Cricopharyngeal Dysfunction

Cricopharyngeal dysfunctionn (CPD) is a disorder of the cricopharyngeus, a muscle located in the throat, also known as the upper esophageal sphincter (UES). The disorder may occur as a congenital condition or may be seen at any age. In this disorder swallowing is not initiated by presence of the food bolus at the base of the tongue due to the failure of the pharyngeal muscle to relax to allow the passage of the food into the esophagus properly. Attempts to swallow are accompanied by gagging and retching with food returning to the mouth or inhaled. Occasionally, retention of food in the throat occurs which may be regurgitated hours later.

Several causes of CPD in dogs have been set forth. The current thinking is that there is an underlying congenital neuromuscular defect. Studies suggested a genetic predisposition for this condition in the Cocker Spaniel. In the Golden Retriever the condition is thought to be inherited.

Dogs with CPD generally have difficulty in swallowing, gagging, regurgitation, and nasal discharge. Aspiration pneumonia with an occasional cough may occur as a result. Despite a ravenous appetite, the dog is usually small for her/his age. Diagnosis can be difficult because of the different types of swallowing problems that may be present and because single X-ray plates do not provide adequate diagnostic information. Conventional treatment of cricopharyngeal dysphagia is surgery. The failure rate for dogs undergoing surgical treatment of CPD may be high, particularly if concurrent aspiration pneumonia or malnutrition is not addressed prior to surgery. In case of successful surgery, the dog is able to eat soft food comfortably in less than 24 hours after surgery.

A graphic depicting a dog licking icecream


  1. Davidson AP, Pollard RE, Bannasch DL, Marks SL, Hornof WJ, Famula TR. Inheritance of cricopharyngeal Dysfunctionn in Golden Retrievers
  2. Cricopharyngeal Myotomy. Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School
  3. Renate M. Pfeifer. Cricopharyngeal achalasia in a dog
  4. James W. Simpson, Roderick W. Else. Digestive Disease in the Dog and Cat

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