Megaesophagus in German Shepherds


Megaesophagus in German Shepherds:

It is so sad to see a German shepherd suffering from this crippling disease.  And, yes, one does see this prevalent in German shepherds and German Shepherd puppies.  It is certainly not the only breed.  The AKC lists also the Great Dane, Irish Setter, Newfoundland, Shar Pei, Labrador Retriever, and the Miniature Schnauzer.

What is megaesophagus?

It is a congenital condition in which the esophagus no longer has the muscle tone to move food through it into the stomach.  This is the tube which connects the stomach to the mouth.  By peristalsis (contractions), normally the food entering into the stomach is squeezed incrementally into the stomach for digestion.  But with megaesophagus, as the muscle surrounding the tube become flaccid, the esophagus dilates becoming larger and the food sits in the enlarged area somewhat like the sack below the beak of a pelican when filled with food.

What are the causes?

One of the causes is a congenital condition, although it can also present itself as an adult.  In the congenital case it can be caused by vascular anomalies (abnormal blood vessels that encircle the heart), although many times it can be due to an unknown cause.  In the adult onset it can be the result of a disease or appear inexplicably.  But it could also be caused by a foreign body blocking the passing of the food into the stomach.

What are the symptoms

With puppies, the signs can begin at weaning.  Puppies will initially will approach the food with enthusiasm and then back away after a few bites.  They will regurgitate small amounts of food, which will come out undigested and covered with mucous, and then eat it again, regurgitate again and eat it again until it can pass into the stomach.  This process can lead to inhalation of the liquid and bouts of aspiration pneumonia.  You might hear a “gurgling” sound.  They do not wretch up their food with the kind of heaving characteristic of vomiting of partially digested food, but instead the undigested food is just suddenly expelled.

This is such a tragic disease in German shepherd puppies and dogs.  If you notice these symptoms, see your vet.  They can do a barium x-ray or ultrasound to see if there is a blockage of the esophagus.  Unfortunately there are not many effective treatments for this condition.  Please visit our K 9 University for more useful articles and links.

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