What is Paralysis of the Larynx?
Paralysis in the larynx is known as laryngeal paralysis and is a disorder where the nerves that manage the muscles and cartilage that open and close the dog’s larynx (or voicebox) are not working as they should. This will lead to changes in the dog’s voice and trouble eating or breathing.
Air will move from the mouth or nose through the larynx and into the trachea (known as the windpipe). When the nerves of the laryngeal muscles weaken or are paralyzed, the muscles will relax and the cartilage may cave inward. Typically, the laryngeal cartilages are opened during a dog’s breathing, however, in laryngeal paralysis these do not open and close as they usually would which makes it challenging for the dog to take in air.
Known as laryngeal paralysis, paralysis of the larynx occurs when the nerves that operate the muscles and cartilage responsible for opening and closing the larynx stop working.
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Symptoms of Paralysis of the Larynx in Dogs
An early symptom of laryngeal paralysis may be a change in the voice of your dog; he may sound hoarse. Dogs struggling with this condition make a lot of noise when breathing in and may gag or choke when eating. Symptoms are typically worse in hot and humid conditions and when your dog is exercising. Dogs struggling with obesity may show more severe symptoms. The condition may be life-threatening should it become so severe that your dog cannot take in enough air.
- Hoarse bark
- Choking and gagging
- Noisy breathing
- In many cases of laryngeal paralysis, the larynx will function normally when the dog is born, however over time the nerves and muscles that move the laryngeal cartilages will begin to lose function
- Paralysis of the larynx can also occur as a result of trauma to the dog’s nerves and/or muscles of the larynx
- In rare cases, the condition is hereditary with symptoms seen in puppies at around two to six months of age
Causes of Paralysis of the Larynx in Dogs
The condition is most common in older dogs of larger breeds, to include:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
- Siberian Huskies
Typically, the larynx works normally at birth, however over time the function of the nerves and muscles that are responsible for the movement of the laryngeal cartilages diminish. The reason for the lost function is usually not known, though in some cases hypothyroidism is associated. In rare cases, the condition can be hereditary and seen in puppies. Typically, the signs of trouble breathing will be noticed by two to six months of age. Breeds that are impacted by this form of the condition include:
- Bouvier des Flandres
- Siberian Huskies
- English Bulldogs
Paralysis of the larynx can occur when there is damage to the nerves and/or muscles of your dog’s larynx due to trauma.
Diagnosis of Paralysis of the Larynx in Dogs
Should you notice that your dog is coughing, sounds hoarse or experiencing shortness of breath, you will want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, who will conduct a physical examination of your dog. If your veterinarian suspects that laryngeal paralysis is the cause of your dog’s symptoms, he will administer a light anesthesia and examine his larynx, possibly with an endoscope. In cases of laryngeal paralysis, your veterinarian will notice that the cartilages of the larynx are not opening as wide as they should when your dog inhales. Other tests that your veterinarian may want to conduct include a blood test, urine test, and x-rays.
Treatment of Paralysis of the Larynx in Dogs
Should your dog’s case of laryngeal paralysis be minor, your veterinarian may be able to help keep it under control through medication like anti-inflammatories, antibiotics or bronchodilators. Your veterinarian will also recommend that your dog avoid excessive heat and significant exercise, as well as not wear a choke collar.
The majority of dogs with this condition will require surgery. A procedure known as an “arytenoid lateralization” (also known as a “laryngeal tie-back”) is the most performed option for the condition. One or more permanent sutures will be placed in such a way as to keep the arytenoid cartilage open, allowing enough air to pass through. Your veterinarian will likely only perform this on one side, as it will increase your dog’s airflow while minimizing the risk of your dog inhaling stomach contents during the surgery or food and water after the surgery has been completed.
Recovery of Paralysis of the Larynx in Dogs
While there is a slight risk of bleeding during the surgery, most dogs get through it well and it will greatly improve their quality of life. After surgery, you will want to avoid using neck collars, as well as feed your dog firm tinned food as it will minimize the risk of aspiration. It is also recommended that you avoid gravies and milk, which will increase the risk to your dog for pneumonia. It is important that you keep a close eye on your dog for symptoms of pneumonia, so that should the condition develop, you can seek prompt medical attention.