Symptoms of Dog Esophagus Blockage

Updated on August 14, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Learn about dog esophagus obstruction symptoms and treatment.
Learn about dog esophagus obstruction symptoms and treatment. | Source

Dog Esophagus Problems

Your dog's esophagus lives pretty much in the shadow most of the time, until it gives some sign of trouble. At that point, we become aware of its presence and the way it affects the dog when a foreign body interferes with its proper functioning.

The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the dog's mouth with the stomach. Its name derives from the Greek word "oesophagus" meaning "entrance for eating." Food will be chewed up in the mouth, then it will be swallowed through the pharynx (where the epiglottis will fold down to prevent entrance into the trachea), and then the bolus will go down the esophagus, passing near the heart through the diaphragm muscle and right up into the the stomach. All this process takes is about five seconds—a very small lapse of time that often leaves owners with little time to intervene in the case the dog swallows a foreign object!

How Foreign Objects Get Stuck in Dog's Throats

Normally, the esophagus expands quite a lot to allow the food to pass through, but when a foreign object is swallowed, it may get lodged in the esophagus (whether because of size or having sharp points). The majority of obstructions occur lower in the neck area at the thoracic inlet, but they can also occur by the pharynx, base of the heart or by the level of the diaphragm.

Typically, balls, rocks, sticks, triangular bones such as pork chops and fishhooks tend to lodge in this area. Small breeds of dogs are particularly prone to esophageal obstructions. In the following paragraphs, we will see symptoms of esophagus blockages and treatment options.

Signs and Treatment of Esophageal Blockage in Dogs

When a dog's esophagus is blocked, most dog owners will become aware of the problem as the symptoms are quite noticeable. Yet, treatment may be delayed because owners may not understand what exactly has happened, especially if they haven't witnessed the dog swallowing any foreign object. Consider that semi-solid food and water may be still able to pass past the blockage if it is partial.

The following are symptoms suggesting an esophageal obstruction in dogs:

  • Retching
  • Drooling
  • Regurgitation (for more on this, read about vomiting versus regurgitation)
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent gulping

How a Veterinarian Diagnoses a Blockage

Veterinarians who suspect an esophageal blockage must take neck and thoracic radio graphs. Recognizing a blockage may be tricky at times, as plain x-rays may reveal only ill-defined soft tissue opacities.

Veterinary Treatment Options

Endoscopy (the insertion of a tube with a camera on end) is the ideal method to remove the blockage with the pet under anesthesia, and when this is unsuccessful, surgery is usually the next step. If the esophagus is found to be damaged from the foreign object, a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories will be prescribed.

If erosions were present on the lining of the esophagus, restriction of food or water may be necessary for a few days so to allow the esophagus to heal. Allowing a dog with an esophageal blockage to drink or eat may cause aspiration into the lungs; you're better off seeking the vet immediately.


Failure to treat an esophageal blockage in a timely manner may lead to severe complications such as the following:

  • Esophageal stricture
  • Esophagitis
  • Subcutaneous emphysema
  • Perforation
  • Pneumothorax
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Transient megaesophagus


Prevention is the best course of action for avoiding esophageal obstructions in dogs. Keep small items that can be swallowed away from your dog. Dogs have been known to ingest the oddest things, including pantyhose, underwear, socks, hair ties and corn cobs. It's always a good idea to keep such items out of reach and train the "drop it" and "leave it" commands as backups.

Bones, though, seem to be the most prevalent cause for these types of blockages, according to the Merck Manual. Also, according to a 2007 review conducted by veterinarians at The AMC and published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, 60 dogs with foreign bodies stuck in the esophagus were evaluated. Out of the 60, 46 of them had bones lodged, whereas 14 had various toys, food objects and plastic lodged in their esophagus.

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

  • What can I give my dog to dislodge food in its throat?

    If you are truly dealing with food lodged in the throat (many times dogs with kennel cough are thought to have something stuck in their throats, this condition is often caught at dog parks, daycare, and when being boarded) and it is something that can be truly "dislodged," then you can try some bread soaked in some water. However, this won't likely work if your dog has something else lodged in the throat such as a burr or other foreign object or if you are dealing with a totally different issue. Please see your vet if things don't resolve.

  • Is an esophagus obstruction in a dog evident on a radiograph?

    Not always. I remember when working for the vet that sometimes certain objects didn't show. In order to become visible, they must be 'radiodense' (like stones or metal). String, fabric and sometimes plastic may not show up. Sometimes, vets need to add a special dye to outline the object.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli


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    • profile image


      15 months ago

      My doggy is a threeyr old lab she sounds like she has hourse or like a sour throut.she is eating and drinking but after she drinks she like cought like she has a sor throught what to do .thanks

    • profile image

      Tony Oda 

      2 years ago

      I have a niece that has a female english bulldog named Daisy. Daisy began throwing up all night, then the next morning she threw up a huge hairball looking thing, after she seems better. Is this a diet issue?

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      What to do for a dog that will not eat for about 2 days now

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      My blue healer mix ate a rib bone a few weeks ago, and now, on occasion only, makes noises like he's trying to clear his throat. It in no way keeps him from eating, exercising, or really anything except that he's obviously trying to clear something. He drinks fine. He's highly energetic, and sometimes he doesn't make that noise at all, and I think it has passed. Is there anything he can swallow that might dissolve, or help to pass a small obstruction?

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 years ago

      Eman, I hope not, hopefully your vet will be able to pinpoint the problem and determine if it's related to the esophagus or not.

    • Eman Almeraisi profile image

      Eman Almeraisi 

      5 years ago from Dallas Texas

      very useful, i think my dog might have this problem shes losing weight fast and keeps licking her lips and throwing up

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      5 years ago

      Best wishes for a speeding recovery.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My dog ate chicken bones this morning, now she is throwing up and her head is wobbly. After reading this we will definitely be taking her to the vet in the morning!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      This is very interesting, and the video is helpful, too. Great hub.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      How scary- I hope I never have to see this with my pups!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      6 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      It's amazing that we don't see more of this in dogs, considering what they eat when we're not looking. Great article and great advice. Voted up!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      6 years ago

      Thanks, we had a small dog once show up at the vet with a blockage caused by a Greenie and the vet used the endoscope, split it in pieces and sent some down the stomach and collected the bigger piece.

    • theBAT profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for this information. I would be checking my dogs for signs. I have five Chihuahuas. Nice hub.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 

      6 years ago from New York

      Interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing!


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