Megaesophagus is a persistent, enlarged canine esophagus.
This disorder may be congenital (such as certain breeds, and secondary to persistent aortic arch) or acquired, and can range from mild to severe dilation. Secondary megaesophagus can be caused by any disease that results in inhibited esophageal peristalsis by either mechanical or neurological dysfunction.
Depending on the severity of esophageal obstruction/paralysis, some dogs can eat soft foods regularly, with few clinical signs while others are unable to drink even water and chronically regurgitate despite a good appetite.
Lesions and obstruction can be located anywhere from the upper esophageal sphincter to the lower esophageal sphincter.
Myasthenia gravis is the most common cause of acquired megaesophagus in dogs.
Other causes include:
- - Autosomal recessive in Miniature Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Great Dane, New Foundland, Shar Pei - clinical signs appear from 3 months of age
- CNS neuropathy
- - Canine distemper virus
- - cervical vertebral instability
- - Fibrinoid leukodystrophy - French Bulldog
- - brainstem lesions (e.g. empty sella syndrome, trauma, neoplasia)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- - Polyneuropathy, polyradiculoneuritis, ganglioradiculitis, dysautonomia, laryngeal paralysis, vagal nerve dysfunction
- - Tetanus
- - Botulism
- Toxins - household chemicals, chemotherapy, thallium, snake bite envenomation
- Idiopathic megaesophagus
- Esophageal neoplasia - e.g. esophageal leiomyoma
- Esophageal foreign body
- Hormonal diseases
- - Systemic lupus erythematosus
- - Polymyositis
- - Dermatomyositis
- - Golden Retriever Muscular Dystrophy
- - Masticatory muscle myositis
- - Gangliosidosis
- Mechanical obstruction
- - hiatus hernia
- - Cricopharyngeal achalasia (upper esophageal sphincter neuropathy), often associated with hypothyroidism
- - Persistent left and/or right aortic arch or left cranial vena cava
- - Pyloric stenosis
- - Thymoma
Clinical symptoms are frequent repetitive regurgitation of undigested food, dysphagia, ptyalism, halitosis, reluctance to eat in spite of appetite, coughing (associated with aspiration pneumonia) and weight loss. Swelling of the ventral neck near the thoracic inlet is sometimes seen, particularly in young dogs.
Abnormal esophageal motility can exist without megaesophagus, and esophageal dysmotility without overt megaesophagus exists in both symptomatic and asymptomatic young dogs (often 4 - 9 months of age). Motility in these cases can improve with age suggesting a delayed maturation of esophageal musculature.
Diagnosis is based on identification of a dilated or hypomotile esophagus on barium meal radiographs, or the presence of a distended esophagus containing food or foreign objects. Relative oesophageal diameter appears to be of limited diagnostic utility in distinguishing dogs with megaoesophagus due to myasthenia gravis from those with megaoesophagus due to other causes.
Associated aspiration pneumonia may be observed on radiographic imaging.
Esophageal motility can be assessed with fluoroscopic, manometric or scintigraphic procedures, which may assist determining whether the condition is primary or secondary. Most dogs with idiopathic megaesophagus have a very large, dilated, aperistaltic esophagus, whereas secondary megaesophagus shows faster transit times. Esophagostomy via endoscopy is not usually helpful in determining a cause, but can eliminate other causes such as foreign bodies, parasites, neoplasia, etc.
In secondary megaesophagus, treatment involves addressing primary disease states.
Although there is no specific treatment of megaesophagus, use of special feeding diets and raised bowl is the primary method of maintaining well-being in non-critical patients. The use of an esophageal stent may be required to be placed if cricopharyngeal achalasia or severe esophageal cicatrization is a underlying complication.
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