Dog Food for Megaesophagus
I’ve been experimenting with dog food for megaesophagus. My granddog, Kayla, has Megaesophagus. With this dog health problem, the esophagus doesn’t work well. In some cases, it doesn’t work at all. When the esophagus isn’t functioning with its normal muscular contractions, food and water swallowed just sit there instead of being pushed to the stomach where it’s needed. After consuming food or water in a normal position, the contents are regurgitated. If the problem isn’t addressed correctly, the dog will literally starve to death. Canine Megaesophagus can also cause aspiration pneumonia when the food or water ends up in the trachea and lungs instead of in the esophagus. A dog with megaesophagus needs to be fed in a vertical position and to remain in that position until all the food reaches the stomach. We accomplish this with a Bailey Chair my husband built. Depending on the dog and on the food, 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. The tips here might not work with your pooch, but I’m going to share with you which dog food for megaesophagus have worked best for us.
Megaesophagus Dog Food
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 the time, they have to be fed several times a day, and they can’t have much of anything at one sitting.
In Kayla’s case, the problems were compounded by the fact that she’s 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 enough for the mother dog to do, much less having enough extra to produce milk.
Unfortunately, Kayla wouldn’t stand for it. She insisted on nursing her pups. 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’s putting on weight, and her bags are full of milk. We decided that as long as she can gradually add a little weight to her body and feed the pups at the same time, we’d allow her to do so.
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 best. 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 megaesophagus do better with a more watery meal.
I’ve been feeding Kayla since Monday, and she hasn’t regurgitated a single time! This is how I make her megaesophagus dog food: To the blender, I add ½ can of critical care dog food, ½ cup Science Diet puppy food, ½ cup Purina Puppy Chow, a scoop of dry puppy milk replacer, and a little sugar. The sugar is just to add some extra calories. I pour in some warm water and puree the mixture to a smooth consistency that’s sort of like thin pudding.
Evidently, this concoction is working well for Kayla. She’s a Great Dane, so your dog probably won’t need as much food. And even though this formula seems to be just what Kayla needs, it might not be the best option for your dog. You’ll need to experiment to find the best recipe for dog food that your dog will enjoy and keep down. Some other suggestions I’ve seen from megaesophagus dog owners include yogurt, cheese, oatmeal, Gatorade, olive oil, Ensure, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, baby cereal, baby food meats, peanut butter “soup,” and pureed chicken and rice.
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, if possible. Sudden changes in food can cause diarrhea and other problems, and you certainly don’t need that.
Water for Megaesophagus Dogs
Getting enough water for megaesophagus dogs can be a real problem. For example, Kayla has always had more trouble keeping down water than she has keeping down 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.
Even when you add water to dog foods, however, your furry friend might not be meeting its 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. I think I’ve solved this problem though, by making what some megaesophagus dog owners refer to as Knox blocks or Knox Blox. Essentially, Knox blocks are water Jell-o. I use four cups of water and four envelopes of unflavored Knox gelatin. I sprinkle the gelatin over a cup of room-temperature water and let it dissolve. Then I stir in three cups of boiling water. I also add about ¼ cup of sugar just to make the blocks more palatable and to add some calories. I poured the liquid into a 13 x 9 dish and refrigerated it overnight. The next morning, I cut it into blocks and placed the blocks into a large Ziploc food bag.
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.
Canine Megaesophagus Feeding Tips
I’ve done extensive research concerning megaesophagus in dogs. I’ve read everything I could get me hands on, talked with owners of megaesphagus dogs, and met with four veterinarians. Obviously, I also have some hands-on personal experience. I’ve been pretty surprised at some of the information I’ve found on some megaesophagus sites and blogs. Some tell owners to simply use elevated food and water bowls. That 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.
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 right after feeding times. The vet I told you about who owns a dog with megaesophagus uses a baby car seat and harness to feed his dog. 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 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.
I have some other megaesophagus feeding tips for you, too. One is to keep the dog calm after it eats or drinks. We don’t let Kayla out right after her feeding and wait time in the Bailey Chair. So far, the “magic number” for her 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 peeing or pooping won’t be difficult for her to do.
Kayla has been using the Bailey Chair for only a few days, so she hasn’t really gotten used to it yet. She’s 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 furkid has to wait before getting down.
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 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 Megaesophagus
Dealing with canine megaesophagus can be difficult, but the condition is not usually a death sentence. Once you get the hang of it and know what does and doesn’t work, living with megaesophagus is “doable.” 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 him, 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 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 megaesophagus, your largest hurdle will be behind you.