Q: Last summer, my 17-year-old German shepherd/keeshond mix, Diesel, had to be put to sleep. He had been alert and ate well but had spit up a lot of mucus for about three weeks. He also eliminated normally but lost the ability to walk.
The final exam produced an X-ray showing that Diesel had a megaesophagus. He was not absorbing food and was starving to death. Will you please explain this condition and what causes it?
J. Bayard, El Toro
A: megaesophagus is a term to describe an esophagus that is dilated and lacks motility. This condition occurs in some breeds--such as the great Dane, German shepherd and Irish setter--more than it does in the general dog population.
There are several different causes. It is usually congenital and recognized by the time the pup is 10 weeks old. It can also be acquired from injury, disease or neuromuscular complications.
In almost all cases, the prognosis is very guarded to poor, even with medications or surgical trials. Most dogs with megaesophagus have a history of regurgitation of undigested food and water within half an hour of eating. Some dogs develop respiratory problems from aspiration of some of the food into the airways. Others show weight loss and gradual decline in overall health.
The diagnosis is made on history and radiographic examination. Occasionally, studies are done to evaluate what function is present and the action of swallowing to see if any of the sphincters of the esophagus are functional.
Treatment is generally limited to special feeding practices of placing the food on a table or stool high enough that the dog eats with his head elevated, allowing the food to flow into the stomach. A gruel is often made up to help ease the movement of food throughout the esophagus.
It is possible, considering your dog's age, that Diesel may have developed this condition as his neurological system started to fail, especially if he exhibited no signs of this problem until recently.
Q: I have a 12-year-old male cat that has been neutered. He constantly urinates in the sinks, on the beds, walls and clothes. Can you offer any solutions to this problem?
Linda Hunt, Rancho Mirage
A: If this behavior is recent, you should have him examined by your veterinarian to see whether he has a urinary infection. This may require a urinalysis and a radiograph to rule out stones or tumors.
You need to make sure that the litter box is clean and available to him. You may have to retrain him by restricting him to small areas of the house.
If he is spraying, there may be a strange cat hanging around that is upsetting him and causing him to mark his territory.