Holle has years of experience caring for a Great Dane with megaesophagus.
What Is Megaesophagus in Dogs?
I’ve been experimenting with appropriate dog food types for dogs with megaesophagus. My dog, Kayla, was diagnosed with it. With this particular condition, the esophagus—which connects the throat and stomach—doesn’t work well. In some cases, it doesn’t work at all.
How Does the Esophagus Malfunction?
When the esophagus isn’t functioning with its normal muscular contractions, food and water that is swallowed sits in the esophagus instead of being pushed to the stomach where it’s needed for digestion. After consuming food or water in a normal position, the contents are then regurgitated.
What Are the Complications?
If the problem isn’t addressed correctly, the affected dog will literally starve to death. Canine megaesophagus can also cause aspiration pneumonia when food or water ends up in the trachea and lungs instead of in the esophagus.
How Can It Be Managed?
A dog with megaesophagus needs to be fed in a vertical position and must remain in that position until all the food reaches the stomach. We managed Kayla's condition with a Bailey Chair that my husband built in addition to feeding her specific types of foods that had been prepared in a blender.
With this method, depending on the dog and on the food being fed, feeding and wait time can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. (Different megaesophagus dogs function better with different types of food and food consistencies.) All of the tips here might not necessarily work for your dog, but I’m going to share with you which worked best for ours.
A Veterinarian Explains Megaesophagus in Dogs
Types of Food to Feed a Dog With Megaesophagus
Obviously, the best dog food for megaesophagus should include the required nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy—proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Calories are also a major concern. Since some dogs with the condition can eat only small amounts of dog food at a time, they have to be fed several times a day, and they can’t have much of anything at one sitting.
Kayla Was Struggling to Nurse a Litter
In Kayla’s case, the problems were compounded by the fact that she was trying to nurse a little of puppies. While she was in the veterinary hospital for more than a week, we bottle-fed the puppies. We planned to continue bottle-feeding puppies even after Kayla came home because we believed that getting enough nutrients and calories for her own survival would be difficult in addition to having to produce enough milk.
Kayla Did Not Want to Be Separated From Her Puppies
Unfortunately, Kayla wouldn’t stand for being separated from her puppies. She insisted on nursing them. When we separated them from her, she worried herself to death (really stressing herself out, so to speak). With some megaesophagus dogs, stress makes the condition worse, so we were in a quandary as to what would be best for Kayla and her puppies.
When she first came home, she was extremely thin and had no milk whatsoever. As we began feeding her nutritionally dense dog food, however, she put on weight and her bags were full of milk. We decided that as long as she could gradually add a little weight to her body and feed the pups at the same time, we’d allow her to do so.
We Tried Different Food Types
As far as dog food is concerned, we've tried just about everything—puppy kibble, high-nutrition dry adult dog food, raw ground beef, cooked ground beef, and critical-care canned dog food. From all the dog foods we've tried so far, Science Diet puppy food kibble, Purina puppy chow, and the critical-care canned food have worked the best.
Different Food Consistencies May Help
We still had to find the best consistency for Kayla, however. The vet was feeding Kayla small “meatballs” of wet and dry dog foods. Kayla did okay on this, but she continued to regurgitate sometimes, even after being fed in an upright position. We met with a veterinarian who has a dog with megaesophagus, and he suggested we try a thinner consistency. He said that many dogs with the condition do better with a more watery meal.
Kayla's Feeding Regimen
Through trial and error, we were finally able to find a food type and consistency that worked well for Kayla. Although each dog has different requirements, this might just work for you. Here are the instructions:
- 1/2 can Critical-Care dog food
- 1/2 cup Science Diet puppy food
- 1/2 cup Purina puppy chow
- 1 scoop dry puppy milk replacer (e.g. Esbilac)
- water (to effect)
- sugar or Karo syrup (optional)
- In a blender, add 1/2 can Critical-Care dog food, 1/2 cup Science Diet puppy food, 1/2 cup Purina puppy chow, a scoop of dry puppy milk replacer, and a little sugar. (The sugar adds some extra calories.)
