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  • Writer's pictureClayton Watkins, DVM

My Dog Has Something Stuck In Its Throat, But Is Not Choking

While many of us are well-versed in common issues like allergies or digestive problems, esophageal obstructions or blockages in the throat are often less understood. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide on esophageal obstructions in dogs, discussing its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Understanding this condition is crucial as it can cause significant discomfort and can lead to severe complications if not addressed promptly.

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What are Esophageal Obstructions in Dogs?

An esophageal obstruction refers to any blockage that impedes the passage of food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach through the esophagus. The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, facilitating the movement of ingested material. Obstructions can occur at any point along the esophagus and may be partial or complete. They may involve a wide variety of foreign objects, such as bones, toys, or other indigestible materials. The condition is serious and can lead to esophageal damage or other complications if not treated immediately.



What Causes Esophageal Obstructions?

Esophageal obstructions can occur for various reasons, some of which are as follows:


  • Foreign Objects: One of the most common causes is the ingestion of foreign objects that are either too large or too awkwardly shaped to pass smoothly through the esophagus. This includes items like bones, rubber balls, or pieces of chew toys.

  • Food Impaction: Sometimes, large pieces of food can become lodged in the esophagus, particularly if a dog eats too quickly or doesn't chew its food adequately.

  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as esophageal tumors or strictures, can also lead to blockages. Strictures are narrowings of the esophagus often caused by scarring from inflammation.

  • Accidental Ingestion: Dogs are curious creatures and may consume items like string, fishing hooks, or needles that can become lodged in their throats.

  • Improper Medication: Some medications, particularly pills or capsules, can become stuck, damaging the esophagus, if they are not administered correctly or are not followed by sufficient water.


Understanding the root cause of the obstruction is critical for effective treatment and prevention of future occurrences.



Can You Prevent Esophageal Obstructions?

Prevention is always better than cure, and esophageal obstructions in dogs are no exception. Although not all cases of esophageal obstruction can be prevented, especially those due to underlying medical conditions, there are numerous proactive steps you can take to minimize the risk. Here's how you can be vigilant in preventing this uncomfortable and potentially dangerous condition in your furry friend:


  • Choose Dog-Friendly Toys: Always choose toys that are appropriate for your dog's size and chewing habits. Toys that are too small can easily be swallowed and cause an obstruction.

  • Supervise Meal Times: Keep an eye on your dog during meal times to ensure they are not eating too quickly or trying to swallow large, unchewed pieces of food.

  • Teach the “Leave It” Command: Training your dog to understand and obey the “leave it” command can prevent them from picking up and swallowing hazardous items during walks or playtime.

  • Proper Medication Administration: When giving your dog medication, especially in tablet or capsule form, follow the vet’s guidelines closely, and use pill pockets or other methods to encourage safe swallowing. Let your dog eat some food or drink water after giving medication.

  • Regular Vet Check-Ups: Routine veterinary visits can help in the early identification of conditions like esophageal strictures or tumors that could lead to obstructions.

  • Secure the Environment: Dog-proof your home by keeping small objects, electrical cords, and other potential hazards out of reach.

  • Be Cautious with Bones and Treats: While it may be tempting to offer your dog a real bone or similar treat, these can splinter and become lodged in the esophagus. Opt for vet-approved alternatives instead.


By adhering to these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risk of your dog suffering from an esophageal obstruction.



7 Symptoms of Esophageal Obstructions in Dogs

Esophageal obstructions can present various symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. Recognizing these symptoms early can facilitate quicker intervention and more effective treatment. Below are some of the most common signs to look out for:


1. Excessive Drooling

When something is obstructing a dog's esophagus, saliva that would normally enter the stomach starts to accumulate. This can lead to excessive drooling, often accompanied by a foamy appearance. If you notice your dog drooling more than usual, it's crucial to investigate further.


2. Gagging and Retching

Gagging and retching are natural reactions when a foreign object is lodged in the esophagus. Dogs will often make repeated attempts to clear the obstruction by gagging, which may or may not be successful. Continuous gagging with no relief is an immediate sign that veterinary attention is needed.


