Oesophageal blockage

(Foto: iStock)

July 14, 2020

There is no real treatment for megaoesophagus, the only possible action is aimed at easing the problem (Photo: iStock)

In the evening just after dinner veterinarian Ids de Boer from Animal Clinic Emmeloord received a phone call about a 14-year-old Friesian mare who refused to eat, was coughing seriously and was oozing a dirty substance from the nostrils. The horse had just been brought in from the field for an hour or so and had been fed cubes and silage in the stable. The owners were very concerned so he agreed to come straightaway. Based on what the owners told him, Ids suspected oesophageal blockage and hence advised them not to provide food or water.


Within thirty minutes Ids was on location and indeed, the horse pretty much fit the description. The filthy substance from the nostrils was confirmed to be fodder and saliva, which is typical for oesophageal blockages. Ids: ‘Once the medication had started to take effect I inserted a probe. Probing treatment involves feeding a small tube via the nasal passage, through the throat into the oesophagus (gullet). The obstruction proved to be pretty persistent. It took an hour and a half of flushing before the obstruction was cleared so that I could reach the stomach with my probe.’

Endoscopic examination

To get a clear picture of what had caused the blockage, Ids’ suggestion to the owners was to carry out an endoscopic examination: ‘That way, a camera fitted to the end of a long tube allows us to see what the oesophagus and stomach look like on the inside. The scope we carried out revealed the horse was suffering from megaoesophagus; a dilated and less flexible part of the oesophagus’. Because of the dilation and reduced massaging function of food towards the stomach, fodder and saliva can pile up and actually lead to an obstruction in the oesophagus.


Megaoesophagus is a dysfunction that is mainly diagnosed in Friesian horses. Unfortunately, there is no exact known cause for how and why it develops. Scientific research points in the direction of a hereditary neuromuscular disorder, in other words a problem in operating and functioning of the muscle surrounding the dilated part of the oesophagus. There is, regrettably, no proper treatment for megaoesophagus, all we can do is offer support to reduce the chances of blockages developing in the oesophagus. The owners of the 14-year-old mare have acted on our advice and up till today the mare has not suffered any more oesophageal obstructions. The dilation in the oesophagus is however, permanent, something the owners always have to keep in mind.

Read the full real-life story by veterinarian Ids de Boer and the management advice for dealing with megaoesophagus in the August issue of Phryso




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