- Pour in some warm water.
- Puree the mixture to a smooth consistency (like thin pudding).
This concoction worked well for Kayla. (She’s a Great Dane, so your dog probably won’t need as much food.) You’ll need to experiment to find the best recipe that your dog will enjoy and keep down.
Other Suggestions From Pet Owners
Some other suggestions I’ve seen from megaesophagus dog owners include the following:
mashed sweet potatoes
baby food meats
peanut butter “soup"
Always Change Food Gradually
In the future, I might be forced to try some new dog foods with Kayla, but for now, I’m following the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If whatever you’re doing in the way of feeding a megaesophagus dog is working, don’t change it. If you have to make some changes and try some new dog foods, make the change gradually. Sudden changes in food can cause diarrhea and other problems, and you certainly don’t need that.
A Demonstration of the Bailey Chair
How to Give Water to a Dog With Megaesophagus
Getting enough water into a megaesophagus dog can be a real problem. For example, Kayla has always had more trouble keeping water down than she has food.
Of course, you can get a lot of water into your pet with the dog food you use. Canned dog food already contains a good bit of water, and you can always mix it with more water. Dry dog food doesn’t contain much water, but you can use plain water to moisten and soften the food.
Megaesophagus Dogs Are Often Under-Hydrated
Even when you add water to dog foods, however, your furry friend might not be meeting his or her hydration requirements. I know Kayla wasn’t . . . at first. Every time we’d let her out, she’d search the yard for any standing water. If she found any, she’d greedily lap it up.
Knox Blocks/Blox Are a Great Solution
I solved this problem by making what some megaesophagus dog owners refer to as Knox Blocks or Knox Blox. Essentially, Knox Blocks are a combination of water and JELL-O. Here's how to make them:
- 4 cups of water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Four envelopes of Knox gelatin
- 13 x 9-inch dish
- Use four cups of water and four envelopes of unflavored Knox gelatin.
- Sprinkle the gelatin over a cup of room-temperature water and let it dissolve.
- Stir in 3 cups of boiling water.
- Add about 1/4 cup of sugar to make the blocks more palatable and to add some calories.
- Pour the liquid into a 13 x 9-inch dish and refrigerated it overnight.
- The next morning, cut the blocks and place them into a large Ziploc food bag.
Dogs Love Knox Blocks
Kayla loves her Knox Blocks! I’ve read that some owners sweeten the blocks with honey or white Karo syrup, but regular sugar is working fine for us. Some owners also make the blocks with no-sodium chicken broth. I can’t find any chicken or beef broth in the supermarkets that doesn't contain sodium. I guess I could always make my own by boiling some fresh beef or chicken and not adding any salt.
More Important and Effective Feeding Tips
I’ve done extensive research and I’ve read everything I could get my hands on, talked with owners of megaesophagus dogs, and met with four veterinarians. Obviously, I also have some hands-on experience. I’ve been pretty surprised at some of the information I’ve found on websites and blogs, however, I've summarized my best tips below.
Elevated Bowls Are Not Enough
Some sites tell owners to simply use elevated food and water bowls. This DOES NOT work for most cases of canine megaesophagus! Here’s the way one vet explained it to me: When a dog is standing on all four legs, most of the esophagus is parallel to the ground. Only the very first section is somewhat vertical, so gravity doesn’t help much when using elevated bowls. This vet also explained that a dog’s esophagus doesn’t end until the last rib. With a Great Dane, that’s a lot tubing to get through before the food winds up in the stomach.
Feed Your Dog as Vertically as Possible
You’ll need to feed your dog as vertically as possible. If you have a small dog, this is pretty easy to do. Heck, you could just hold the pint-sized pooch up during and after feeding times. The vet I work with uses a baby car seat and harness to feed his dog.
Use a Bailey Chair for Large Breeds
If you have a larger dog to feed and water, the best option is to buy or build a Bailey Chair. I just can’t say enough good things about Bailey Chairs! The one my hubby built for Kayla has worked like a charm. When I say “chair,” she knows that means food, so she heads immediately for her trusty Bailey Chair.
Keep Your Dog Calm After Feeding
Keep your dog calm after it eats or drinks. We don’t let Kayla out right after her feeding and have her wait in her Bailey Chair. So far, the “magic number” for her to wait is forty-five minutes before going outdoors to relieve herself. We let her out just before feeding or watering her so that the time she has to wait before pottying isn't too long.
Time Your Dog While They Rest and Digest
Kayla has been using the Bailey Chair and is always eager to get in it because food is involved, but once she eats, she’s ready to get out. Someone sits next to her while she has to wait. In Kayla’s case, she only needs to stay upright for fifteen minutes after she finishes a meal or a drink of water. After she takes her last swallow, we set the kitchen timer and wait with her. You’ll need to experiment with how long your fur-kid has to wait before getting out of the chair.
Prop Your Dog's Head up When They Rest
When Kayla lies down, especially when it’s right after she’s had food or water, we try to prop up her head and shoulder up with a comfy pillow. This creates a slope that will help gravity do its job. If your dog sleeps in a crate or in a dog bed, you might want to try elevating the head portion a few inches.
Living With the Condition
Dealing with canine megaesophagus can be difficult, but the condition is manageable. Of course, some dogs more easily adapt than others do, and some cases of the condition are worse than others. Be sure to work with a licensed veterinarian to best manage your dog’s health.
If you happen to find a vet who owns a Mega-E dog, that’s even better. If you can’t, at least try to find one who has experience with Mega-E dogs. Please be patient with your dog—this isn’t easy for them, either. Whatever you do, don’t give up until you’ve tried everything! Learn as much as you can, get a Bailey Chair, and don’t be afraid to think outside of the proverbial box from time to time.
Living with megaesophagus is no picnic, but once you discover the right hydration methods and dog food for your canine companion, your largest hurdle will be behind you.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: How many Knox blocks should I give my dog a day?
Answer: It totally depends on how large the dog is and on how much water it's getting via food.
Question: My dog recently got diagnosed with ME. He's older (11 yrs.) & also has hip dysplasia & arthritis. His back end has never been very strong. When I picked him up from the pound, he had been so severely abused he didn't even know how to play. He never really learned no matter how many playmates I got for him. Is the Bailey chair good for my dog with Megaesophagus? I feel it will it hurt him to stay in that position, putting all his weight in his back haunches for that long.
Answer: That position would probably be painful for him. If he's not too heavy, perhaps one person could hold him upright while the other person fed/watered him.
Question: When regurgitation occurs after feeding, what should we do next? Do we immediately give him more food? Should we wait a short time or a long time, even up to overnight?
Answer: I would suggest waiting about 30 minutes before feeding again. Be sure he eats slowly.
Question: My dog drinks from the swimming pool. I try hard to prevent it, but he has been doing it for over a year. What are your thoughts on this?
Answer: Pool water isn't good for pets. Of course, it depends on the amount and types of chemicals in the pool. Our outdoor cats often drink from our pool, even though they always have fresh water in their bowl. So far, it hasn't harmed them.
Question: Do you give your dog treats? And if so what are the best types?
Answer: We used flavored Knox blocks for treats.
Question: We live in an area that gets a lot of snow. Our dog, like most dogs, loves to eat the snow outside. Unfortunately, eating snow is like drinking water, which our dog cannot handle. It was suggested we try a flexible muzzle to prevent him from eating the snow, but he still eats enough to make himself sick. Any other thoughts or suggestions and how to keep a dog from eating the snow?
Answer: I'm in the Deep South, so I've never had that problem. Does the dog live outdoors? If it's an indoor pet, maybe you could let him go out only when leashed when snow is on the ground.
