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Inflammation of the Esophagus in Dogs

Esophagitis in Dogs

Esophagitis, an inflammation of the esophagus in dogs, often stems from gastrointestinal reflux, commonly known as acid reflux. This condition occurs when stomach acids flow into the esophageal canal, leading to irritation of the esophageal tissue. The esophagus, a muscular tube responsible for transporting food from the mouth to the stomach, becomes inflamed due to this irritation.

Young dogs born with congenital esophageal abnormalities face a heightened risk of developing esophagitis. Additionally, older dogs undergoing anesthesia for surgeries or other medical procedures may also experience this condition. Esophagitis can lead to complications, with one of the most significant being aspiration pneumonia. This occurs when food particles or liquid droplets enter the lungs, resulting in pneumonia.

Symptoms and Types

  • Regurgitation: The returning of food or other contents from the esophagus or stomach back through the mouth.
  • Increased swallowing motions.
  • Pain while swallowing.
  • Increased secretions coming out of the mouth.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Dogs may cry while swallowing food.
  • Dogs may extend their head and neck during swallowing.
  • Inability to ingest food.
  • Reluctance to move or lie down.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Coughing.
  • Fever.
  • Dogs may feel pain if you touch their neck or esophagus.
  • Symptoms may become more pronounced if pneumonia develops.

Causes

  • Reflux of gastric and/or intestinal contents: This refers to the backward flow of fluids towards the esophagus.
  • Accidental ingestion of irritant chemicals.
  • Infections.
  • After surgery involving the esophagus, often due to the passing of the feeding tube through the esophagus.
  • Chronic vomiting.
  • Foreign body remaining in the esophagus.
  • Animals retaining ingested pills or capsules in the esophagus.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of your dog after obtaining a detailed medical history from you. It’s essential to provide as much information as possible about your dog’s health, including when symptoms started and any preceding incidents.

Routine laboratory tests will include a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis, although these results typically appear normal in such cases. However, changes related to infection may be evident in laboratory results if pneumonia is present. Radiographic studies, such as X-rays or ultrasound imaging, may aid in diagnosing esophagitis. Barium contrast radiography, an advanced form of radiography, can reveal esophageal inflammation. This procedure involves orally administering barium sulfate to the dog, which suspends in the esophagus, making it easier to visualize on X-ray.

Endoscopy is another diagnostic option and is often more reliable for diagnosing esophagitis. It involves using an endoscope, a flexible tube equipped with a camera and tools for retrieving tissue samples, to examine hollow cavities like the esophagus internally. Through endoscopy, your veterinarian can visually inspect the esophagus, capture images, and take biopsy samples if necessary. Additionally, endoscopy may be used to remove foreign bodies if required.

Treatment

If gastrointestinal reflux is identified as the cause of esophagitis, your veterinarian will address both the underlying cause and the symptoms to reduce their frequency and severity, as well as to prevent the esophagus from narrowing in response to stress and trauma.

For cases of mild esophagitis, outpatient treatment may suffice, eliminating the need for hospitalization. However, if complications like pneumonia arise, hospital admission for intensive care and treatment becomes necessary. Patients suffering from dehydration will require fluid therapy, and oxygen supplementation may be provided until breathing improves and the dog is out of danger. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat pneumonia in affected patients, although this may not always be necessary.

Living and Management

Your veterinarian may advise withholding water and food for a few days during the recovery period. Various methods for providing nutrition, including intravenous nutrition, may be recommended while your dog is recuperating.

Once your dog can tolerate food intake again, a soft, palatable, and highly nutritious diet is recommended. Follow-up progress checkups are essential for ongoing care, with endoscopy examinations typically performed to ensure proper healing of the esophagus. The prognosis for affected animals is favorable if esophagitis is promptly and aggressively treated. However, if the condition progresses to the point of esophageal stricture formation, the prognosis is generally very poor.

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