Ailments of the oesophagus

Well, dear readers, last week we concluded the huge topic associated with the ailments of the oral cavity. The next step must logically be dealing with that structure which represents the continuum of the oral cavity, and which can become sick from time to time. I am referring to the oesophagus. The oesophagus is that tube which connects the oral cavity with the stomach.

pet cornerLet’s now look at those problems that can occur with the oesophagus. I will rely on texts prepared by Drs Carlson and Giffin who have the knack to simplify even the most complex problems.

Foreign body in the oesophagus

When a dog suddenly becomes distressed, drools and slobbers, swallows painfully or regurgitates food and water, one should suspect a foreign body lodged in the esophagus. Frequently it is a chicken bone splinter or a fish bone.

A history of regurgitation and difficulty swallowing for several days or longer does not rule out the presence of a foreign body.


First of all, this is a matter for your veterinarian. He/she would probably try to insert a thin tube into the oesophagus (via the mouth) into the stomach. Almost surely, your vet will request that an x-ray picture be taken of that area.

If something is stuck in the oesophagus, removal requires a special instrument called an endoscope.

The animal is given an anaesthetic, after which the endoscope is passed through the mouth and directed into the oesophagus. The object is visualized through the endoscope and removed with a long forceps.

Perforations and injuries to the wall of the oesophagus can occur. Treatment involves surgery in some cases.


A stricture is a circular scar which follows an injury to the wall of the oesophagus. Common causes are foreign bodies, caustic liquids, and reflux of stomach acid into the lower oesophagus. Acid reflux can occur when a dog is under anaesthesia.


Most strictures can be treated by stretching (dilatation). Following dilatation, some dogs swallow normally. Others don’t; the oesophagus above the strictured segment remains enlarged, capable only of weak contractions. These dogs may need surgical removal of the strictured segment.

When a dog has a chronic stricture, overloading the oesophagus with large meals aggravates the problem. It is then necessary to feed several small, semi-solid (preferably liquid) meals a day.


Tumours in the oesophagus are not common, but when present usually are malignant. Growths in the oesophagus caused by a worm (spirocerca lupi) do occur, but this is rare.


I have mentioned the word regurgitation. Regurgitation is technically not the same as vomiting, although one often uses these two words as synonyms. Next week I will spend a lot of time on the topic of vomiting. However, it seems apt at this point (since we are discussing ailments of the oesophagus) to explain the features of regurgitation.

A dog which regurgitates his food is suffering from blockage of the swallowing tube (oesophagus). Regurgitation is the expulsion of undigested food without conscious effort. When regurgitation comes on suddenly, you should suspect a foreign body. When it occurs from time to time, but seems to be getting worse, it can still be due to a foreign body, as some objects cause a partial blockage which can persist for days.

If your dog regurgitates immediately after he takes a bite or two of food, the blockage probably is high in his oesophagus.

Food regurgitated into the nose could lead to an infection of the nasal passages, and subsequently to a nasal discharge. Food regurgitated into the windpipe could cause bouts of pneumonia.

Chronic regurgitation usually is due to tumours, strictures and congenital problems.

Long live worker solidarity!

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-Heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.


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