Although not a common condition in Irish Wolfhounds, it can occur, and it is recognised when a young puppy starts to have difficulty feeding and keeping food down. Adult hounds can also develop megaesophagus as a consequence of some other underlying condition.
Critical to the management of a dog with this condition is feeding style and the objective is to feed with the neck stretched as much as possible so that the food slides down more easily, Wolfhound owners often make their own built up feeding station to allow the dog to adopt the necessary posture.
The oesophagus in a dog is on the left of the throat and the trachea is central. None of the treatment for megaesophagus points this out specifically - so when you massage the throat to flush the food down, you also run the risk of pushing any other fluid that is trying to be expelled back into the lungs. It is possible that this might promote pneumonia in these dogs because if a slight cold leads to mucus build up it cannot escape if the owner massages the entire throat in a downward direction. It may be best if owners massage on the dogs left hand side of the throat if they are using this as part of the feeding management.
The following information might be useful to owners who find themselves caring for a dog suffering from this condition:
"Megaesophagus is a condition in which the muscles of the esophagus lose their tone and are no longer able to propel food into the stomach. The esophagus is a tube which connects the mouth to the stomach. In normal function wave-like contractions, called peristalsis, move the food which enters the esophagus down into the stomach. When megaesophagus occurs the esophagus dilates, or enlarges, due to the lack of muscle tone. This causes food to just sit in the esophagus, unable to continue into the stomach to be digested.
The most common symptom of megaesophagus is regurgitation. It is important to understand the difference between regurgitation and vomiting. Vomiting is an active process associated with retching and heaving, where the body forcefully removes contents from the stomach. Regurgitation is a passive process where food or water basically just falls back out of the mouth or throat with no warning. Regurgitation is associated with megaesophagus because food is not able to be moved into the stomach and so it sits in the esophagus until it eventually is removed from the body by the process of regurgitation.
Another sign can be weight loss. Because food is not making it to the stomach it cannot be broken down or the nutrients absorbed. This can result in malnourishment and weight loss.
A very common complication associated with megaesophagus is aspiration pneumonia. Because food remains in the esophagus it can easily get into the lungs. This causes pneumonia which can be fatal if not treated. This is most often the cause of death in dogs with megaesophagus."