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Boston terrier has eating woes

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Dear Dr. John,

My Boston Terrier is now eight years old, and was having trouble keeping his food down and seemed to constantly be regurgitating. I noticed a little weight loss, so I took him in for an evaluation. My vet informed me after taking x-rays and more, including a tube placement, that I was lucky my dog had not developed a pneumonia as a side effect of what he had, something called megaesophagus. How does that happen? I was also told that my dog needed further testing for other possible underlying causes. Can my dog live with this condition and for how long? Thanks. C.V.

Dear C.V.,

Megaesophagus is relatively uncommon. In this condition, dogs have a dilated or enlarged esophagus and a decreased ability to move food down into the stomach. As such food has nowhere to go and is regurgitated. When it goes on for some time, weight loss is inevitable. I find it interesting that your dog is a Boston Terrier since it is not one of the breeds typically identified with this disorder, those being German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Mini Schnauzers, Wire Fox Terriers, and a few more.

As you noted, there are several causes. Myasthenia gravis is the most commonly known predisposing disease in about a quarter of the cases. The other ¾ are what called idiopathic meaning there is no known specific cause, but some hormonal disease also needs to be ruled out. I would follow your veterinarian’s advice and fully work up your dog’s condition and possible causes.

The pneumonia that your veterinarian referred to is aspiration pneumonia where the food can be directed into the lungs because of regurgitations and breathing. Treatments for megaesophagus include the medicinal use of Viagra, Botox injections into the lower esophagus, placement of a feeding tube, changing food consistencies to ensure the food can move easily, raising the feeding bowls, standing the dog up when he has eaten to help move the food down, and surgery. Despite all testing, sadly the typical prognosis for megaesophagus is not very good. There is no one specific curative treatment and all the modalities I covered are symptomatic treatments at best. Sorry for your predicament and good luck!

Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic.He can be reached at 781-899-9994.

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