Megaesophagus in German Shepherds is a condition that results in an enlarged esophagus, the tube-like part of the digestive system that connects the throat and the stomach. The esophagus’ function is to allow transport of food down to the stomach for digestion. When the esophagus is partly blocked over a period of time, it slowly grows in size. It eventually becomes a storage organ, causing backflow of food. As dogs with megaesophagus regurgitate some or all of the food they take in, the condition often leads to weight loss and aspiration pneumonia.
Causes of Megaesophagus in German Shepherds
Most cases of megaesophagus in German Shepherds are found to be congenital in nature. Congenital idiopathic megaesophagus, according to research studies, is linked to chromosome 12. Symptoms of this type of megaesophagus typically start showing at around 5 weeks of age when the puppies start eating solid food. The mortality rate in young puppies is high and those who survive need lifelong eating management to overcome this disorder. However, there are cases of congenital megaesophagus in dogs that resolve when they turn 4 to 6 months of age.
Most German Shepherds with congenital megaesophagus have a development disorder in the nervous system, particularly at the lower esophagus. The disorder causes weakness and even paralysis of the esophagus muscles. This prevents food to pass down from the affected point of the esophagus, causing the part above it to enlarge.
Acquired megaesophagus in German Shepherds occurs when there is an injury causing physical obstruction in the esophagus. This blockage may be caused by cancerous tumors or the presence of foreign objects. Other causes of this type of Megaesophagus are:
- tumor in the esophagus or nearby organs
- a foreign body that is stuck in the esophagus
- neuromuscular disease that could be caused by canine distemper, myasthenia gravis, and myositis
- swelling of the esophagus
- lead or thallium toxicity
- parasite infestation
Symptoms of Megaesophagus in German Shepherds
Congenital megaesophagus in German Shepherds is easier to detect because its symptoms typically begin when the puppy start eating solid food. Acquired megaesophagus, on the other hand, may occur regardless of the dog’s age.
The symptoms of such megaesophagus include
- regurgitation minutes after eating
- nasal discharge
- extreme hunger
- drooling or salivation
- weight loss
- poor body development
Although they look similar, vomiting and regurgitation are two different things. Regurgitation refers to the backflow of undigested food from the esophagus to the mouth, while vomiting is the expulsion of stomach contents up to the mouth.
Regurgitation episodes may happen many times a day or even as infrequently as once every few days. Because of the backflow of food to the throat and mouth, affected dogs and puppies are also at risk of aspiration pneumonia.
Diagnosing Megaesophagus in German Shepherds
To have a proper diagnosis, the vet asks questions about your German Shepherd’s eating habits, how he vomits food, the consistency or texture of the expelled food, and more. Your German Shepherd also has to undergo a thorough physical examination.
Standard thoracic radiographs and fluoroscopy may also be done. The thyroid gland and blood samples may also be checked.
Treating Megaesophagus in German Shepherds
There is no cure for congenital megaesophagus. On the other hand, acquired megaesophagus is treated by addressing the underlying problem that causes the esophagus to enlarge.
Secondary infections, such as pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. And because megaesophagus disallows food to be digested, there should also be changes in feeding your pet.
Serve small regular meals on raised bowls or high chairs to an affected dog. The intake from a high level allows the food to move down the stomach easily. The food texture must also be put into consideration, as it is important for dogs with megaesophagus to swallow food easily. Giving high-calorie, semi-liquid food rich in nutrients may also help an affected dog get his daily nutritional requirements. Drugs may also be prescribed to boost the affected dog’s abdominal movement.