Megaesophagus – What Is This?

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Megaesophagus – What Is This?

I’ve recently been asked about megaesphagus and what this is in dogs. Many have asked if their dog has this when they make choking sounds. Why have people asked me about this? Because one of my dogs has a tendency to sound like they’re choking.

But no, my dogs do not have megaesophagus. So, what is it then? How do you know if your dog has this? Well, in short, only a Vet can determine this because it is a disorder. And, it happens in both dogs and cats actually. But, let’s start by breaking down what this even is.

What is Megaesophagus?

Megaesophagus is exactly what the word sounds like. It’s an enlarged esophagus in dogs or cats. The esophagus, which is the tube that runs from your mouth to your stomach can get enlarged. Your dog or cat can be born with this disorder. They can also develop it over time in their life.

When an animal has megaesophagus, their esophagus can get so inflamed that they collect food and water in their throat. When the esophagus is largely inflamed, then food and water can no longer travel to the stomach and it can get lodged in the throat.

This can have some serious consequences with your pet. First, they can vomit up the food or water that you’re feeding them. If the dog or cat can’t ingest the food, they can start to lose weight fast and become ill.

Food can also collect in their throat over time and start to decay. This can lead to serious infections over time. The water or food collecting in their throat can also get to their lungs. Water in the lungs can cause pneumonia. A very serious condition that has to be treated immediately. Food in the lungs can cause the lungs to be blocked and the dog or cat will stop being able to breath.

Some dogs are naturally prone to this disorder when they’re born.

Dogs More Prone to Megaesophagus.

Most of us dog lovers know that some breeds are born with disorders. What do I mean by born with disorders? Well, let’s take dogs with short muzzles for example like pugs. Pugs can have some serious breathing issues because of how their nose and muzzles are when they’re born. They also tend to have eye issues as well. Many pug owners claim that you should have the money saved up in the event your pug needs surgery.

Other dogs, like some Bully breeds have skin and ear issues. And while we don’t base our adoptions on these issues, we know they’re potentially there. They’re referred to as a congenital condition.

So, which breeds are more prone to megaesophagus?

  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Irish Setters
  • Labs
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Newfoundlands
  • And Shar-Pei’s

It Can Also Be Developed Later – How?

While some breeds, as mentioned above can be born with this, some develop it over time. Dogs that ingest lead or thallium can also develop megaesophagus. Now, you might be asking what the heck is thallium? Well, it’s a chemical element that can be found in food sources as well as some rodent poisons.

In case you’re wondering, I had to look this up. I had no idea what thallium is or how my dog could ingest it. Well, it comes from the environment and some other human-caused sources. Volcanoes, for one, emit thallium during eruption. It’s also emitted from coal burning plants. However, once this chemical is released into the environment, it can get in the soil. Unfortunately, from there, it gets in food sources.

Thallium is very toxic even in trace amounts. Unfortunately for humans and our pets, we don’t really know if we’re ingesting thallium. In dogs, they can exhibit signs of diarrhea and vomiting if they have thallium poisoning. Only a stool sample will be able determine if they have this I’m afraid.

Lead Poisoning.

Another cause of megaesophagus in animals is lead poisoning. Lead can come from multiple sources in homes or construction sites. Paints that contain lead are a threat if your animal ingests this. Some metal children’s toys. Ceramic dog bowls. Water that may be contaminated, among other sources.

Lead poisoning in dogs is very dangerous. Some symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, muscle shakes, seizures, and shortness of breath. Basically, if you think your dog has ingested any of the above items, contact your vet immediately.

Lead poisoning, if left untreated can cause death in animals quickly. So, if your dog or cat get into anything that contains lead, contact an emergency vet clinic to help.

Now that we know about thallium and lead poisoning, how do you treat megaesophagus?

Treatment Options for your Pets.

Dogs or cats that have megaesophagus can still live just fine. The main thing is to be sure they’re able to eat. Some animal owners have to elevate the dog bowls in order to help the dog swallow. Same for cats. Basically, if the dog or cat is sitting upright, then the food can go down the esophagus easier. There are special chairs that are made for the animals to allow them to sit upright while they eat.

Elevated bowls are another way to help the animal eat. If the dog has to eat with their head down to the ground, they’ll have a harder time getting the food down. Basic gravity.

Also, making the food soft for them to swallow will make it easier as well. Some vets will recommend specific types of food for your pet in order for them to swallow easier. Soft foods, or foods that have been made into a pulp will make it easier. Some people have formed small meatballs with the food to also help their animals eat.

So, if your pet has megaesophagus, there’re ways to make eating easier for them. Don’t fret. It might take them some time to get used to certain things, like the chair. However, consistency is key to helping them through this.

Final Thoughts on Megaesophagus.

