as possible under stressful situations (thunder, fireworks, etc…).

    We’re so thankful for every day we have with our Tippi, and we pray for “at least” another 8 years!

    1. Hi Bob,
      Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story with us about Tippi! Those are some great tips that I’m sure will help others! We wish you many more great years with Tippi. Your post will inspire many ME parents that are just starting through their journey. Thanks again!

  2. Hi,

    Meet Ramses. He was diagnosed with ME in June this year.

    He’s lost about 10 lbs because it’s hard to find the right food for him. Would anyone be kind enough and share correct measurements of foods that have worked for you?
    We couldn’t keep doing the “7 cans” of dog food because in reality there was not enough time to feed him that much.
    I don’t want him to lose any more weight, something has to be out there that can provide all his nutrients and keep him at healthy 70 lbs again.
    Any suggestions will work. Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Daena,

      Here is a nutrition guide line article from VCA Hospital. http://www.vcahospitals.com/main/pet-health-information/article/animal-health/nutrition-general-feeding-guidelines-for-dogs/6491. For ME dogs there have been many things that have been effective for putting weight on. These two supplements have helped: Dyne or Nutri-Cal. Some have reported that adding “goats milk” can help pack on the pounds. “Satin Balls” have helped others. Try to feeds small amounts multiple times a day. There is much more helpful suggestions from other pet parents of ME dogs on our facebook groups. Please consider joining! Best of luck with your pup!

  3. Hi, reading these comments has been helpful but also scary. Our 11 week old puppy Cooper was diagnosed with ME on Friday and my husband and I are pretty upset. We both work full time and right now I’m able to come home and feed him in the middle of the afternoon but I won’t be able to continue for much longer. We’re overwhelmed mostly at the prospect of further complications. Since he’s only 11 weeks, we’re holding off on building a chair since he’d grow out of it so quickly (GSD). I’ve been holding him in my lap to eat but he’s so squirmy it’s a struggle. The food gets everywhere because he’s so excited. Water ends up all over me so we’ve been doing small cut watermelon at the vets suggestion. The vet said that the small bit kibble was ok, but I’m seeing that for most dogs that’s a no no. I caught a claw to the face this morning and he’s gotten me several other times on the neck pretty bad. Any ideas for a wiggly pup? Thank you in advance for your guidance.

    1. Hi Katie,
      The diagnosis can be scary I agree. There is a lot of help from groups like Canine Megaesophagus Support Group and Upright Canine Brigade on facebook. For a small young shepherd you could try a baby walker, or a baby high chair to keep him upright so you don’t need to hold him. Bailey Chairs 4 dogs also makes an adjustable Bailey Chair that would grow with your puppy! Most of the time, dry kibble is not recommended. You can soak kibble until it’s mushy. You can blend it in a blender with some wet food or water. You could also try tiny meatball shaped out of canned dog food. There are many different ways to feed and many different types of consistencies. You just have to experiment to see what works best for your pup. Hang in there. Once you get a routine going, thing will get easier! ~ Donna

  4. Our 12-year-old lab, Shadow, has just torn his ACL (left hind leg) so it is much harder to hold his forelegs on my lap and help him swallow after eating his mushy food 4 times a day. (This procedure has worked great until now, though I do have the DVD on the Bailey Chair–we’ve never had to do that.) Shadow’s too old for surgery and we think we can help his ACL injury with nonsurgical methods, but holding him up is a lot harder now. He sinks to the ground unless one of us supports him from behind with gripped knees on his abdomen while the other “burps” him. Anyone with an ME dog also dealing with torn ACL? (With labs, tearing the ACL is fairly common, I understand.) Shadow loves to walk up to a mile a day, but vet says walks are now out of the question for him. Thanks.

    1. Hi Linda,

      That torn ACL is a tough one. It does take a long time to heal sometimes. Have you tried the couch method? If you can get him up on the couch have him sit either on the side of the couch and prop him up with pillows so his chest and head are elevated or sitting in the couch with front paws over the back of the couch. Several people have had success with this method and it is easier on the joints and back. HOpe that helps!

    2. Hi Linda, I’m sorry to hear about Shadows torn ACL 🙁 I’m sure it is not easy to feed him. We feed our ME Doberman in a reading chair. Gucci sits backwards in the chair with his front paws resting on the back of the chair so he is upright but comfortable. I wish there was a way for me to attach a picture here. A video of how I feed him was posted in the groups today.. I think it would be helpful to you and Shadow.

  5. Three months ago I acquired a Lancashire Heeler (8 lbs) from a Rescue Group. I kind of diagnosed the problem myself (online) then to the Vet we went – sure enough he agreed with me but was not too much help…so here I am because I already love her so much – she is about 3 years old. I hope to find support and ideas to make Frankie’s life easier and mine. Thank you very much…

    1. Hi there Mary!
      Thank you for rescuing! We are all here to help you and Frankie through this. Please be sure to join the Face Book groups Canine Megaesophagus Support Group and Upright Canine Brigade. Since you may not know about her history, I would suggest you look for underlying causes of the ME. Please have them check for Myasthenia Gravis, Addison Disease and hypothyroidism. Those are the three big ones. Upright feeding and elevation of the head at night and when laying down are really the game changes. Best of of luck with your baby!

      1. Thank you Donna – Yes, you correct about what you said above but my vet just told me ME could be caused by these things and went no further…VAC. I am not very savvy with a computer and I don’t see where I am suppose to join these groups – am I already in ME Support Group? and Canine Brigade is an arm of ME Support Group? A little confused…but Thank you – this dog loves me so much and I love her too…she is mine forever now!!!

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