Esophageal Cancer in Cats and Dogs
What are esophageal tumors?
The esophagus is an organ which consists of a muscular tube through which food passes from the pet's pharynx to the
stomach.Cancer of the esophagus is very rare and accounts for less than 0.5% of all cancer in dogs and cats. Most
animals that develop this cancer are older and the more commonly reported histologic types include squamous cell
carcinoma, leiomyosarcoma, fibrosarcoma and osteosarcoma.

What are the symptoms of esophagus cancer in cats and dogs?
They symptoms of esophageal cancer may include general debilitation, weight loss, pain on swallowing, difficulty eating,
and/or regurgitation (the controlled flow of undigested stomach contents back into the esophagus and mouth).

How is the diagnosis made?
When an upper gastrointestinal obstruction is suspected, the diagnostic tests typically include X-rays, positive-contrast
esophagogram (a test to evaluate swallowing function) and esophagoscopy (a test to visualize any abnormalities in the
esophagus using a thin, lighted instrument). Several
tissue biopsies are taken to send for histopathological evaluation to
confirm/rule out the diagnosis as cancer. Occasionally advanced imaging techniques such as CT or MRI may be helpful to
evaluate the extent of the mass.

Does cancer cause pain in pets?
Pain is common in pets with cancer, with some tumors causing more pain than others. In addition to pain caused by the
actual tumors, pets will also experience pain associated with cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy or
chemotherapy. Untreated pain decreases the pet's quality of life, and prolongs recovery from the illness, treatment or
injury. It is, therefore, essential that veterinary teams that are taking care of pets with cancer should also play a vital role
in educating pet owners about recognizing and managing pain in their pets. The best way to manage cancer pain in pets
is to prevent it, a term referred to as preemptive pain management. This strategy anticipates pain ahead of time and
administers pain medication before the pet actually experiences pain, thus ensuring the pet's maximum comfort.

To learn more about which tumors are likely to cause a lot of pain, how to recognize pain in pets with cancer and what
cancer pain management options are available for your pet, please visit the
Cancer Pain Management section.

Is nutritional support important for pets with cancer?
Cancer cachexia (a term referring to progressive severe weight loss) is frequently observed in pets with cancer. Pets with
cancer lose weight partly because of lack of appetite and partly because of cancer-induced altered metabolism. Some of
the causes for decreased appetite are related to the cancer itself (for example, tumors may physically interfere with food
chewing, swallowing, and digestion process) and some may be related to the side effects of cancer treatment (for
example, some chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting, and radiation therapy can cause mouth inflammation).

Proper nutrition while undergoing cancer treatment is essential to maintain your pet's strength, improve survival times,
quality of life and maximize response to therapy. Adequate nutritional support was shown to decrease the duration of
hospitalization, reduce post-surgery complications and enhance the healing process. Additionally, pets with cancer need
to be fed diets specifically designed to provide maximum benefit and nutritional support for the patient. To learn more,
please visit the
Cancer Nutrition section.

What are the treatment options for esophageal cancer in cats and dogs?
In most cases, the stage of the disease is advanced by the time of diagnosis, making treatment difficult. Surgical
treatment is possible but it is complicated by the location of the organ and the complexity of the surgery and unique
healing problems of the esophagus.
Chemotherapy has been rarely administered and radiation therapy, when attempted,
may be of some utility only for the cervical esophagus but not intrathoracic (located in the chest) esophagus because of
the surrounding lungs and heart. As a form of short-term palliative care, pet owners might consider the placement of
feedings tubes such as esophagotomy tubes (tubes that pass from the left side of the neck into the far end of the
esophagus) or gastrostomy tubes (a rubber tube inserted through the skin directly into the stomach) to assist their pets
with feeding.

How do I find a qualified veterinary oncologist?
To locate a qualified veterinary oncologist worldwide who can discuss with you appropriate cancer treatment plan for your
pet's cancer condition, please visit the "
Locate a veterinary oncologist" section.  

What is the prognosis for pets with esophagus cancer?
The prognosis for pets diagnosed with malignant esophageal cancer is poor due to the difficulty to surgically treat this
disease and high metastatic rate.

Are there any clinical trials?
Although there are no clinical trials specifically designed to treat esophageal cancer, there are several clinical trials
available for cats and dogs with any tumor type for which your pet may qualify. To learn more these trials (which are
partially or fully funded by the institutions), please visit the
Dog Clinical Trials (any tumor type) or Cat Clinical Trials (any
tumor type) section.  

To learn more about veterinary clinical trials in general, please visit the
Pet Clinical Trials section.

  • Withrow Stephen J, and David M. Vail. Small Animal Clinical Oncology. St Louis: Saunders Elsevier, 2007.
  • Morrison Wallace B. Cancer in Dogs and Cats: Medical and Surgical Management. Baltimore: Williams&Wilkins,
Comprehensive guide to cancer diagnosis and treatment in cats and dogs
© 2007 Pet Cancer Center. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Last updated 2/19/2017