Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

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Should your neighbor’s barking dog get laryngitis, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a blessing. But laryngeal paralysis is something else altogether. The condition, which primarily affects dogs (rarely cats), occurs when the larynx closes when it should open. Difficulty breathing and collapsing during exercise can occur, as well as noisy breathing and gagging. Laryngeal paralysis is a genetic condition for some dog breeds, though it may be caused by disease in others. Treatment ranges from exercise restriction and/or medication in mild cases to surgery in serious cases.

Overview

The larynx is the structure at the back of the throat (at the entrance to the trachea) that opens to allow airflow in and out of the trachea and lungs. It also closes to prevent the entry of food and liquids into the lungs during swallowing. Also known as the voice box, the larynx enables dogs to bark and howl.

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition in which the cartilage and vocal folds of the larynx are unable to open fully during breathing, making inhalation especially difficult.

The condition can be inherited in some breeds, such as Bouvier des Flandres, Siberian Huskies, and Dalmatians. In these cases, the condition usually occurs within the first 6 months of life. More often, laryngeal paralysis occurs in large-breed dogs later in Iife. St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Irish Setters are often affected. Laryngeal paralysis rarely occurs in cats.

Signs and Identification

Dogs with laryngeal paralysis generally experience signs related to breathing and barking. A hoarse, raspy, roaring sound that is most audible upon inhalation is typical. Sometimes, difficulty breathing and collapse (most common during exercise, especially in hot weather) can also occur, as well as gagging and hacking while eating or drinking. The bark may also become hoarse or raspy.

The best way to diagnose laryngeal paralysis is to observe the larynx while the dog is under sedation or anesthesia. Usually, the veterinarian will notice that one or both sides of the larynx do not open normally when the dog inhales. Other diagnostic tests may be recommended to determine if there are underlying diseases or complications that can occur as a result of laryngeal paralysis.

Affected Breeds

For the Dalmatian, Bouvier des Flandres, Siberian Husky, and some other breeds, the disease can be inherited. In other cases, the cause is unknown or can result from other diseases affecting the nerves and muscles controlling the larynx.

Treatment

Treatment of laryngeal paralysis depends greatly on how severely a dog is affected. In very mild cases, no treatment may be indicated, apart from exercise restriction and stress avoidance. Sometimes, mild sedatives or anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed. However, in more severe cases that present with acute respiratory distress, dogs may require oxygen therapy, hospitalization, and intensive care management of the condition until the crisis resolves.

Definitive treatment for severe cases involves surgery. A common procedure is to use suture material to tie back one side of the cartilage, creating a larger opening for air movement. Though this surgery makes it possible for dogs to breathe more normally, an unfortunate potential side effect involves the accidental inhalation (aspiration) of food and/or water and the possibility of pneumonia.

Prevention

For dogs with laryngeal paralysis, episodes can be minimized by reducing stress and exertion, and providing medication when necessary. Dogs with the inherited form of the disease should not be used for breeding.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.

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