Dog has difficulty swallowing – Dysphagia

An important note for dog owners

Swallowing disorder in dogs (dysphagia) is difficulty swallowing.

Types of dysphagia

There are several types of this disorder.

  • Oral dysphagia. This condition can be caused by paralysis of the jaw or tongue, atrophy of the chewing muscles, or oral diseases. In oral dysphagia, the dog cannot open its mouth. One of the main clinical symptoms of this disease is the accumulation of food behind the cheeks that is not moistened with saliva.
  • Pharyngeal dysphagia. A dog suffering from this condition can take food in its mouth, but this process is complicated by the pet having to arch its neck to swallow it. The pet may vomit and have nasal discharge.
  • Ringpharyngeal dysphagia. This type of swallowing disorder allows the dog to swallow food. However, it is not retained in the animal’s body for long and is regurgitated with a cough. Animals with this disorder are often excessively thin.

Mechanical Causes of Dysphagia

An animal may suffer from dysphagia for anatomical reasons.

  • Abscess.
  • Pharyngeal edema.
  • Tumor complicated by inflammation.
  • Macrophages in the mouth.
  • Foreign body.
  • Trauma to the joints of the jaw (dislocations, fractures).

Neuromuscular causes of dysphagia

A dog can get dysphagia from neuromuscular causes.

  • Damage to the nerves of the skull.
  • Damage to the nerve that stimulates the chewing process (trigeminal nerve).
  • Paralysis of the seventh nerve of the tongue.
  • Inflammation of the muscles that stimulate chewing.

Neurological causes of dysphagia

There are also a number of neurological causes of this condition.

  • Brain disorders.
  • Rabies.

In order to establish the type of swallowing disorder and prescribe the most effective treatment, the veterinarian will perform some examinations.

  • Analysis of blood, urine, blood cell count. Such examinations allow you to determine whether the animal is suffering from other diseases, to detect possible muscle damage.
  • Ultrasound and X-ray diagnosis of the skull. With this procedure, the veterinarian can detect possible abnormalities, take a tissue sample for further examination or visualize tumors.
  • MRI. This procedure may be used if the veterinarian suspects a brain tumor.


When treating a dog with a swallowing disorder, the type of dysphagia in the pet must be considered first.

For oral dysphagia, feed the pet by putting the food in the far end of the throat and then help the pet swallow.

  • Dogs with pharyngeal dysphagia need to have their head and neck held down while eating.
  • If the dog has a tumor, or if the pet has swallowed a foreign body, surgery will need to be performed.

Follow-up care

If the dog has recovered, the pet’s body weight should be monitored.

Feed the pet little by little and often – this regimen helps prevent aspiration pneumonia.

Timely treatment of swallowing disorder will allow you to detect other health problems in your dog and get rid of them in time!

Reyus Mammadli/ author of the article

I have had pets since childhood: cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, geese, chickens, ducks, parrots, aquarium fish and dogs (in the yard). Of course, I constantly encountered diseases of pets and treated them. Glad to be able to share my skills and experience, as well as advice on caring for and adapting these critters and birds.

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