Wylie’s Story

Wylie’s Story originally appeared in the July – September issue of The Vizsla News.


On April 21, 2011 we had the litter from hell.  At least it was our litter from hell.  Whelping took from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm with only two puppies born.   We needed a trip to the vet for a possible C-section to get the remaining five puppies out.  Only four out of seven pups survived.  Three were mummified in the womb.  Wylie, the first out, was the smallest pup about 6 oz.  He had to be swung and rubbed quite hard to make a peep.  All the pups were small, none over 10 oz.  Two were born in the vet’s office.  She listened for a heart beat before she worked any of them.  They both looked so sad.

Once we brought them home Dart was not too enthusiastic to take care of them.  I was just glad I had her alive.  I had to sleep in the puppy room with her.  It didn’t take her too long to join them and take care of them as though she had birthed them in her favorite place.  Everything sailed along quite well after that.  Until we started to wean them with mush.  The more solid the food became the more Wylie threw up after every meal.  I let him continue nursing Dart.  He went back to the vet at five weeks old.  The vet suspected megaesophagus and discussed putting him down at that time.  She said he would have continuous bouts of aspiration pneumonia and would eventually not survive.  Nonetheless, she administered a barium test for megaesophagus.  

Sure enough she found something wrong with his esophagus.  Not megaesophagus at this point.  But, there was a blockage which prevented a significant amount of food to enter his stomach.   Turned out that blockage was caused by a Persistent Right Aortic Arch, a congenital annomly.  That is, there was an extra blood vessle, the aortic arch, constricting not only the esophagus, but the trachea as well.  That blood vessel had to be removed by cracking the rib cage and doing heart surgery. 

He was scheduled for the heart surgery at seven weeks old.    In the meantime, he had to be fed like a dog with megaesophagus.  That is, fed in a Bailey Chair which kept him upright for gravity to pull the food into his stomach.  

For a six week old puppy, his Bailey Chair was a simple waste basket.   For Bailey, the megaesophagus dog that the chair was named after, it was chair, similar to a highchair, that confined him to stay upright so that the food could reach the stomach

I love this interaction between Dart and Wylie after one liquid meal.  One day she helped keep him in his Bailey Chair for the 20 minutes after the meal.

Wylie had surgery on a Tuesday.  He was eating the classic meatballs given to megaesophagus dogs so he was sent home two days later.   Meatballs for a seven week old puppy were about the size of a nickel.   The surgeon handed him to me saying, “Here’s your dog.  I did a great job.”  Wylie looked so sad.  He moaned/groaned.  I didn’t even know how to hold him.  An internal medicine vet did teach me how to hold him and how to pick him up.   All she recommended was cage rest and feeding six meals a day, but nothing else.  She never gave me advice on what to feed him or how to feed him.  The rest was all up to me.  I did find some help on a Yahoo Listserve for Megaesophagus.  This listserve had a veterinarian, Dr. Kathy, who gave anyone advice who wanted it.  She was good.  I got my best advice from her.  Facebook also has some support groups for megaesophagus.

The surgery was successful, but his constriction had been severe.  The second barium x-ray showed that most of the food made it to his stomach, but a residual stayed in his esophagus where the extra vessel damaged it.   It turned out that everything I tried to get his esophagus back to normal was not going to work.  Over a period of six months, I tried slowly converting the food to more solid food and slowly moving the food to the level of the floor.

After realizing my approaches were not successful, I scheduled him for a Fluoroscopy.  The fluoroscopy is an x-ray movie of him swallowing food.   As shown in the picture, the dog stands upright and eats the barium infused food.  

The results showed that he had normal movement of food before it reached the damaged area of his esophagus as well as after the damaged area.  So I figured out if the food could pass the damaged area, which I called his pouch, it would reach the stomach without a problem.  This led me to feed him in the elevated position.  He didn’t have to stay in the elevated position because the food was propelled to enter his stomach.  I built a special stand out of PVC pipe.  Placed it over his crate.  He would put his front legs on the crate to reach the food.

Two to three years later another x-ray showed more damage.  I called this damage area a pouch.  This is when he finally received the diagnosis of Megaesophagus.  They called his pouch a diverticulum.  Another fluoroscopy followed that diagnosis.  This fluoroscopy focused on his diverticulum to see how food accumulated.  Nothing when through.  No kibble, no meat balls.  Only fluid.  So, it was liquid food from then on.  His heartworm, as well as any medication had to be diced and mixed into his food.