Sheri on July 05, 2020:
Thank you for your response. If she is fed several times during the day how much food should I give her at one time. Currently she has one can of dog food with maybe a quarter cup of dry food in a roll egg mixed with chicken broth twice a day. I really don’t have anybody that I can get to feed her during the day. Currently I am working from home so she can get fed three times a day but That’s all that can be done.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 05, 2020:
Ouisee, I think we used both cooked and raw meat. Find out which one your dog better tolerates.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 05, 2020:
Sherri, I'm sorry, but she really needs to be fed more often. She needs numerous small meals a day. Try to find someone who can feed her while you're at work.
Sheri on July 05, 2020:
My German Shepard, Josie, was diagnosed at 6 weeks. She is now 6 months but only weighs 31 pounds. She plays and runs but even though we feed her in a homemade Bailey chair she regurgitates several times throughout the day and sometimes the night. Both my husband and I work and can only feed her twice a day. I’ll feed her one can of puppy food with a little dry puppy food grounded up and added in one raw egg in water down with chicken broth. She also gets Knox box while she eats. We keep her in the chair for 30 to 40 minutes each time but she still is regurgitating. What would you recommend that I change or do differently to help her stop regurgitating? She also takes a antacid and something to keep the acid in her stomach down.
Caroline on June 20, 2020:
I have a 8 year old deerhound recently diagnosed with megaesophagus she has lost so much weight .I am trying to feed her every couple of hours the easiest food she takes is puréed chicken and rice . I may have to resort to a home made bailey chair to enable a level of recovery . She is still regurgitating some food but not every feed. she is hungry and looking for her food but is only managing a little each time
Danette Smith on March 24, 2020:
I have a question, my dog was just diagnosed with megaesophagus as well and i was wondering what is the best way to feed him?
Ouisee on March 10, 2020:
As many have mentioned, thanks so very much for sharing your trials and tribulations in working with canine MG.
Your very direct statement that elevated feeding just won’t cut it was especially appreciated. We are, in fact, trying the elevated feeding with less than spectacular results - good results but not spectacular. Will look into making a Bailey Chair or maybe just avoid carpentry frustration and purchase a chair.
Not sure if my question was sent or not so I will ask again: is there a compelling reason to use raw ground beef and / or ground turkey or will cooked protein also be acceptable?
Yvonne Stewart on February 03, 2020:
I wanted to thank you for your website and the food you recomended. You saved my dog's life. I tried all kinds of wet food, wet puppy kibble, the chair, and antibiotics. My dog's was skin and bones and she could not hold herself up anymore. I gave her Knox blocks but she only wanted that for one day. What worked was the Gerber baby cereal!!! That saved her life. THANK YOU FOR THE SUGGESTIONS! I thought I was going to have to put her down since she could not go on losing all her food in less than 2 minutes after eating. She could not hold anything down and at the same time she was aspirating. I could not lose hope and with your help she is still with my family. She has gained weight and her nose and mouth are not pale but pink. Thank you again for saving her. Yvonne Stewart
Tanja on October 08, 2018:
Hi there, we've just been blessed with a little angel who has ME and I put protexin powder in her feeds which I find helps with the.reflux.. she weighs two blocks of butter (1kg) but is a very happy and active baby 9 weeks old... I feed her royal canine puppy mousse 5 times a day however I was wondering if I could grind her dry food and add it into her puppy mousse to be a bit more sustainable.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 27, 2018:
Kay, Kayla is no longer with us. She died from bloat. Of her 4 puppies, my daughter kept one, the sire's owner got one, and I kept 2. They're almost 5 now and have never exhibited any signs of mega e. My 2 have been neutered, so they won't have any offspring. Good to hear about your pooch!
