What Is Megaesophagus in Dogs?

Megaesophagus is a condition that occurs in dogs, cats and humans. The condition is characterized by a dilated esophagus that inhibits the ability of food and water to travel down the esophagus to the stomach, which may be fatal without treatment. However, some dogs with megaesophagus can live a long and happy life with the right diagnosis and treatment.

Does Megaesophagus Only Occur In Older Dogs?

Megaesophagus can be seen in dogs of all ages. Puppies may be diagnosed with the disease as a complication of persistent right aortic arch (PRAA), which can be surgically corrected at a young age.  Megaesophagus can also be congenital in young puppies. Occasionally, older dogs are diagnosed with the disease as a secondary disorder to hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, myasthenia gravis or a number of other neurologic disorders. However, the exact cause of megaesophagus in most dogs remains unknown.


Megaesophagus in dogs is frequently misdiagnosed as a gastrointestinal disorder. A few symptoms pet owners should look for include

  • Regurgitation (passive vomiting without retching) of food, mucus or water
  • Clearing the throat with a hacking sound
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing, exaggerated swallowing and frequent swallowing
  • Refusal to eat
  • Chronic bad breath

Megaesophagus Treatment For Dogs

It is important to start treatment promptly to avoid life-threatening complications such as pneumonia or starvation. In dogs with a PRAA surgical intervention can be an effective treatment. Most causes of megaesophagus will not be resolved with surgery. Usually, a special diet is recommended in addition to feeding the megaesophagus dog in an upright position. A special chair can be purchased or made for the dog to eat upright, which allows gravity to naturally pull food and water from the esophagus to the stomach.

Many veterinarians also recommend medications for stomach acid reduction. Acid reducers are a way to protect the lining of the esophagus.  Antibiotics may be recommended if a dog develops aspiration pneumonia as a complication of megaesophagus. 

Helping Your Dog

If your dog is having megaesophagus symptoms or other worrisome signs, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian as soon as possible.

For more information on megaesophagus, click here.