Viagra may help dogs overcome potentially fatal eating disorder

Cake, a beagle mix, who suffers from the eating disorder known as megaesophagus, sits in specialized chair known as a Bailey chair, at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. (Credits: WSU)
Cake, a beagle mix, who suffers from the eating disorder known as megaesophagus, sits in specialized chair known as a Bailey chair, at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. (Credits: WSU)
A rare and potentially fatal eating disorder found in dogs could be treatable with sildenafil, more commonly known as Viagra. Megaesophagus is a condition that expands a dog’s esophagus and stops it from being able to deliver food down to the stomach.

As a result, the dogs develop other problems – such as regurgitated food making its way into the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.

Sadly, this means many with the condition need to be put down.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: More than half of all U.S presidents have owned dogs.

To try and limit the effects, dogs need to be put into a Bailey chair for feeding.

Essentially, the specially-designed upright chair lets them eat and drink vertically so the food and water gets to the stomach through gravity rather than the muscle having to push it along.

But by using sildenafil scientists found they were able to relax the esophagus muscle and allow it to open, letting food pass through safely.

A study led by Washington State university tested the treatment on 10 dogs with the condition over the course of two weeks.

Meeting your new puppy, kitten or any other pet can be an exciting experience. Your pet, however, has some adjusting to do. New sights, smells and sounds can be overwhelming for the little guy and keeping a calm household is important.

Some of the dogs were given the erectile dysfunction drug while others were administered a placebo for two weeks at a time. Then they were given neither for a week, and then the groups were swapped for the following two weeks.

The dog’s owners were tasked with tracking episodes of regurgitation and reporting back.

The researchers found minimal side effects to using the drug and when it was used, the dogs were comfortably able to gain weight.

‘If you look at the literature, there are no drugs we can use to manage megaesophagus. Sildenafil is the first to target these mechanisms and reduce regurgitation, which is big because that’s what ultimately kills these dogs,’ co-lead author Dr Jillian Haines said in a statement.

If you have an older dog with tooth troubles, add a little water or chicken broth to his or her kibble and microwave for 20 to 30 seconds.

‘It opens the lower esophageal sphincter for 20 minutes to an hour, which works really well for dogs because we only want that to open when they are eating.’

Nine out of 10 owners reported reduced regurgitation during the two weeks when their dogs were taking the liquid sildenafil.

‘In many cases, the owners were able to figure out which drug was sildenafil because it was working,’ explained Dr Haines.

‘Moderately affected dogs that were regurgitating frequently but not excessively seemed to see the most dramatic results. I actually prescribed sildenafil to several of those patients after the study, and they are still using it today.’

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Spiked collars were originally fashioned in ancient Greece to protect dogs’ throats from wolf attacks.

Dogs and cat eat animal feed from bowls together
The research could pave the way for vets to start prescribe it to owners (Credits: Getty Images)

As further work is done on this subject, it could start to make its way through to vets who will be able to prescribe it to owners with dogs suffering from megaesophagus

‘A lot of veterinarians are reaching out and asking about this drug,’ Dr. Haines said.

‘I think sildenafil will be life changing and life saving for a lot of dogs. This research helps support its use and hopefully will encourage more people to use it.’

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