Megaesophagus in cats: cause, symptoms and treatment

Megaesophagus in the cat: what is it? What are the causes, symptoms and treatment of this condition of our feline.

Megaesophagus is a disorder that rarely affects the cat and much more the dog. The only breed of cat most predisposed to this pathology is the Siamese. The megaesophagus in the cat, can be congenital or secondary (acquired)due to a multiplicity of diseases that cause neuromuscular dysfunction, or it can manifest itself as a primary disorder for which the cause is unknown (idiopathic). Importantly, in the megaesophagus of a congenital nature, it is essential to exclude subjects from reproduction to avoid the possible transmission of the pathology.

Cause of megaesophagus in cats

Megaesophagus in cats is a condition that consists of the poor or completely absent ability of movement of the esophagus (the role of which is to bring water and food from the throat to the stomach). In this way the path that the food must cross to get to the stomach becomes difficult and can be regurgitated accordingly.

The megaesophagus in the cat, may be present already at birth and manifest itself immediately after weaning and the cause is unknown; instead, when the disorder is secondary to neuromuscular abnormalities, the main causes are feline dysautonomia and hiatal hernia.


In the megaesophagus in the cat may arise several symptoms for example:

  • regurgitation of food and water;
  • bad smell of breathing;
  • fever;
  • cough in the cat;
  • nasal discharge;
  • salivation;
  • difficulty swallowing
  • breathing difficulties caused by secondary pneumonia;
  • weight loss;
  • very bad physical state.

In the secondary causes of the megaesophagus in the cat, in this case other symptoms may occur that are more specific to the underlying pathology, for example:

  • in lead intoxication: anorexia, vomiting, colic, diarrhea alternating with periods of constipation and convulsions;
  • in pesticide poisoning: difficulty swallowing, tremors, scialorrhea, bronchoconstriction, paralysis of the striated muscles, loss of appetite, myosis, stiffness of the limbs due to inhibition of cholinesterases arthritis and polyarthritis, changes in blood clotting (thrombocytopenia) and anemia, manifestations affecting the skin in SLE (immune system disorder with overproduction of antibodies);
  • in Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency): anorexia, vomiting in the cat, weakness, dehydration and alterations in the electrolyterial water balance;
  • muscle pain and gait alterations in polymyositis (inflammatory myopathies associated with skin disorders or dermatomyositis).

Considering that most of the causes of the megaesophagus in the cat can not be prevented it is important to pay close attention both to the environment surrounding the animal and to the cat itself, trying to make sure to remove it from any dangers.

Diagnosis and treatment of megaesophagus in cats

In order to establish a correct diagnosis of megaesophagus in the cat, the veterinarian needs to know the previous history of the animal and all the possible symptoms that the feline has shown before the visit. All this is very important and often fundamental for the assessment of the condition of the cat. Subsequently, it will proceed with the carrying out of some specific diagnostic tests necessary to confirm a diagnosis, such as:

  • urinalysis;
  • blood test;
  • anti-acetylcholine receptor antibody values
  • blood lead levels
  • x-rays of the cat’s chest.

Once the diagnosis has been established, the veterinarian can proceed with the treatment to treat the underlying disease or its causes, using:

  • antibiotics and fluids (in cases of pneumonia caused by megaesophagus);
  • drugs that help gastrointestinal motility to avoid malabsorption, constipation or diarrhea in the cat.

In the case of idiopathic megaesophagus, that is, when the underlying pathology is not known and the therapy is not feasible, it is possible to help the cat by trying to offer him small portions of food or liquid foods that arrive more easily in the stomach, preserving as much as possible the absorption of nutrients.

Subsequently, keeping the cat erect after each meal, in such a way as to facilitate the emptying of the esophagus. In the most severe and severe cases it is possible to feed the animal through the use of gastric probes associated with fluid therapy. In order to try to reduce the risk of suction of food or vomiting in the lungs, it is essential to scrupulously follow the instructions given by the veterinarian, regarding the feeding of the cat and the administration of prescribed drugs.

As for the prognosis, it remains somewhat relative as some subjects may be asymptomatic or manifest mild symptoms even if for long periods, others instead present a serious clinical situation such as to have to consider euthanasia.

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