Cricopharyngeal Achalasia in Dogs


Overview of Cricopharyngeal Achalasia in Dogs

Cricopharyngeal achalasia is a swallowing disorder in dogs that prevents food from passing normally from the pharynx into the esophagus. The condition is rare in dogs and the exact cause is unknown, but is probably a neurological abnormality. It is reported to be more common in cocker spaniels and springer spaniels.

Signs of a swallowing disorder are usually seen initially in the puppy at the time of weaning. When eating solid food the puppy shows repeated attempts to swallow the same mouthful, until eventually it is swallowed, regurgitated or aspirated into the airway.

Most affected puppies have a voracious appetite but are thin from the inability to get adequate nutrition. The disorder puts them at high risk for aspiration pneumonia, which is pneumonia caused by inhaling food particles into the lungs.

The disease is important because it is one of the few swallowing disorders that can be cured with surgery.

What to Watch For

  • A recently weaned puppy who struggles to swallow food and eat properly
  • A puppy that is thin despite a healthy appetite
  • Diagnosis of Cricopharyngeal Achalasia in Dogs

    Your veterinarian will want to investigate for cricopharyngeal achalasia in any puppy with difficulty swallowing and will observe the pup while eating and drinking to determine if the problem truly originates in the back of the throat, the pharynx. In addition, your veterinarian will probably recommend the following:

  • Chest X-rays to evaluate for aspiration pneumonia
  • Fluoroscopy. Moving X-ray images of the pharynx and esophagus while swallowing a barium coated meal provides a definitive diagnosis of cricopharyngeal achalasia.
  • Bloodwork is usually normal unless the animal has developed a significant pneumonia.
  • Treatment of Cricopharyngeal Achalasia in Dogs

    Surgery offers an excellent possibility of curing the problem. A muscle that is not functioning properly at the junction of the pharynx and esophagus is cut, so that it no longer impedes movement of food from the throat down to the stomach.

    Home Care and Prevention 

    Dogs will initially be fed a gruel, a mixture or dry or canned food and water that is easier to swallow. Over a period of several days this can be changed over to a normal food consistency.

    If pneumonia has developed, your pet will be discharged on a course of antibiotics, and these should be administered for the full time, even if your pet appears to be well. Follow-up X-rays will be necessary to ensure that the pneumonia is resolving.

    It is not possible to prevent this disease as it is a congenital defect, a disorder the animal is born with. Early recognition of a swallowing problem offers your pet the best chance for a prompt diagnosis before malnutrition and pneumonia set in.

    Information In-depth for Cricopharyngeal Achalasia in Dogs

    Cricopharyngeal achalasia is only one type of pharyngeal swallowing disorder. There are many others, some of which are caused by neuromuscular diseases that cannot be corrected by surgery. The difficulty in swallowing may originate in the mouth and not the pharynx.

  • In young dogs, defects of the hard and soft palate can cause food and liquids to fall from the mouth and nose during eating due to an abnormal communication between the oral and nasal passages. These defects can usually be recognized during an examination of your puppy‘s mouth.
  • In young puppies, foreign bodies such as string, sticks or small chicken bones can get lodged in the mouth, pharynx or esophagus, causing drooling and difficulty swallowing. These can be difficult to detect and your puppy may require sedation or general anesthesia to ensure a thorough evaluation of the oral cavity and pharynx. Follow up X-rays of the neck or chest may also be required.
  • Some dental disorders in young growing puppies may lead to difficulty swallowing, but usually these problems occur after weaning, not at the time of weaning.
  • Megaesophagus is a disease in which the esophagus, the tube conveying food from the mouth to the stomach, loses its ability to contract and becomes baggy and flaccid. The disease can be acquired or congenital. Megaesophagus is associated with regurgitation of food rather than difficulty in swallowing. Swallowed food accumulates in the distended esophagus and will passively slide forward and out of the mouth, often in a tubular or “sausage” form. Differentiation from cricopharyngeal achalasia may be possible with plain chest x-rays, but swallowing a barium coated meal may be necessary to define this disorder.
  • Diagnosis In-depth of Canine Cricopharyngeal Achalasia 


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