3. Difficulty Swallowing

If your dog appears to struggle while swallowing or makes exaggerated swallowing movements, this could indicate an esophageal obstruction. You may also observe neck stretching and repeated swallowing motions as the dog tries to push the object down.


4. Pawing at the Mouth

A dog that paws at its mouth is generally signaling discomfort or distress. This could be a clear indicator that something is lodged in the throat or esophagus. It's a sign that should not be ignored, and immediate veterinary consultation is advised.


5. Loss of Appetite or Refusal to Eat

An esophageal obstruction can make swallowing painful, leading your dog to refuse food or even water. Loss of appetite can lead to dehydration and other complications if not addressed promptly.


6. Coughing

Coughing might occur if the obstruction irritates the lining of the esophagus. It's worth noting that coughing could also indicate other health issues, but if it's coupled with any of the above symptoms, it strengthens the suspicion of an esophageal obstruction.


7. Regurgitation or Vomiting

A dog with an esophageal obstruction may regurgitate food or water almost immediately after swallowing. In severe cases, this may escalate to vomiting. Regurgitated material usually appears undigested and may be tubular in shape, mimicking the shape of the esophagus.


Each of these symptoms can indicate an underlying issue that warrants immediate veterinary attention. A swift diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential for the best possible outcome when dealing with esophageal obstructions.



How Esophageal Obstructions Are Diagnosed in Dogs

Determining the presence and location of an esophageal obstruction in dogs is critical for effective treatment. A thorough diagnosis typically involves a combination of medical history, clinical signs, and specialized diagnostic tests. Here are some common diagnostic techniques:


Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing an esophageal obstruction is usually a complete physical examination. The veterinarian may palpate the neck area to check for any swelling or tenderness and observe the dog's behavior, posture, and vital signs. However, physical examinations often yield limited information for diagnosing esophageal obstructions specifically.


Radiography (X-rays)

One of the most effective ways to diagnose an esophageal obstruction is through radiography. X-rays can provide a visual representation of the esophagus and surrounding structures, helping to identify the location and nature of the obstruction. Sometimes, a contrast medium like barium may be administered to provide clearer images.


Endoscopy

An endoscopy involves inserting a flexible tube attached to a camera into the dog's esophagus to get a detailed view of the interior. This allows the veterinarian to directly visualize the obstruction, assess its severity, and sometimes even remove it during the procedure. This is often considered the gold standard for diagnosing esophageal obstructions but does require general anesthesia.


Blood Tests

Although blood tests won't confirm the presence of an obstruction, they can indicate stress, infection, or other systemic issues that might accompany the condition. Complete blood count (CBC) and biochemical profiles can be valuable for evaluating the dog's overall health and determining the best course of action for treatment.


Biopsy

In some cases, especially when a growth or tumor is suspected, biopsy samples may be collected during endoscopy for further examination. These samples can be analyzed to determine the nature of the obstruction, whether it's benign or malignant.


Each diagnostic method has its advantages and disadvantages, and often a combination of these techniques offers the most accurate diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian can develop a targeted treatment plan to address the obstruction effectively.



Treatment Options For Esophageal Obstructions in Dogs

Addressing esophageal obstructions in dogs involves a multi-faceted approach. Treatment depends on various factors like the type of obstruction, the dog's overall health, and the severity of symptoms. Here are some common treatment options:


Endoscopic Removal

In many cases, especially when the obstruction is discovered early, endoscopic removal is the preferred treatment. Under general anesthesia, a flexible endoscope is inserted through the dog's mouth and into the esophagus. The scope allows the veterinarian to locate the obstruction, which is then carefully removed using specialized tools. This procedure is less invasive and usually has a quicker recovery time.


Surgical Removal

For obstructions that cannot be safely removed endoscopically, surgical intervention may be necessary. The surgery involves making an incision in the esophagus or neck area to physically remove the object. Although effective, surgical removal is more invasive and carries risks like infection and longer recovery times.


Supportive Care

Regardless of the treatment used to remove the obstruction, supportive care is often needed. This may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, antibiotics to ward off infections, and anti-inflammatory medication for pain and swelling. Nutritional support may also be provided through a feeding tube if the dog is unable to eat normally.


Medication

Sometimes medications like muscle relaxants or anti-emetics can be used to help move the obstruction or manage symptoms. However, this is generally only an option for less severe obstructions and should not replace endoscopic or surgical intervention for more serious cases.


