Dysphagia in Dogs

Dysphagia in Dogs

Health & Safety

There are several reasons why a dog might have trouble swallowing which is a condition known as dysphagia. It could be that they have difficulty swallowing anything they take in their mouths, in their pharynx or in the very end of the pharynx which is the point at which food passes into a dog's oesophagus. As such, a dog might suffer from either of these three conditions when they develop dysphagia.

The Different Types of Dysphagia

As previously mentioned, there are three reasons why a dog might have trouble swallowing which are as follows:

  • Oral dysphagia - trouble swallowing anything they have in the mouth
  • Pharyngeal dysphagia - trouble swallowing anything that enters the pharynx
  • Cricopharyngeal dysphagia - trouble swallowing anything found at the furthest end of the pharynx which is where food normally enters passes into the eosophagus

Dogs can develop oral dysphagia should they experience any sort of paralysis of the jaw. Other reasons why a dog might experience difficulties swallowing when they develop oral dysphagia could include the following:

  • Paralysis of the tongue
  • Dental disease
  • Swollen muscles in the mouth
  • Muscles have wasted away in the mouth
  • An inability to open the mouth

Symptoms to Watch Out For

When dogs develop oral dysphagia, they typically show the following signs of there being something wrong:

  • Tilting of head to one side
  • Dogs often throw their heads in a backward movement whenever they eat
  • Food tends to get stuck in a dog's cheek folds and it lacks any saliva

Dogs that develop pharyngeal dysphagia show different signs of there being something wrong with them. Dogs with the condition can grab food out of their bowls, but have trouble swallowing and will typically do the following:

  • Flex and extend both their heads and necks when they try to swallow
  • Excessive chewing of food
  • Gagging
  • Food gets stuck in their cheeks which is covered in saliva
  • Discharge from the nose

When dogs suffer from cricopharyngeal dysphagia, they can often swallow but only after a few attempts at doing so. However, they then show signs of there being something wrong which includes doing the following:

  • Gagging up food they have just swallowed
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting up food they’ve just eaten

Dogs that suffer from this form of dysphagia often have real difficulty putting on and keeping any weight on which in short means they are usually on the skinny side.

The Causes

Dogs can develop any of the three types of dysphagia for several reasons which could include the following:

  • Inflammation of the pharynx
  • Abscesses
  • Growths
  • The tissues in their mouths become filled with modified macrophages and white cells
  • Enlarge lymph nodes
  • Cancer
  • A foreign object gets lodged in the mouth or oesophagus
  • A small amount of saliva starts to drain into the body
  • Trauma to the jaw through injury or if the jaw has come out of joint which is a condition known as luxation
  • A cleft palate which is when the roof of a dog's mouth does not form as it should
  • A disorder known as lingual frenulum which is where there is a small tissue fold on a dog's tongue
  • Injury or trauma to the mouth
  • Dental disease
  • A swollen tongue
  • Inflammation in the mouth
  • Inflammation of the pharynx
  • Cranial nerve issues
  • A damaged trigeminal nerve which is responsible for stimulating the muscles responsible for chewing
  • Paralysis of the tongue
  • Inflamed chewing muscles

When dogs develop the condition and it causes paralysis of the pharynx or pharyngeal weakness, the causes are usually because they have developed the following conditions:

  • Infection polymyositis
  • Immune-mediated polymyositis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Polyneuropathies
  • Myoneural junction disorders
  • Rabies
  • Disorders that affect the brain

Diagnosing the Problem

A vet would ideally need to have a dog's full medical history and be told how any signs of there being something wrong first presented themselves. The vet would also need to be told if a dog was involved in any sort of incident. A dog's mouth and throat would be thoroughly examined and the sort of tests a vet would typically recommend carrying out which would help confirm a diagnosis could include the following:

  • A complete chemical blood profile
  • A complete blood count
  • A urinalysis
  • X-rays
  • An ultra-sound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

The tests would help determine whether a dog has developed an infectious disease, are experiencing a muscular injury or whether they are suffering from kidney disease.

Treatment Options

The sort of treatment a dog might receive depends on the underlying cause of their condition. Should a dog be having trouble swallowing because of an abnormality in their mouths, a vet would recommend they be hand fed by putting a ball of food at the back of the mouth which would make it that much easier for a dog to swallow. However, dogs suffering from either pharyngeal or cricopharyngeal dysphagia often must be helped when they eat by holding their heads and necks up which would allow them to swallow food more easily.

Dogs that cannot put on weight or maintain their body weight might need to be fed via a stomach tube. If a growth or foreign object is found to be the cause of the problem, the vet would typically recommend surgically removing these, but only if it is safe to do so.

Living with a Dog with Dysphagia

The most important thing when living with a dog that suffers from the condition, is to make sure they maintain good body weight when they are undergoing any treatment. It may be necessary to hand feed a dog during this period making sure they are only fed several smaller meals a day rather than two large ones. It is also crucial that dogs be sitting in the upright position when being hand fed to reduce the risks of them suffering aspiration pneumonia which is when food goes down the wrong way and into the lungs which is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. Dysphagia although not a life-threatening problem in its own right, still needs to be taken very seriously and immediate veterinary attention should be sought for any dog suspected of suffering from the disorder.



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