Kay on March 25, 2018:
As a Mega E dog owner. I do hope you never breed Kayla again, Mega E is a congenital disease and all of the puppies should be tested. If the puppies are getting new homes I do hope you informed them about the moms condition. The breeder we got ours from didn’t disclose anything to us and as you know the care for these dogs is extremely time consuming from feeding to watching them to make sure they don’t chew on anything even a blade of grass. The vet bills also add up quickly. Some will even put the animals down which is what our vet recommended when ours was diagnosed at 10 weeks old. We decided to give her a chance and now she’s six years old and over one hundred pounds. We were lucky but this is not always the case. Good luck with Kayla hoping she stays “regurge” free!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 23, 2018:
Hi, Lynn. We were lucky: I'm retired, so I could feed Kayla numerous times a day. For extra calories, I even added sugar. I'm sure that's not the healthiest thing for dogs, but it beats starvation. Best of luck to you and your pooch!
Lynn on March 23, 2018:
I just got diagnosis of ME for my 16 year old Lhasa apso. She is doing well vertically late in day but first meal of day no matter what time of morning is causing regurgitation. I think I am feeding her too much too fast. She is down 3 lbs and we all work. Struggling to get calories into a 6 hour after work window. Mixing high calorie dog food with ensure and beef broth. I gave 3 x 16 ml of slurry at one time. Usually during day it is fine. First meal of day may be too much. Any comments or suggestions.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 15, 2018:
Pamela, I never tried using the gelatin with kibble. Have you tried using critical care canned food?
Pamela on March 14, 2018:
Hi..my dog was just diagnosed with mega esophagus..I would like to know if you can help me with a recipe to gel his food. I am currently soaking his prescription kibble in water and puree in in the blender. He can take the pudding consistency during the day, but needs more of a slush at night. I thought the slush made into gelatin cubes would go down easily...Not sure about the amounts of gel and "pudding" to use. Surely don't want to waste anything, so if you have any recipes for that, I would so much appreciate it...Thanks.
Chyna on February 10, 2018:
Robert sorry to her about your dog. Have you tried giving your dog pepcid a.c. it helps coat the stomach and reduce acid which reduces the dog from vomiting. My dog is 100 lb and I give him 1 1/2 tablets every night and he's no longer vomiting
Jennifer on February 02, 2018:
I have been feeding my goldendoodle peyton primal . I feed it to him with a spoon in his chair , it’s an incredible food all natural , is frozen so it just has to be defrosted prior to feeding. I’ve experimented with cooking for him and all kinds of food , but this food has worked the best for his Megaesophagus . Its expensive but so worth it . Megaesophagus is the worst condition ever , but I’m doing whatever I can and always will - he is the love of my life . I have faith he will be with me for a long time.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 30, 2017:
Robert, so sorry to hear this. Have you tried to "gel" his food? That might help him keep it down. We also gave Kayla sugar Knox blocks just to add some calories. Another thing - you might have to keep him sitting up in the chair longer after he eats. Please let us know how it goes!
Robert on October 30, 2017:
I have 4 large dogs, my oldest is a 12 year lab. When he first got megaesophagus he weighed 89 lbs. That was 3 months ago. Now he weighs around 55 lbs. and is getting worse. I've tried everything that people say has worked for them and he still throws up. I did build him a Bailys chair and it seems to work at first but about an hour later he throws up what we fed him up. I always put food in a blender to make it easier to go down. I really don't know what to do . I hate to see him suffer, but I feel he's starving to death. Also its hard when you have 3 other big dogs just waiting to eat what he won't. I would appreciate any advice. I had to put one of my babies down years ago and I said I would never do it again. I guess we old people get a little my sensitive the older we get. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 18, 2017:
Sandi, lots of people with small dogs use a baby/infant carrier at meal times. Just make sure your fur baby sits up straight enough. Best of luck to you and your pooch!
sandi stonebraker on February 18, 2017:
my little chihuahua was just diagnosed trying to learn everything i can. Because she is so tiny i'm thinking of wearing her in a baby carrier at meal times instead of a bailey chair - any comments?
