I had hoped that my very first blog on this site would be about my wonderful beloved pair of four legged pooches in their full quirkiness and glory. I imagined it would be on the topic of something much more thrilling or happier in nature. Instead, I’ve decided to share the struggles (and wins) we’ve encountered when caring for our sweet Great Dane, Isa as she settles into senior hood with Megaesophagus (Mega-E).
In case you’re wondering, Mega-E is a condition that can occur in humans and dogs alike. It’s typically the result of the esophagus suffering from some kind of trauma, leaving the passage way distended. In Isa’s case, it occurred after many years of woofing down too much food quickly and often without chewing. Over the years she’d occasionally vomit up her food which turned into a monthly ordeal but gradually turning into an almost a weekly occurrence. Despite best efforts to slow her food intake down, on December 24th of last year, she choked up her entire dinner of dry kibble with such force that it expanded her esophagus to an irreparable size.
We didn’t realize what had happened until we noticed gurgling sounds in her throat wouldn’t stop. Despite us having stayed up with Isa to comfort her while she struggled to keep food in her stomach down, we simply weren’t prepared for what was in store for her that night. I won’t go into all of the details of her suffering, but if you are on this site, you might already be familiar with this information. You may be looking for answers to the same questions that haunted us after realizing we had a victim of Mega-E: What can I do to cure this? Will this kill her? Will she ever be the same again? How can I help my poor baby?!
Unfortunately, there is no surgery, or cure for this condition. It’s simply a fact of life for her now and the best thing you can do is manage it. Without special care, Mega-E can be life threatening. However, you can provide a better quality of life for your pooch, by:
- Blending food into a pulp similar to a smoothie
- Feeding your dog small quantities of food (we feed Isa three times a day)
- Placing a pillow in your dog’s bed, or rest area, so that she can prop her head up
- Not allowing your dog too close to bedtime
- Have her seen by your vet, she can provide you medicines to allow the throat to relax, anti heart burn medicine, and antibiotics in case food particles get into her lungs – which can cause an onset of pneumonia
- Buy a harness if you’ve only had a regular collar. It will alleviate pressure to her throat.
- Buying or building out a Bailey’s chair
- Getting a prescription of Sucralfate from your vet (about $15.00) will help gastrointestinal motility
Since Isa’s health was worsening so quickly and because Great Dane sized – anything – is close to impossible to find, I decided to build out a Bailey’s chair.
The purpose of this chair is to provide a place for your dog to eat while allowing gravity to naturally do what the esophagus would have done. While your dog eats and sits in this chair it will facilitate the movement of food from your dog’s mouth down into her belly so that she can properly digest, gas and irritation free.
I used this video to guide me in the right direction of obtaining the right points for measurement. Our chair however, was customized so that one person could easily lift a 100lb dog into it by herself. This chair also has to be comfortable enough so that your dog can sit in it for up to half an hour after eating. I’ve modified this model to include a seat cushion at the bottom.
So far, this chair helps Isa to keep all of her food down. The trickiest part now involves figuring out ways to keep her comfortable, and even yes, entertained while sits and waits. If you are going to build a chair I recommend that you create a way for your dog to keep ventilated while she sits inside. Isa overheats easily because of a pre-existing liver issue, and all of the extra cushions 😉 inside. My husband has been making Pedialyte ice cubes shaped like hearts to keep her occupied while we wait for the timer to let us know we can release her. In case you haven’t realized this we love our dogs!
I’d also recommend that you position the chair in a direction so that your pooch can see where you are. Your pooch might get awfully bored, and start to wiggle which can lead to her contorting into bad positions and defeat the purpose of this chair.
Future, modifications to this chair will include holes in the bottom that will allow her feet to stick out, and no table top. I feed her prior to putting her in the Bailey’s chair is easier for her since she spends less time inside.
Isa has both up days and really bad down days. Our goal is to make sure the up days outweigh the latter.