Canine MegaEsophagus 101: Learn the Basics

Intro to Canine MegaEsophagus

Cosmo "life of the pawty" McIntyre
Cosmo doesn’t let MegaE prevent him from being the life of the pawty

My husband, Scott, and I were thrown into the world of Canine MegaEsophagus when we were asked to foster Cosmo in 2012. My first thoughts were, “I work full time, and I’m out of the house 13 hours a day. How can I care for a special needs dog?” After countless hours of research, we decided if Cosmo really needed us, we would make it work. We’ve learned a lot from caring for Cosmo over the last few years. If you’re facing a diagnosis of MegaEsophagus, here’s a brief overview and some helpful tips for managing the condition.

What is MegaEsophagus?

MegaEsophagus, also known as MegaE or ME, is basically an enlarged esophagus, the 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.

MegaEsophagus may be present at birth (congenital), or can be acquired later in life. Cosmo and his littermate, Fiona, were both born with MegaE. Most likely, one of their parents passed the disease onto them. MegaE can be also secondary to a variety of conditions that cause esophageal nerves and/or muscle to improperly function. A few of these can include esophageal obstruction, low thyroid hormone concentration, Addison’s disease, and Tetanus. 

Most commonly, MegaEsophagus is a primary disorder with no identifiable cause. It is seen in both dogs and cats, but it’s much more common in dogs.

How is MegaEsophagus diagnosed?

Many vets are not familiar with MegaEsophagus, though today it’s more common than it was years ago. I am lucky enough to have a vet that is familiar with treatments. Your pet’s symptoms should be enough for a vet to suspect MegaE. However, often it takes weeks or months to get a correct diagnosis.

One of the most common clinical signs seen in patients with MegaE is regurgitation. It’s often helpful to record when your dog regurges. Many pet owners confuse regurge with vomiting, so a video can be an eye opener for your vet.

Regurgitation and vomiting are not the same! Vomiting is when the contents of the stomach and upper intestine are forcefully ejected. Regurgitation is less involved. It’s more of a burp in which some of the contents in the esophagus, either liquid or solid, come back up. Although there might be some gagging or a bit of coughing as the contents move up, there’s no abdominal heaving involved. Usually, the food brought up is undigested and is covered with mucus. Regurgitation generally happens quite soon after your pug eats.

Some dogs do seem to give a little growl or a cough before the regurge happens. Cosmo does do a little growl from time to time. Most often it just comes up.

Other symptoms include:

– Cough
– Nasal discharge
– Excessive drooling
– Labored breathing
– Weight loss
– Extreme hunger or lack of appetite
– Aspiration pneumonia
– Bad breath
– Under development or poor growth

Your vet will run a series of tests to determine the presence of MegaEsophagus and exclude other conditions. Some of these tests could include complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, urinalysis, chest x-rays, and fluoroscopy.

Canine MegaEsophagus Pug
Cosmo the MegaE pug takes a swim

Living with a MegaE Pug

Remember…MegaEsophagus is NOT a death sentence! Having a MegaE dog will require a lifestyle change, and once you get into a routine it gets easier. Some folks keep a journal to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Every dog is different, and what works for one dog may not work for another. It really is trial and error. However, once you find what works, consistency is key! If I change Cosmo’s diet in the slightest way he has a bad regurge day. It can be as simple as buying a different brand of Pepcid. While you might think they are all the same, his body knows instantly the slightest change in the formula. I stick to the same brand of dog food and NEVER change him to something else.

Stay tuned for more advice about treating and managing MegaE in your pug.

This post represents my personal experience with MegaEsophagus and should not be taken as medical advice. The Pug Squad website is designed as an educational, informational, and community resource for people who love pugs. The content on this site is provided as an information resource only, and our blog represents the personal experiences and opinions of our volunteers. It is not meant to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian or other specialist. Please consult your vet before making any healthcare decisions for your dog or for guidance about a specific medical condition.