A small puppy with an eating disorder who had a real possibility of dying from the condition has been saved by surgery from a County Durham vet. 

Young Willow, a cockapoo, who found it difficult to swallow food or water unless being spoon-fed in tiny amounts, underwent life-changing surgery at Linnaeus-owned Wear Referrals.

At the time, both the vets and Willow’s owners faced a huge dilemma as the clinical and imaging signs of her condition – cricopharyngeal dysphagia – could be mimicked by a different disease and in that case, the surgery intended to save her would kill her.

Nevertheless, Willow’s caring owners were desperate to give her the opportunity for a full and healthy life as it was clear she couldn’t continue being so badly affected, with the little puppy desperately keen to eat but unable to swallow her food.

Willow faced the possibility of dying from her conditionWillow faced the possibility of dying from her condition (Image: WEAR REFERRALS)

Willow’s concerned owner, Olivia Williams from Middlesbrough, said: “We noticed Willow wasn’t swallowing her food and was choking with every mouthful.

“We found it easier to spoon-feed her but the choking continued. It was very frightening at times and Willow was deeply distressed.”

Willow’s treatment saw specialists from several services at Wear combine their expertise to successfully diagnose her problem and treat her.

Detailed investigations found the reason Willow could only swallow tiny amounts was due to the muscle around the entry to her oesophagus spasming whenever she tried to swallow.

Removing a section of the muscle can mean puppies can swallow food and water normally after the operation.

Willow out for a walkWillow out for a walk (Image: WEAR REFERRALS)

Professor Jon Hall, head of soft tissue surgery at Wear Referrals, said: “When Willow saw her usual vet for vaccination, they recognised she was small and suspected an anatomical disorder that might interfere with food passing down her oesophagus.

“She was referred to Wear Referrals and assessed by our specialists in internal medicine. Her blood tests and chest x-rays were normal but it was clear something was stopping her swallowing properly.

“Willow truly was a puppy where surgery was live or die, and her rare condition required hi-tech video fluoroscopy (live x-rays) and specialist imaging knowledge to diagnose.

“On recovery from the operation, it was with some anxiety that all of the vets involved stood watching Willow take her first mouth full of food.

“Everyone was delighted when she was able to swallow a little with no gagging or coughing, and Willow herself seemed somewhat surprised.

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“She soon cleared a full meal for the first time in her life and has continued to thrive since.”

Olivia admitted that before the operation she thought she might lose Willow.

She added: “I was very concerned about the procedure and it was a big decision to make.

“However, from the moment we brought Willow home from Wear, she has done amazingly well. She can finally eat on her own and eats all her food within minutes!

“We are amazed every day how far she has come. Her quality of life has improved so much since the surgery and we couldn’t be anymore grateful to the team at Wear Referrals.”