He tolerated the upright position for eight years until he refused to eat in that position.  Not sure what to do, I just gave him his meals in a 15” elevated dish.  

That seemed to work.  He never got the meal stuck.  When it came to his palate, Wylie was no different than any other dog.   Every several years, he would get tired of the food and wait for me to find something he liked.  We went through 1) presoaked kibble (at least three kinds), 2) freeze dried raw (two different types), and now 3) canned food.  All of these types of food had to be liquified.   I used a hand mixer to make them into liquid.  Despite all my efforts to make the food as user-friendly as possible, he would get some food accumulating in his pouch.  To empty his pouch he created some kind of maneuver to get it out.  Not sure exactly how he did it, but it sounded terrible.  The vet called that a retch.  The would retch food out a couple of times each day.

It was not easy traveling with everything Wylie needed to eat.  But, we did travel and he did participate in some dog sports.  Because I entered him in Junior hunter each time I entered Dart or Shine in Master hunter, he earned two Junior Hunters.  He was the birdiest puppy I’ve ever had.  He would point planted quail at 6 weeks old.  He was amazing.  He was uncontrollable in his first junior hunter test.  Luckily the judges left after his first test.  He stayed in the field and cleaned it all out.  The only way we could catch him was to show him the bird box.   He also participated in agility.  He was a dog that could bring a smile to your face as he just had fun running courses.  It was aways fun to run him.  Had I been serious about training he might have been a better agility dog than Dart.  I had no idea how long he would live so I never wanted to do anything more than let him have fun.    I never broke him to wing and shot.  Here’s where his trachea came into play too.  His trachea was also bent at the level of the damage to his esophagus. When he ran in the field and when he ran in agility you could hear him breathe.  His breathing was so loud at times, some people nicknamed him “Darth Vader”.   For treats in agility I first used canned cheese.  That can was hard to put in my pocket.  Eventually, our treats were pureed sardines in squeeze tubes.  That worked beautifully and we always had a bunch of dogs following us for a squirt.  We were the pied piper of sardines.

Being a dog, he wanted to eat many things he found in the back yard or in the field.  He loved coyote poop he found at the conservation club.  Of course, that would get stuck in his pouch.  Similarly, he loved clumped grass from mowing wet grass.  That too, would get stuck in his pouch.  When he had something stuck he would writhe in pain on the ground.  It killed me to have to watch him.  But he eventually would vomit from his stomach and push the blockage out.  The vomit came out in one jelly-like piece encompassed in a foamy slime produced by an irritated esophagus.  And the noise that accompanied his vomit was a terrible retch.  This didn’t happen too often.  Perhaps five times over his 12 years, more frequent in his early years.  He never had to be scoped or sedated to pull a blockage out.  Each time this happened I gave him 5 ml of gastraphate which soothed his irritated esophagus.    I got him a muzzle to wear in the field so that he wouldn’t eat the coyote poop.  And I cleaned up the grass to get rid of clumps of grass after mowing.  His first muzzle was a basket muzzle.  

His second muzzle was recommended by a veterinarian who competed in agility with us.  It was a netting to keep fox tails out of his eyes.   I called it a bubble head which he liked better than the basket muzzle.

For as tough as this little guy appeared on the outside, on the inside he was quite delicate.  He could not wear a chest harness because it pressed on his chest making him retch.   The best lead for him turned out to be a head harness.  You couldn’t lift him up into the car by holding his chest.  That too, would often make him retch.  He had to be lifted by the hind end.  Even sitting by him at night, when he’d lie down beside me, if I rested my hand on his chest as I petted him, he’d often retch.  When we slept together at night, if I rolled the wrong way and would press on him, I’d wake up to him retching.  Recently he had an upper respiratory infection.  He sneezed frequently with snot accumulating at his nose.  Of course, he would lick the snot away.  The snot probably got stuck in his pouch because he’d retch to bring it back up.  Then lick it up again.  It was a vicious cycle.

You would think a dog with such a disability would not be part of the limelight, but Wylie has been featured by a couple of Megaesophagus groups, both on Facebook.  Wylie had no idea life was not supposed to be this way.  We spent significantly more time together working on his condition which brought a special bond between us.   

He’s just a happy dog that brings a smile to everyone who meets him.  He and I have been on many adventures together and he will be in our hearts forever.

Jan Wallace