Inflammation of the Esophagus (Esophagitis) in Dogs

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Key takeaways

Esophagitis is inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. The first and most common sign of esophagitis is regurgitation, which is a passive process. 

  • Inflammation of the esophagus can have many different causes such as reflux during anesthesia, persistent vomiting, ingestion of caustic or abrasive foreign material, congenital disorders, esophageal reflux, strictures, certain drugs, and tumors
  • Common signs include regurgitation, weakness, pain, lethargy, drooling, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, and cough
  • Diagnosis usually involves physical examination,  medical history, and diagnostic imaging such as x-rays and endoscopy
  • Treatment often consists of supportive therapy and medications to help protect the lining of the esophagus
  • In severe cases, hospitalization and surgery may be required, depending on the cause
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A closer look: Inflammation of the Esophagus (Esophagitis) in Dogs


The esophagus is the first portion of the digestive tract. It is a tube of muscle responsible for pushing chewed food from the mouth into the stomach. As with all sections of the GI tract, the esophagus is lined with mucus to protect it from acidic digestive juices and roughage in partially digested food. When the lining of the esophagus is damaged or when the larger structure is injured, it can lead to inflammation referred to as esophagitis.

The prognosis of esophagitis varies according to the underlying cause of the inflammation. Most cases of esophagitis can be treated on an outpatient basis and the prognosis is good.

The prognosis worsens in cases of strictures as esophageal perforation is a significant risk and can prove lethal. In cases of esophageal cancer, the prognosis is poor.

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Risk factors


Esophagitis is moderately common in dogs. Most cases of esophagitis present with regurgitation (which may be mistaken for vomiting). Any dog having vomiting, regurgitation or lack of appetite for over 24 hours needs urgent medical attention.

Most cases of esophagitis are mild, but symptoms can become moderate or severe.

Since esophagitis is secondary to many different underlying conditions, risk factors for developing it are the same as those for the associated primary conditions.

Possible causes


In addition, generalized causes may include:

  • Certain medications
  • Radiation therapy near the esophagus
  • Congenital esophageal abnormalities
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Esophageal strictures (an abnormal narrowing of the esophagus sphincter)

Main symptoms


Testing and diagnosis


Diagnosis starts with physical examination and medical history, and may involve diagnostic imaging and bloodwork. The most accurate diagnostic tool for esophagitis is endoscopy (use of a small camera to visualize the inside of the esophagus), which allows the detection of foreign objects and assessment of any damage to the tissue. Referral to a specialty clinic may be recommended.

Steps to Recovery


Treatment varies according to the severity of the case. Mild inflammation might require no treatment at all. Cases that present with more severe symptoms are often treated with medications to decrease gastric acidity, protect the esophageal lining, and improve movement of intestinal contents through the GI tract.

Depending on the cause (e.g. hernia, tumors, foreign bodies) surgical treatment might be necessary. In some cases, hospitalization is needed and supportive therapy such as fluid therapy or nutritional support is necessary.

Mild to moderate cases carry a good prognosis with treatment and patients often recover fully after 3 to 5 days. With esophageal strictures, the prognosis is guarded as the risk of esophageal perforation can prove life-threatening. The prognosis in cases of cancer is poor.

Prevention


Prevention of esophagitis is difficult but may involve stomach acid suppression via medications in dogs prone to reflux, especially when undergoing anesthesia or with chronic vomiting. Avoiding prolonged fasting before anesthesia can also help reduce acidity of stomach acid and therefore reduce the risk of esophagitis under anesthesia.

Esophagitis itself is not contagious.

Is Inflammation of the Esophagus (Esophagitis) in Dogs common?


Esophagitis is moderately common in dogs.

Typical Treatment


  • Medications to reduce gastric acidity
  • Surgical treatment
  • Hospitalization and supportive therapy

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