Alisha on July 16, 2016:
Hi I have a very fit 11 year old jack russell who has been diagnosed with myaesthenia gravis & megaesophagus for 2 months he spent 2 weeks at the vets he nearly died lost alote of waight he was 13kg went down to 10.6 got pneumonia, had to be on a drip & oxygen, it all started when he got tick pyralisis 3 months ago other wise we was a very healthy fit active dog. We have been giving him 1 1/2 Mestinon 3 times a day 8 hours apart we wait 1 hour before we feed him in a bailey chair leave him in there for 45 minutes he also gets 3/4 tablet of amoxyclav to prevent the pneumonia from coming back & 1 losec morning & night with food to help settle his stomach. He also wears a pro/ travel pillow all day everyday day except for when he is in the chair or going out side to the toilet. It id amazing how much this pro/ travel pillow has helped. He was spewing every 5 day about 6 times per day nearly all thick froth before we got this pro/ travel pillow & uped his medication to 1/12 of mestinon but he still spews once & reverse sneezes every 6th day. We keep his exercise to a very minimum vertually just enough for him to go for a little sniff & the toilet. We also bought a little doggie trailer to pull behind the push bikes just to get him out of the house so he's not getting depressed as he was so active. We have tried the Knox blocks & didn't really work for him so we just stuck with water but only in his bailey chair though. We have just started feeding him hills precription diet I.D & hills Science diet Adult light biscuits soaked in water, morning & lunch don't give him biscuits at night just tinned food we also roll the tinned food into balls & hand feed him then put the water bowl in his bailey chair. Before we started him on the tinned food we were giving him mince & chicken balls even thought he loved it, we found he was getting alote of Salva build up. If there is anything else we could try to get him to stop spewing & reverse sneezes all together would love to hear from you. Thank you.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 24, 2014:
Swee, sorry to hear about your dog. Yes, we fed the Knox blox while Kayla was verticle. I think we fed Kayla 5 or 6 times a day. We were lucky. After several weeks, the Mega E reversed itself! Sadly, Kayla died this past May from an unrelated condition.
Have you tried getting your dog to place its front paws on a couch while it eats?
Swee on November 24, 2014:
Hi, my dog has been recently been diagnosed with megaesop and I've been looking for articles or write ups or other pet owners who are also having this. he is still in the hospital under care of nurses and the dr but i just wanna be more prepared when he is ready to come back home.
the knox water block is ingenious! do you also feed it when vertical ? my dog has mild hip dyslexia so i'm wondering if a bailey chair would be any comfort at all. I also thought of holding my dog upright but I have a golden retriever... how often do you feed your dog ?
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 03, 2013:
Hi, Brooke. Sorry about your puppy. The pup will still need the same amount of calories as a normal pup its size/breed/age. Ask your vet if critical care canned food would be appropriate. The calories and nutrition are concentrated, so you won't have to feed as much. Does the pup have myasthenia gravis or a thyroid problem? If so, the megaesophagus might reverse if the underlying condition is treated. According to the AKC, surgery for the condition is rarely successful. Also, sometimes puppies that are born with the condition grow out of it. PLEASE find a vet familiar with the condition!
Brooke on September 03, 2013:
Do you happen to know what and how much you should feed a puppy with megaesophagus because I have only found information on grown dogs. She is only 8 weeks old and she was diagnosed 1 week ago. We have built her a baily chair but she still seems to be regurgitating some food back up. Also do you know anything about the corrective surgery that can be done because our vet hasn't had any experience with megaE dogs and doesn't know the advantages or disadvantages with the surgery.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 20, 2013:
Wish I could take credit for inventing the Bailey Chair, Doc, but I can't. It's really handy for dogs with megaesophagus. Always good to "see" you!
drbj and sherry from south Florida on July 20, 2013:
What a wonderful invention, Holle, that Bailey chair is. Didn't have a clue before I read your hub what a Bailey chair was.