According to 2017 statistics, 68% of all United States households had at least one cat which made the total number of cats adopted to 95.6 million.
This clearly shows that cats have a special place in people’s hearts, possibly because they are docile and harmless.
However, if you notice that your cat is regurgitating many times and thinner than normal, she could be having a problem in her esophagus and this article will focus on Megaesophagus in Cats, causes, symptoms and treatment options available.
What is Megaesophagus in Cats?
Megaesophagus is simply an enlargement of the esophagus, a tube that carries liquids and food from the throat to the stomach of an animal.
When your cat eats, the force of the food is sensed by the esophageal wall which automatically initiates muscle contraction process, and this pushes food to the stomach through peristalsis.
When your cat is suffering from Megaesophagus, it becomes difficult for her to pass food to the stomach and in most cases, the food is regurgitated back to the throat.
With this condition, your cat doesn’t receive adequate nutrients and in addition, she can suffer from pneumonia due to the presence of food sitting in her throat. Megaesophagus can either affect a small portion of the esophagus or the entire esophagus.
Megaesophagus can be present at birth (congenital) where it manifests after weaning or your cat can acquire it later in life.
Congenital Megaesophagus occurs as a result of genetic development problems that prevent the nerves of your cat to function normally and affect Siamese cats and related breeds more than other breeds.
On the other hand, the primary cause of acquired Megaesophagus is idiopathic and therefore, it is hard to trace as it may have several primary or secondary causes.
In addition, Megaesophagus can either be transient or permanent.
- Vascular ring anomaly – This is a congenital disorder where the right aortic arch (fetal blood vessel) doesn’t disappear as it should after birth. The vessel passes around the esophagus thereby compressing the esophagus or may prevent a smooth flow of food to the stomach
- Glycogen storage disease – This is an inherited disorder caused by an inability to metabolize glycogen. The result is that glycogen (a stored form of sugar in her body) builds up in your cat’s tissues which in turn weakens her muscles
- Dysautonomia – This prevents the autonomic nervous system to function normally hence making it hard for the food to move smoothly from the throat to the stomach
- Addison’s disease – Have you ever heard about Addison’s disease? If you haven’t, it’s simply an insufficiency of corticosteroids which are produced by adrenal glands and weakens cat muscles
- Inflammation of the esophagus – This can occur as a result of foreign body, infection, cancer, chronic vomiting, and irritation
- Thymoma – This is a rare tumor that arises from the thymus gland in your cat’s chest thereby causing Megaesophagus
Other causes of Megaesophagus
- Venoms or toxins
- Esophageal obstruction
- Myasthenia gravis
- Parasitic infection
- Heavy metal poisoning
- Food and water regurgitation
- Weight loss
- Poor body condition
- Bad breath
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Nasal discharge
- Respiratory distress
- Lack of appetite
Once you suspect your cat is suffering from Megaesophagus, you should take her to a vet as soon as possible.
First things first, you vet would like to know about the history of your cat’s health and based on the information you provide, the vet will perform a complete physical exam to differentiate whether she is vomiting or regurgitating and this will help to rule out underlying diseases.
In addition, the presence of undigested food, the shape of expelled material, as well as the length of time from ingestion to regurgitation or vomiting will be very helpful in determining whether your cat is suffering from Megaesophagus or not.
Your vet may also conduct routine lab tests such as a urinalysis, biochemical profile and complete blood count.
On the test results, aspiration pneumonia may show up and a radiographic scan will follow to check air, fluid or food in the esophagus.
Your vet may as well undertake more advanced techniques such as esophagoscopy to examine the interior of the esophagus with the help of esophagoscope which also makes it possible to remove foreign bodies and evaluate obstruction and neoplasia.
If your cat has been diagnosed with Megaesophagus, the question that could be going through your mind is what treatment options are available.
Well, there is no specific cure for this condition, but it can be treated to enhance food swallowing and digestion. According to pet experts, treatment is done to take care of any underlying Megaesophagus cause.
Aspiration pneumonia treatment
If your cat is suffering from aspiration pneumonia, she will be hospitalized for treatment which may include oxygen therapy, fluid therapy, and antibiotics. From there, your vet will start treating Megaesophagus using the following;
A liquid diet is not only easier for your cat to swallow but also to digest. Your vet will give food to your cat from an elevated position to enhance the pushing of food to the stomach. If your cat cannot eat, the vet will administer a feeding tube.
Your vet will prescribe Cisapride or Metoclopramide to enhance the motility of the esophagus. Anti-nausea or antiacid medication is also recommended to protect the esophagus from injury.
Even though surgery is risky, your vet may perform it if it’s the only option available to treat a specific cause such as foreign object.
In a nutshell, Megaesophagus is a condition where the esophagus of your cat is enlarged thus affecting the smooth flow of food and water from the throat to the stomach.
This condition may be congenital or acquired and the symptoms could be nasal discharge, vomiting, increased respiratory noises, poor growth, bad breath, excessive drooling, weight loss or loss of appetite.
Your cat is part of your family and whenever her behavior changes or when you detect any of the above signs, consult your vet for diagnosis and treatment.