Megaesophagus in French Bulldogs | Sad and Devastating Disorder

By: Danielle Harris

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What is megaesophagus in french bulldogs?

megaesophagus in french bulldogs

Megaesophagus is not a single disease. Instead it is considered a combination disorder in which the esophagus (the tube that carries food and liquid between the mouth and stomach) dilates (gets larger) and loses motility (it’s ability to move food into the stomach).

Esophageal motility is required for moving food and liquid down to the stomach.

Megaesophagus in bulldog breeds

Bulldogs and French bulldogs puppies are rarely born with a Megaesophagus, the majority of megaesophagus in bulldogs and French bulldogs are acquired mostly due to esophagitis which is the inflammation of the esophageal mucosa lining. In bulldogs.

Symptoms of Megaesophagus

Regurgitation is considered the main sign of megaesophagus.

When a pet becomes nauseous, it will heave, gag, and retch as the contents of the stomach are actively expelled. Your pet may also drool or lick their lips prior to vomiting indicating nausea.

However, regurgitation is a passive process. Food and water sloshes around in the esophagus and with the help of gravity, is released back up.

There is no heaving, gagging or retching prior to regurgitation.

Also, aspiration pneumonia may develop due to the entrance of food or liquid into the lungs.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Increased respiratory noises
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Extreme hunger or lack of appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Poor growth

Megaesophagus can either be congenital in nature or acquired later in life.

The congenital form is typically idiopathic or due an unknown cause.

The acquired form is also commonly idiopathic, but may also be due to:

  • Neuromuscular disease (e.g., myasthenia gravis ,distemper, myositis)
  • Esophageal tumor
  • Foreign body in esophagus
  • Inflammation of esophagus
  • Toxicity (e.g., lead, thallium)
  • Parasitic infections

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will first ask you for a thorough history of your dog’s health. They will then perform a complete physical examination on your dog and attempt to differentiate, with your description, whether it is regurgitating or vomiting, which is important in ruling out underlying diseases that cause vomiting.

The shape of expelled material, presence of undigested food, and length of time from ingestion to vomiting (or regurgitation) will also help differentiate between these two issues.

Routine laboratory tests, including complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis results, are usually normal in dogs with megaesophagus. However, abnormalities related to underlying diseases or complications, like aspiration pneumonia, may be seen.

Radiographic studies will show the enlarged esophagus filled with fluid, air, or food, and will help identify abnormalities related to aspiration pneumonia.

More advanced techniques, like esophagoscopy, will be sometimes be employed, too. Esophagoscopy allows for the examination of the interior of the esophagus using an esophagoscope, a thin, tube-like instrument with and light and lens for viewing the inner areas of esophagus. It also allows for the removal of foreign bodies, evaluation of obstruction, and neoplasia.

Treatment

The major goal of therapy is to treat the underlying cause. However, it is also important that dogs with compromised feed intake are meeting their daily nutritional requirements.

Common food items recommended by veterinarians will include liquid gruel, small meatballs, blended slurries, and other palatable, high energy foods.

Depending on the underlying cause of the problem, surgery may be needed. For instance, in cases of a foreign body, it will be removed immediately to provide relief and prevent further complications.

Aspiration pneumonia is another life-threatening problem that requires immediate hospitalization, where oxygen therapy, antibiotics, and other medications are used to treat the condition.

Oddly enough generic “Viagra” has become a promising method of treatment. It relaxes the muscles and allows the esophagus to open for enough time to allow the food to move to the stomach.

Management

Animals in the horizontal position may require extra care; soft bedding and turning the animal every four hours are essential.

If your dog is not able to take feed, your veterinarian may pass a feeding tube directly into the stomach for feeding purposes.

Regular weighing of your dog is also required to ensure it is at an adequate range (not losing too much, but not too heavy either).

Feeding a Dog with Megaesophagus
Feeding a Dog with Megaesophagus

For patients able to feed, special arrangements are required for correct feeding to prevent aspiration pneumonia. These animals are kept in an upright position for 10 to 15 minutes after eating or drinking, and both food and water bowls need to be elevated (45 to 90 degrees) from the floor.

You can purchase chairs like those to the left to feed your pup!

You will need to visit your veterinarian for regular follow-ups to evaluate your dog and treatment progress.

Most dogs with megaesophagus require life-long therapy and commitment and patience.

Unfortunately, dogs suffering from congenital forms of the diseases, or in whom the underlying cause could not be identified, carry a very poor prognosis. Malnutrition and aspiration pneumonia are the leading causes of death. If megaesophagus is caused by a failure of the nervous system, there is a risk for other neurologic problems to develop.

I have met a few dogs with this diagnosis who have gone on to live great, happy lives, with their devoted families.

Is Megaesophagus Hereditary?

This condition is known to be genetic, affecting specific dog breeds more than others. Megaesophagus can come at any age.

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