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Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

            The larynx or voice box is not an area we typically think of as having problems in our canine friends. But older large breed dogs can sometimes have a medical condition known as laryngeal paralysis which can lead to serious complications. In this week’s blog, we learn more about the causes and treatment of laryngeal paralysis.

            The larynx is the part of the trachea that holds the voice box or vocal folds. It is the opening to the windpipe.  Normally, the larynx opens to allow air to enter the windpipe or closes to protect the windpipe from inhalation of food or water.  If the nerve controlling the larynx is paralyzed, the larynx does not open normally and it is very difficult for the dog to breathe through the narrowed opening.

            Laryngeal paralysis can occur in older dogs due to weakening of the muscles and nerves but may also be caused by trauma to the neck, tumors in the neck or may be an inherited congenital condition in younger dogs in certain breeds such as Rottweilers, Siberian Huskies, American Staffordshire Terriers and Dalmatians. Labrador Retrievers have the highest incidence of laryngeal paralysis.

            Signs of laryngeal paralysis can include a hoarse bark or change in a dog’s bark, harsh panting or breathing, coughing and gagging and, in some cases, inability to breathe and collapse.  Severe symptoms often occur in dogs who are excited or stressed or who are exposed to temperature extremes. Affected dogs can be prone to aspiration pneumonia.

            Diagnosis involves lightly sedating the dog and examining the larynx to see if it is opening or moving properly.

            Treatment for mild cases may involve anti-anxiety medications, stress reduction, avoiding very hot or cold temperatures, and use of a harness instead of a neck collar.  More severe cases may need surgery to keep the larynx open to improve breathing. The most common surgery is called a laryngeal “tie back” but a few other procedures exist. Complications from surgery can include aspiration as it is easier for food and water to enter the windpipe during eating and drinking since the larynx no longer completely closes, coughing and, in very rare cases, the surgery can fail.  Dogs who have had a tie back procedure must use caution around water and can no longer swim due to the risk for inhaling water.

            Laryngeal paralysis is a serious condition most commonly seen in older Labs, but, as discussed, while the condition cannot be cured, it can be managed with medications or surgery.

            This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.