Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
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.
Function of the Esophagus
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 its size or because it has 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, fishhooks and triangular bones such as pork chops 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:
- 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 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
- Subcutaneous emphysema
- 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
Question: What can I give my dog to dislodge food in its throat?
Answer: 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.
Question: Is an esophagus obstruction in a dog evident on a radiograph?
Answer: 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
Deserie on February 22, 2019:
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
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Tony Oda on April 26, 2018:
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?
Joe on March 21, 2017:
What to do for a dog that will not eat for about 2 days now
Eric on September 29, 2016:
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?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 11, 2016:
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 from Dallas Texas on April 05, 2015:
very useful, i think my dog might have this problem shes losing weight fast and keeps licking her lips and throwing up
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 31, 2014:
Best wishes for a speeding recovery.
Carrie on July 23, 2014:
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!
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 27, 2014:
This is very interesting, and the video is helpful, too. Great hub.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on March 21, 2014:
How scary- I hope I never have to see this with my pups!
Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on March 21, 2014:
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!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 19, 2014:
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 on March 19, 2014:
Thank you for this information. I would be checking my dogs for signs. I have five Chihuahuas. Nice hub.
Brenda Thornlow from New York on March 19, 2014:
Interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing!