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Viagra as a treatment for megaoesophagus in dogs is not clinically relevant

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Feeding a dog in the upright position to help a dog with ME

There is a report on the Gizmodo website which states that, subject to a follow-up study, the active ingredient of Viagra can help dogs keep food down because it might be a useful treatment for megaoesophagus in dogs. However, when I visited the study and read the abstract which is the summary, the scientists state that “clinically relevant improvements were not seen with the use of compounded liquid sildenafil in dogs with ME”.

Feeding a dog in the upright position to help a dog with ME

Feeding a dog in the upright position to help a dog with ME. Image in public domain.

Sildenafil is the active ingredient in Viagra and ME stands for megaoesophagus. That’s pretty clear to me. My interpretation is that sildenafil in compounded liquid form does show improvements when treating megaoesophagus in dogs compared to a placebo but the improvements were not significant enough to be able to say that the drug could be used as an ongoing treatment by veterinarians. The study was small at 10 dogs. That may be a factor which undermined the study.

I also tried to discover the prevalence of megaoesophagus and dogs i.e. how common is it. I found different answers to that question. One website said that 25% of dogs suffer from it which has got to be wrong. Another website stated that one in 10,000-20,000 dogs contracted it. That, too, seems to be incorrect i.e. too little. So, I don’t know but judging by the number of articles on the Internet it does seem to be quite a concerning disease.

In general terms what happens is the gullet loses its abilities to push food down and it becomes enlarged and therefore the dog does not receive the nutrients that he or she needs in their food because it doesn’t get as far as the stomach but is instead regurgitated. Sometimes the food goes into the lungs. It is, therefore, a serious disease and some breeds are more predisposed to it than others. This is because one cause is congenital i.e. genetically inherited. Among the dog breeds German Shepherds are predisposed on my research. Another cause is called ‘acquired megaoesophagus’. It can be acquired for various reasons such as a neurological disease or cancer, for example.

On that topic, there was an urgent recall in around 2019 of a dry food for dogs called Advance Dermocare. They found a link between food and megaoesophagus and dogs. They didn’t pin down the actual chemical ingredient in the food which caused the disease but they did find that there was atrophy of the distal oesophagus resulting from lack of functional innovation i.e. a lack of nerve supply and some dogs having atrophy of their laryngeal muscles. They analysed the food and couldn’t identify the actual toxins. They decided that it was multifactorial. Not all dogs were affected by the food.

I mention this because clearly the sort of food a dog eats may be a factor in developing megaoesophagus. I wonder whether researchers are looking at other dog foods. It would certainly concern me because if megaoesophagus in dogs is considered idiopathic i.e. without a known cause, then the experts should be looking at standard commercially prepared dog food as a potential cause.

The title of the study on the AVMA Journals website: A randomized crossover study of compounded liquid sildenafil for treatment of generalized megaesophagus in dogs.

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