Viagra could be used for canine-related eating disorder

PULLMAN, Wash. — It turns out Viagra can help man, and his best friend.

At least that’s what researchers at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine set out to prove.

Dr. Jillian Haines said they wanted to see if the drug could help dogs with megaesophagus, also known as ‘Mega-E.’

“We know that it works as a smooth muscle relaxer. It is used for other conditions than what people often think of Viagra being used for,” Dr. Haines said.

Megaesophagus, is exactly what you’d think.

It’s a life threatening condition that enlarges the esophagus in dogs and cats, preventing food from getting to the stomach through the esophageal sphincter.

“Can’t get the food you swallow to your stomach, then malnutrition. That material staying there leads to regurgitation of the food which can then be inhaled and then cause pneumonia,” Dr. Haines said it can also cause dehydration.

Researchers used Sildenafil, the generic version of Viagra in their weeks-long study.

“It’s pretty perfect for us treating dogs with megaesophagus because we just need that sphincter to open for a short period of time let food move from the esophagus to the stomach and then close back up again,” Dr. Haines, who’s also an associate professor, explained.

Medicinal support isn’t the only treatment dogs with the condition require.

They also have to eat upright in a specialized contraption called a Bailey chair, and must remain there for some time to let gravity do it’s job.

“They know how to back up themselves, into their seats and everything and sit down,” TeriDawn Kreitzer said.

Kreizter is a dog foster with Mikey’s Chance Rescue in the Tri-Cities who’s currently fostering two dogs with megaesophagus: Lilly and Lando.

Lilly, a young German Shephard mix, is on Sildenafil.

“We could tell the difference. It works good, she doesn’t have as many regurgitation issues and you know, she’s just a happy go lucky puppy,” TeriDawn said.

That’s also what Dr. Haines and her colleagues found in the double-blind study.

They used a fluoroscopy to observe the dogs as they ate.

“Essentially a moving x-ray so you can take a video x-ray so we can watch the dogs eat, watch the food move down through their esophagus and into their stomach and look into any effects the drug may have. Ultimately we found that we did see reduction in regurgitation and we saw an improvement in body weight,” Dr. Haines said.

Dr. Haines added this is big news for the future treatment of Mega-E in dogs like Lilly and Lando, but their work has only just begun.

“Really exciting that we can not only start recommending it, but feel really comfortable telling owners that this is available this is an option and it really has the potential to be life changing and potentially life saving for these dogs,” she said.

You can read more about the study here.

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