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Trouble swallowing.

Species: Dog
Breed: German Shepherd
Age: 5-8 years
My 6-year-old shepherd developed a major mucus production problem in the last month. I have already spent over $200 at the vet to try and find out what is wrong with her, but we've come to the point where the next step may cost me $800. Because of my current financial situation, I may have to put my Diamond down, but I thought I'd try and pick your brain.

Diamond does not cough or sneeze or have a runny nose, nor does she have bad breath or bad teeth. Her lungs are clear, her blood panel is fine, she does not have kennel cough, and she has no fever. She has completed a 17 day antibiotic regiman in case of infection. The second try was to put her on 20mg (10mg 2tid) Zyrtec in case she had an allergy, though she has no other allergy symtoms. There has been no change. She has grown somewhat lethargic, eats little, periodically chokes and clears her throat, and drinking is difficult. Because of the mucus, she can't get all the water down. It washes back out, full of mucus, pieces of trapped food, etc. Also, her cheeks are beginning to look puffed out like a chipmunk. My vet is at a loss, as he has never seen this issue in a dog without other symtoms. He says the next step is to scope her, which is where all the money comes in.

Have you seen anything like this in your practice? Do you have any other suggestions? Do you think I would benefit on spending the money for a second vet opinion, or would they probably just recommend the scope? I am sorry this email is so long, but I have had dogs all my life, and never been in this situation before. The only life or death decisions I've had to make were after a long life.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thank you for your detailed description of Diamond's condition.

Unfortunately I am in the same boat as your vet...I have never seen a case like this.

I have never heard of a dog that had difficulty swallowing water. The first thing I would think of is some type of esophageal obstruction which is why a scope would be a good idea.

I would also be doing a very thorough dental exam to see if I could find a reason for the swollen cheeks but this is very odd as well. I'm wondering if you are seeing facial lymph nodes swollen? This could be a result of an infection which could be because of some foreign object somewhere. But it doesn't make sense for both cheeks to be swollen.

There are some rare conditions though that can cause a dog to have trouble swallowing water. You can ask your vet about the possibility of a pharyngeal or esophageal motility or sensory disorder (food can stimulate the swallowing reflex but fluids cannot) or myasthenia gravis.

It could also be a problem in Diamond's brainstem such as a tumor. But this would be very difficult to diagnose.

If this were my case I would be recommending a scope as well to look for obvious signs of esophageal problems. While she was under anesthetic I would be doing a very thorough dental exam. If nothing was found, then I would be recommending doing tests for megaesophagus. And, if the clients could afford it I would be recommending a CT scan or MRI to look for brain tumors. But, this is all very costly.

I think it is a good idea to go ahead with the scope if you can swing this. If there is no answer though then I think we need to be prepared that this could be a condition that there is no easy fix to and you may need to consider euthanasia.

I really hope things improve.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

I wanted to thank you for your very thorough and thoughtful comments. While it didn’t save my dog’s life (nothing could have), you gave me confidence that my vet was doing what should be done. I took Diamond to her vet with her chipmunk cheeks the next day he was open. His expression said it all. Her lymph nodes were swollen, and not just near her face. Between her white blood cell count and other tests. she was diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer. It was his opinion that all the other things we'd seen were symptoms of a decimated immune system. We agreed to put her on heavy duty antibiotics which improved her overall state for about a week. After that, she aged about a year a day. Her bones grew prominent and muscle deteriorated, her vision became impaired, and her breathing grew difficult. We had the vet out to end her suffering and where our other dogs would know what happened. She was only six and I am still suffering disbelief, that in 4 weeks 2 days, she went from me thinking she had a cold to being laid to rest. We will miss her greatly. My Diamond truly was a girl’s best friend.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh. I'm so sorry to hear of this bad news. It sounds like Diamond was loved dearly. So sorry for your loss.

Dr. Marie

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.