February 26, 2013

Definition:

Megaesophagus is a condition affecting humans, cats, and dogs, in which the muscles of the esophagus fail; they can no longer properly move food or water downward, into the stomach. A normal esophagus works with a muscular, wave-like motion to propel food and water into the stomach. In this condition, the esophagus remains enlarged and the normal peristaltic movement does not occur, so food stays in the esophagus instead of moving into the stomach to be digested.

How it affects pets:

For pets with megaesophagus, the food either remains in the esophagus where it decays, is aspirated into the lungs, or is eventually regurgitated. This regurgitation is not to be confused with vomiting. Vomiting typically involves forceful retching, while in regurgitation of food or liquid, it seems to just poor out, without retching or effort, a passive event. A dog may lower its head to allow the food to slip out, with little warning. If an animal inhales the food or liquid from the esophagus, into the lungs, this can cause aspiration pneumonia, thought to be the most serious complication of this disorder.

Causes:

Megaesophagus may be genetic, especially if seen in puppies. It may also happen due to surgical or medical procedures that affect the throat or esophagus. It may also be secondary to condition such as myasthenia gravis in dogs, hypothyroid disease, Addison’s disease, or other neurological disorders. Some cases are idiopathic, with no known cause.

What types of foods do holistic vets recommend?

The diet for a pet with megaesophagus needs to be of a consistency that will easily move down through the esophagus without getting stuck. A “smoothie, moist porridge, or other soft consistency work well for many, though experimentation for the individual animal is often needed. Some dogs do best with food shaped into meatballs. A moist food may be blended in a blender or food processor to find a texture that works well for your pet. In lieu of 2 larger meals each day, it is recommended to feed 3-4 smaller meals. Both food and fluids need to be fed in an upright position and the animal should remain vertical between 15-30 minutes. A Bailey Chair is often used.

Because high amounts of protein and fat require more stomach acid to digest, many experts recommend a diet lower in fats and protein and higher in carbs. This excess acid can cause erosion of the esophagus. The carbs help your pet maintain a good weight.

Other modalities to consider:

There have been reports that chiropractic treatment can be effective for some cases of megaesophagus.

Acupuncture may also prove helpful in some cases as it stimulates the natural normal peristaltic activity.

Diets that meet some of the parameters vets suggest for dogs and cats with megaesophagus:

Verve – Beef, two organic grains: 22% protein, 8.5% fat, 52% carbs
Keen - Turkey, organic oats: 21% protein, 15% fat, 52% carbs
Force - Chicken, grain free: 21% protein, 15% fat, 53% carbs
Prowl - Chicken, grain free: 35% protein, 29% fat, 19% carbs

Resources

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association - http://ahvma.org

Our Holistic Care Directory

UCSD publication about megaesophagus