Balloon Dilation

Fluoroscopic guided balloon dilatation is used to break down esophageal obstructions caused by scar tissue. After balloon dilation, a balloon esophageal feeding tube is placed in the esophagus. The strictured area is then balloon dilated daily at home to prevent recurrence of the stricture. The balloon esophageal tube is left in place for approximately 6 weeks while the esophageal stricure heals around the tube.


Stenting

For chronic obstructions caused by tumors, an esophageal stent may be placed to keep the passageway open. This is a more permanent solution but may have its own set of complications, like migration of the stent or reaction to the foreign material.


Nutritional Modifications

Post-treatment, changes to the dog's diet may be necessary, particularly if the esophagus has been damaged or narrowed. This may involve softer food, smaller and more frequent meals, or even liquid diets until healing is complete.


Each of these treatments comes with its own set of risks and benefits. A thorough discussion with your veterinarian will help determine the most appropriate treatment plan tailored to your dog's specific condition.



Recovery and Management For Esophageal Obstructions

After the successful treatment of an esophageal obstruction in your dog, recovery and postoperative management are critical phases that ensure the best possible outcome. Here's what you can generally expect and steps you can take for optimal recovery:


Immediate Post-Treatment Period

During the first 24-48 hours post-treatment, your dog will be closely monitored by the veterinary team. Vital signs like heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature will be checked periodically. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain management protocols are usually continued during this time.


Dietary Modifications

After an esophageal obstruction, your dog’s diet will need to be modified to allow for healing. This often includes a liquid or semi-liquid diet that is easy to swallow and digest. Your veterinarian will usually provide a diet plan tailored to your dog's nutritional needs and specific condition.


Medication

Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent bacterial infection, especially after surgical procedures. Anti-inflammatory medication for pain and swelling can also be a part of the recovery regimen. Acid blockers may be necessary to prevent gastric acid from worsening an already inflamed esophagus. Make sure to administer all prescribed medication exactly as directed by your veterinarian.


Activity Restriction

Physical activity will likely be restricted for a certain period to facilitate healing. This might mean leash walks only and no strenuous play or jumping. Following your vet’s guidelines for activity levels is crucial for a smooth recovery.


Frequent Check-ups

Follow-up appointments will be necessary to monitor the healing process. This usually includes visual inspections and possibly repeated diagnostic tests like X-rays or endoscopy to ensure that the esophagus is healing properly and that there are no complications.


Monitoring for Complications

Keep a close eye on your dog for any signs of complications like difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, regurgitation, or signs of pain. If you notice any of these symptoms or other behavioral changes, consult your veterinarian immediately.


Long-term Management

In some cases, long-term dietary changes or medication may be necessary, especially if the obstruction led to lasting damage or was caused by an underlying condition that needs ongoing management.



VetMed Treats Esophageal Obstructions in Dogs

At VetMed, we specialize in diagnosing and treating esophageal obstructions in dogs, understanding the urgency and delicate nature of such conditions. Our state-of-the-art facilities are equipped with the latest diagnostic and treatment options, including X-rays, endoscopy, and fluoroscopy to ensure an accurate diagnosis.


When it comes to treatment, we prioritize minimally invasive techniques whenever possible, aiming for a quicker and smoother recovery for your pet.


Our dedicated team of veterinary professionals is committed to providing the highest quality of care. From your initial consultation to post-treatment recovery and management, VetMed ensures a comprehensive, compassionate, and customized approach to your dog’s healthcare. Trust us for expertise that brings peace of mind and the best possible outcome for your pet.



 

Questions You've Asked Us About Esophageal Obstructions in Dogs

Still have questions? Contact us here - we promise we'll answer them.

How can I clear my dog's throat?

It's not advisable nor is it safe to attempt to clear your dog's throat yourself, as this could push the obstruction further down or cause injury to yourself. If you suspect an esophageal obstruction, consult a veterinarian immediately for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Can a dog have something stuck in its throat and still eat?

How do I know if my dog has a blockage in his throat?

Why does it seem like my dog has something stuck in his throat?

Can a blockage in a dog’s throat go away on its own?



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