The Best Foods for Dogs 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. If the problem isn’t addressed correctly, the affected will literally starve to death.
What Are the Complications?
Canine megaesophagus can also cause aspiration pneumonia when 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 must remain in that position until all the food reaches the stomach.
How Can It Be Managed?
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
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?
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.Helpful 2
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.
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.Helpful 6