Dealing with Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

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The larynx is located at the top of a dog's throat, just in front of the opening to the trachea (the windpipe) that leads to the lungs. The larynx has several functions. It is home to a dog's vocal chords, which allow him to bark, growl, etc. When the larynx is fully open, air can pass freely to and from the lungs. When closed, as is the case when a dog swallows, it prevents food, water, or other substances from entering the trachea.

"If medical management is not enough to keep a dog breathing freely, surgery should be considered because laryngeal paralysis can be a fatal disease."

Picture the larynx as a rigid box, in the middle of which is a vertical, oblong opening. Place the tips of your fingers and the heels of your hands together to get an idea of what the opening looks like. If you cup your hand into a circle, this is more or less what the laryngeal opening looks like when it's open. When you straighten your hands and bring your palms together, this mimics the larynx closing.

In the above example, your hands are acting like the muscles in the larynx that contract and relax to open and close the laryngeal opening.

What is Laryngeal Paralysis?

Laryngeal paralysis is a disease that most commonly affects middle aged and older large breed dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers. If the muscles that control the larynx do not function normally, the larynx cannot open fully. Depending on the severity of dysfunction, the larynx may be able to open a moderate amount or it may remain almost entirely closed, which determines the severity of a dog's symptoms.

Veterinarians do not know why some dogs develop laryngeal paralysis and others do not. There may be an association with hypothyroidism or diseases affecting nerves, but in most cases no underlying cause can be found.

Common Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis

The most noticeable initial symptom of laryngeal paralysis is noisy breathing. Affected dogs may also tire easily, be unwilling to exercise, pant excessively, have difficulty breathing, and experience a change in the sound of their bark. Symptoms are often worse during hot weather or when a dog is under stress. Of course, not being able to breathe can easily be a stressful situation, and this can lead to a rapid deterioration of a dog's condition.

Many dogs with laryngeal paralysis also develop a condition called megaesophagus. Dogs suffering from megaesophagus may regurgitate their food and lose weight in addition to having the symptoms associated with laryngeal paralysis.

Diagnosis and Treatment


Your veterinarian may be suspicious that your dog is suffering from laryngeal paralysis based on his symptoms alone. To confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes of his symptoms, he or she may order X-rays of your dog's throat and chest, run blood work to rule out hypothyroidism and check his overall health status, and examine how your dog's larynx moves under light sedation.

Appropriate treatment for laryngeal paralysis depends on the severity of your dog's symptoms. Pet medications and other lifestyle changes can help dog's with mild laryngeal paralysis. These can include weight loss, light sedation, tricyclic antidepressants (Amitriptyline), exercise restrictions, and providing dogs with a cool place to relax.

If medical management is not enough to keep a dog breathing freely, surgery should be considered because laryngeal paralysis can be a fatal disease. A qualified veterinarian can perform a procedure that will permanently open one side of a dog's larynx. This will usually improve a dog's breathing but also puts him at a relatively high risk for developing aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by food or water passing through the now partially open larynx into the lungs. Mild to moderate cases of aspiration pneumonia can often be successfully treated with antibiotics and symptomatic care, but repeated or especially severe episodes may be fatal.

Other surgical options are also available. Your veterinarian can help you decide what form of treatment is best for your dog based on his symptoms and overall health.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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