Q. Our little 9-pound Poodle-Bichon mix has had problems with drinking water ever since we got him as a puppy. He drinks a swallow of water and then coughs it up. I know he is not hydrated enough because even his poop is so dry. What can be causing this?
A. Your little dog may have been born with a problem with his esophagus, known as megaesophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Normally it stays squeezed shut, as it is lined with muscle. When food or water is swallowed, it pushes it down into the stomach, using a process known as peristalsis. The reverse of peristalsis occurs when he vomits, or when you vomit for that matter.
In cases of megaesophagus, the muscle lining the esophagus has lost its tone, and swallowed food or water just stays in the esophagus, or is regurgitated back up. It can become life threatening due to a lack of nutritional intake or hydration, and also due to the risk of aspiration, where food accidentally goes down the trachea (airway), causing pneumonia.
Since it sounds like your dog is eating OK, this reaction to drinking water may just be a muscle spasm. You might try only offering small amounts of water to see if that helps.
If you are concerned about megaesophagus, X-rays at your veterinarian’s office should give you some answers. Although there is not surgical correction for megaesophagus, there are some medications and feeding strategies that may be helpful.