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The larynx is an organ situated in the dog's neck that is responsible for assisting in breathing, creating sound, and preventing foreign objects from entering the airway. The larynx contains several chambers comprised of muscle and connective tissue, which expand and contract to perform their various functions. However, under certain conditions, they can lose their shape and interfere with the dog's normal pattern of sound production and breathing. Left untreated, this can have serious repercussions, so the vet will usually look to provide a permanent surgical solution. This correction of the larynx's structure is referred to as a 'laryngoplasty'.
Prior to beginning the operation, the vet will sedate the dog with a general anesthetic and position the animal on its back to provide easy access to its throat. They will next clean and shave a patch of skin on the neck in order to ensure a sanitary operating environment that will minimize the risk of infection. The vet will then make a ventral incision over the larynx and move aside the connective tissues to create a small hole. At this point, a flap of tissue from inside the larynx will be cut and attached via sutures to the wall of the organ to heal in place (referred to as a 'tie-back laryngoplasty'). If a medialization laryngoplasty is being conducted, they will insert an implant that will help the larynx retain its proper shape as the dog goes about its day. Typically, this will be made of polymer or a silicone-derived material. Liquid materials can also be injected into the larynx (typically a mixture of bone dust and fat) before being allowed to set, though this involves far more effort than inserting a solid implant. After the implant is in place, the surgeon can suture the dog shut and allow them to awaken. In total, the procedure should not take more than an hour to finish.
The laryngoplasty procedure will quickly yield results, allowing the owner to see immediate effects. The dog should be able to breathe normally as soon as the operation is over and if the healing process goes well, the problem should be permanently resolved. However, for owners who would prefer a less invasive option alternative treatments such as steroid injections are available. However, the effectiveness of these is limited, as they can only strengthen the muscular sections of the larynx and not prevent the collapse of the rest of the organ.
Fortunately, the healing period following a laryngoplasty is relatively short, with the dog only requiring a few weeks before the surgical wound is completely healed. However, the vet will want to keep the dog in the clinic for observation overnight and will typically want to arrange a follow-up appointment to make sure they have healed properly. It is advisable to allow the dog several days to rest after the procedure, as this will prevent them from putting any unnecessary strain on the larynx due to heavy breathing during exercise. Likewise, limiting them to small meals will enable them to learn to swallow properly using their re-structured throat and not accidentally inhale the food.
Due to the complexity and delicacy of the larynx, dog owners can expect to pay a hefty price for the operation to be performed on their pet. Additionally, factors such as old age and other health conditions may raise the fee even further. In all, however, most owners will be charged between $600 and $1,500. On the other hand, an alternative treatment such as steroid injections will cost just a few hundred dollars for a course of treatment, but may yield less effective results in the long term.
Whilst a laryngoplasty is often the only viable way in which to stop the effects of laryngeal paralysis, the procedure does have some attendant risks that owners should consider before committing to the treatment. The first of these is the possibility of damaging the larynx via injections, as if the needle is improperly aimed, it can end up depositing the fluid in the wrong cavity, resulting in permanent damage to the larynx. There is also a risk that the re-structured larynx will let the dog inhale food as it is eating, which can lead to the animal developing a pneumonia infection in its lungs. Lastly, owners should be aware that the procedure will almost always result in an alteration of the dog's voice, though the severity of this is hard to predict.
Unfortunately, laryngeal paralysis has no clear cause, making it almost impossible to predict (although some breeds - such as Labradors - can be more prone to the condition than others). However, ensuring the dog has a strong respiratory system will help considerably when trying to fight off similar conditions affecting the animal's lungs and airway. By providing the dog with regular exercise and a good quality diet, owners can ensure that their pet develops properly, setting them up to enjoy a long and healthy life.
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