is a 15 year old Dachshund who is usually very sprightly for
her age. Her name means "trouble", in a South African
tribal dialect, and she has certainly lived up to it recently.
She first became ill on Christmas Day. She was given her
traditional Turkey Christmas dinner and shortly afterwards
she became very off-colour. Over the next 24 hours she retched
repeatedly, sometimes followed by vomiting, and she became
increasingly weak, shaky and depressed. By the middle of the
night on Boxing Day she had started to have small seizures
and was admitted as an emergency at the Henley surgery.
On admission she was severely dehydrated and very weak. She
was put on a drip and started on antibiotics and anti-nausea
drugs overnight. This improved her hydration and controlled
the vomiting but by the morning she was starting to have severe
breathing difficulties. Chest X-rays revealed a severe pneumonia
and, underlying this, a hugely dilated and flabby oesophagus,
a condition known as "megaoesophagus".
The oesophagus is the tube that runs through the chest cavity
connecting the throat to the stomach; in a normal animal it
has a strong muscular wall so that, when food is swallowed,
it is propelled down into the stomach within a matter of seconds.
In "megaoesophagus" the tube has lost its muscle
tone and become stretched and "baggy" and so food
& fluid tend to pool within it. Thus they are easily refluxed
and accidentally inhaled causing an "inhalation pneumonia".
The megaoesophagus would have developed over weeks or months
but, we assumed, the added complication of the upset stomach
caused by the Christmas dinner was the final straw, causing
her to inhale particles of food and inducing a life-threatening
It was touch and go as to whether she was strong enough to
pull through this. She remained in intensive care on an intravenous
drip, antibiotics and anti-sickness drugs and at times she
needed supplementary oxygen to assist her breathing.
Blood samples were sent off to look for a cause of the megaoesophagus.
It was six days before she took her first lap of water and
the following day her first mouthful of food. This was a long
time for such a little, sick dog, and we were not out of the
All food and water was fed from a height and then Indaba
was held vertically and carried around over the shoulder like
a baby for 20 minutes. This helps gravity assist the transit
of food and fluid down to the stomach and reduces the chance
of reflux. Slowly but surely her lungs have recovered from
the pneumonia and she has regained condition and strength
When the blood results came back from the lab, they showed
that Indaba had a neurological condition called myasthenia
gravis. This is a disease where the nerves fail to stimulate
the muscles they are attached to and in many animals (and
people) it can cause a generalised muscle weakness and periodic
collapse as well as more specific dysfunction of internal
muscles. The drug used to treat this disease can cause unpleasant
and even dangerous side-effects.
In Indaba's case the myasthenia is affecting only the oesophageal
muscles and so the owners have opted not to start on this
drug but to continue to manage the megaoesophagus by postural
feeding. To this end they have tested every baby carrying
sling offered by "Mothercare" and found the ideal
one to fit a miniature Dachshund!