I have to admit, I didn’t know what this was until someone asked me about it. And while it may seem like your dog has this, only a vet can make that determination. Examinations of the esophagus to see what’s going on will allow them to treat it properly. In some cases, dogs or cats may need surgery. However, if you have pet insurance, then the costs are mostly covered. You don’t have to break the bank to get your pet help.

It is a condition that definitely needs treating though. So don’t hesitate if your dog is suddenly vomiting up their food consistently. Or, if they stop wanting to eat and drink. Simply contact your vet for an examination and explain the situation.

**I am not a licensed Veterinarian. This article is simply to help educate those that suspect their dog or cat might be inflicted with this disorder. If you have any concerns your pet might have megaesophagus, make an appointment.

Do you have an animal that has this disorder? What are some ways you help them live a healthy normal life? What kinds of tools do you use to help them eat and drink?

10 thoughts on “Megaesophagus – What Is This?

  1. Very interesting post and important information to know and be aware of. I have a smaller breed dog now, but always had larger breeds.

    We love our furry little friends and treat them just like part of the family. It is important to be aware of these sort of conditions in order to prevent them from getting worse. Not everyone would know to be concerned over this type of sound their dog is making so a great awareness post to make.

    Thank you

    1. Thanks Rob. It is a difficult condition for the pets to live with, and the owners if they’re not aware. I wanted other pet parents to know in case they suspect their dog has this. Especially if the dog is vomiting up food and water on a regular basis. I always worry when my dogs get sick, and make sure to look at the vomit to determine the color and consistency. This tells me a lot about what might be wrong.

      Pet owners don’t always know that the color tells us a lot with the health of our pets. In fact, I wrote an article dedicated to just this if you’re interested.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Oh wow, I’ve never heard of this before. I have a German Shepherd and if they’re prone to this condition, I want to reduce the risk as much as possible.
    Thanks for bringing up the subject of the raised bowls for eating. I think that will be my first step.

    Great article!

    1. Hi Andrea,

      I was surprised to see that bigger dogs are more prone to this condition versus the smaller dogs. My smaller dogs often get closed throats from being excited and have a hard time breathing when they do. I usually have to calm them down to help them breath again.

      Then, I learned of this condition instead. Very scary for dogs and cats.

      I’m glad you stopped by and enjoyed this article.


  3. Hi Katrina,
    This is a really interesting condition and obviously one that all dog owners – whether they own large dogs or have smaller ones should be aware about.

    My sister owns two German Shepperd’s and will certainly value this information since it appears that larger dogs are more prone. It’s a good thing that there are treatment options available. The elevated chair method makes sense, but what if the dog continuously nudges the bowl off the chair because this must be an uncomfortable position.? Do you have to stay with the dog when feeding until they get used to this method of feeding?


    1. Hi Ceci,

      Great question – yes, she will need to be with the dog every time (s)he eats. They’re prone to choking on their food, so it’s very important that you’re always with a dog with this condition during meal times. As far as the food bowl goes on the chair, then yes, I would imagine the dog will try to push the bowls off. I would have an anti-slip bowl, as well as sit with them while they’re eating to make sure that they actually do eat, as well as keep the food down.

      Thanks for stopping by, hope this helps!


      1. Colette,

        Yes, the chairs are what make the difference for the dogs to be able to eat. Thank you for sharing the link! I’ll check it out and post about it.

        Thanks for stopping by and reading!


  4. My dog, Stark, was born with megaesophagus. He eats in a chair and takes meds to reduce acid and to help the connection to the stomach open. He and I have a special bond because we spend so much time together. He eats 4 times a day and has to remain in the chair for 20 mon after each meal to ensure it gets/stays down. He has had aspiration pneumonia twice but has made a full recovery both times.
    One thing I wanted to share is that there is no surgery to fix this. If your puppy has PRAA, it can cause this disorder. PRAA requires surgery to fix but your puppy could still have Megaesophagus for life. However many dogs are born with this problem as well as get this problem due to other illnesses. They can’t be fixed with surgery.

    1. Leslie,

      Thanks so much for reading my article. I’ve never had a dog with this condition, but when I spoke with my local vet about it, they informed me that surgery can help, but may not be 100%. The chair is a necessary factor, but, they said surgery might be an option for some dogs. I’ll have to definitely look into this more and see if some dogs have been helped with surgery for this and revise my article as needed.

      I understand the bonding with your dog though. My dog just underwent major surgery and I have to say, during her healing, I bonded with her like I never have before. She’s always been special to me, but having to carry her around, with her 24/7 as well as special feeding, it’s different once you undergo this with a pet.

      I’m sorry your dog has this. I know it’s very difficult to care for the special needs. But, once you’re used to it, at least it becomes part of the routine.

      Thanks for reading again!


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