The esophagus is a thin, muscular tube that connects a dog’s throat to their stomach and helps with pushing water and food into the stomach. Esophagus problems in dogs may not be as common as digestive problems but they are also not that rare. However, they are often overlooked because the main symptom of dog esophagus problems such as esophageal disease and regurgitation can easily be mistaken for harmless vomiting.

1. Foreign Objects in the Esophagus

Dogs are infamous for their bad eating habits, which sometimes results in them consuming inedible items and then having those foreign objects stuck in their esophagus. In most cases bones are the culprit, but other objects like rawhide pieces, wood, needles and fishing hooks find their way in a dog’s esophagus.

Common symptoms of obstruction in dogs due to the foreign objects include gagging, drooling, regurgitation and frequent attempts to swallow.

How to Prevent It:

Keep your dog away from the trash, use dog-proof trash cans, don't feed potentially dangerous foods and don’t give him cooked bones to eat. If your pooch is a fast eater, keep the bones away from him entirely. Fast eating can be dangerous for other reasons, so consider using food bowls that slow down eating. If you give your dog rawhide, make sure to take it away from him when it becomes too small and easy to swallow.

Teach your dog the “Drop It” command so you can react if you notice he is about to eat something inedible.

How to Fix It:

Obstruction is the more dangerous of dog esophagus problems, and foreign objects detected in the dog’s esophagus should be immediately removed. In most cases, your vet will be able to remove the object through the mouth. If that’s not possible, the object may have to be pushed down into the dog’s stomach, where it can be digested or passed in the feces. Sometimes, it may have to be removed from the stomach via surgery.

Surgery is also required if the foreign objects perforate the esophagus or if they can’t be removed through the mouth or pushed down into the stomach.

Inflammation of the Esophagus - Esophagitis in Dogs

2. Inflammation of the Esophagus (Esophagitis)

Esophagitis in dogs is most commonly caused, again, by foreign objects. However, it can also be caused by acid reflux that comes from the animal's stomach into the esophagus. Rarely, it can be caused by cancer, food allergies, esophageal worm infection and certain medications.

Some of the common symptoms of inflammation of the dog esophagus include coughing, difficulty swallowing, drooling, vomiting or regurgitating, fever, loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss.

How to Prevent It:

Same as it was noted above, always try to prevent your pooch from eating foreign objects. If your dog has food allergies, keep him away from the allergens.

How to Fix It:

Cases of mild dog esophagus inflammation can often go unnoticed and thus without treatment. When symptoms are present, therapy normally includes administration of drugs that reduce stomach acid, pain medications and feeding your dog soft foods.

Severe cases may require insertion of a feeding tube in order to bypass the esophagus and let it rest. This is occasionally followed by antibiotics to prevent or treat bacterial infection. IV fluids may be given for dehydration, while oxygen therapy can be given if the dog has trouble breathing.

Expansion of the Esophagus - Megaesophagus in Dogs
Left lateral thorax thoracic radiograph X-ray of a dog with dilated megaesophagus.

3. Expansion of the Esophagus (Megaesophagus)

Abnormal stretching or expansion of the dog's esophagus is most commonly caused by a congenital defect, but it can sometimes occur in adult dogs alongside another disease. This includes an injury to the esophagus, ingestion of foreign objects, cancer and hypothyroidism, among others.

Congenital megaesophagus in dogs is usually diagnosed right after weaning. Some breeds are more likely to be affected by it, especially Miniature Schnauzers. Other breeds prone to it include Great Danes, German Shepherds, Fox Terriers, Labrador Retrievers and Irish Setters.

Typical symptoms of this dog esophagus problem include regurgitation, excessive salivation, coughing and gagging. Muscle weakness can develop from starvation and pneumonia may occur from aspirating food or water.

How to Prevent It:

Congenital megaesophagus can’t be prevented since it is a hereditary disease but you may decrease the risk of megaesophagus caused by other conditions through preventing injuries to the dog's esophagus and ingestion of foreign objects.

How to Fix It:

Unfortunately, this is one of dog esophagus problems that cannot be fixed completely, and most dogs with this condition have poor prognosis. While some puppies with congenital megaesophagus may grow out of the condition, those that don’t will require constant care and management. This includes feeding the dog in an upright position, feeding him a high-calorie food and doing it in small, frequent meals.

If the cause of the condition is known, treating that specific condition is the first step in managing megaesophagus in puppies and adult dogs. Surgery may also be necessary to correct blood vessel abnormalities.

Esophageal Stricture in Dogs

4. Esophageal Stricture

Esophageal stricture in dogs is a medical term for the narrowing of the dog's esophagus. It is usually caused by trauma, use of certain drugs, anesthesia, reflux esophagitis, inflammation of the esophagus and cancer. Esophageal strictures can also be congenital, although that is a rare occurrence.

Common symptoms include regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling and pain in the area.

How to Prevent It:

Prevention of esophageal stricture in dogs consists of preventing underlying cause, if that is possible.

How to Fix It:

Treatment of such dog esophagus problems can be conservative or surgical. Conservative treatments include mechanical stricture dilation and the use of prosthesis. Surgery is typically only used as a last resort because it is often a very complicated, costly and demanding procedure.

Esophageal Diverticula in Dogs

5. Esophageal Diverticula

Diverticula are pouch-like sacs or dilations that appear on the dog's esophageal wall. Sometimes they are inherited but they can also be acquired. While rare in dogs, this condition can cause issues with breathing, vomiting and loss of appetite, especially when it's large diverticula. Small diverticula are often asymptomatic.

These dog esophagus problems are commonly caused by some other condition from those mentioned above, such as esophageal foreign body, inflammation and developmental disorders of the esophageal wall.

How to Prevent It:

Preventing ingestion of foreign objects is one way to avoid this condition. Other conditions that lead to esophageal diverticula in dogs are difficult or even impossible to prevent.

How to Fix It:

Small diverticula in dogs can be treated with a soft and bland diet. Your pet should also be fed in an upright position. Large diverticula are treated surgically, by removing the pouch and rebuilding of the animal's esophageal wall.

ConclusionThe 5 Dog Esophagus Problems and What You Should Know

Dog esophagus problems are not among the most common health issues that owners and veterinarians encounter, but they are also often misdiagnosed. The one symptom characteristic for all esophagus conditions in dogs is regurgitation, which is commonly mistaken for simple vomiting.

Esophagus issues in dogs are typically caused by consuming foreign objects or trauma to the animal's esophagus, but they can also be congenital as well. Common treatment options range from diet changes and administration of various medications to surgery.

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Kelly works as a veterinary technician in Austin, TX as well as regular animal rescue volunteer. She's been an animal lover and dog owner since childhood, and has worked in different dog related fields over the last twenty years. Currently she lives with three dogs and a cat.