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Symptoms & Treatment of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition that causes a dog's windpipe to open incorrectly when your pooch inhales. Rather than opening as it should, the sides of the windpipe are sucked into the opening. In severe cases, laryngeal paralysis can lead to suffocation but can be treated effectively if detected early. Our Clearlake vets describe the condition further in this post.

What happens when dogs experience laryngeal paralysis?

Your dog's larynx (voicebox) is made up of a series of separate cartilage plates. The larynx is responsible for the very important function of blocking off the lungs whenever your pet is eating or drinking, and opening the windpipe wider when your dog needs to take a deep breath. 

Particular muscles within your dog's throat are used to move the cartilage plates. When the nerves that control these muscles become weak or paralyzed, the cartilage plates cannot move correctly and start to collapse inward, resulting laryngeal paralysis. 

What are the symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

Signs of laryngeal paralysis in dogs may be vague and difficult to pinpoint. The condition is most often seen in medium to large-sized dogs who are middle-aged or older. This is why some symptoms of laryngeal paralysis may be mistaken for slowing down or lack of fitness as a dog ages, cardiopulmonary disease, or challenges related to obesity or bronchitis. 

If your dog is experiencing laryngeal paralysis, you may notice these symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Coughing following exercise
  • Exercise intolerance or lethargy 
  • Change in the sound of your dog's bark
  • Noisy panting
  • Coughing or gagging when eating or drinking
  • Respiratory distress
  • Dark red, blue or purple gums
  • Collapse

Symptoms typically start mild but will grow progressively worse. A dog will usually start with increased panting. Dogs with laryngeal paralysis are more prone to overexert themselves or overheat in warmer temperatures or humid environments, since they cannot cool themselves effectively by panting. 

Sudden and severe cases of laryngeal paralysis can result in a blue tinge to the mouth caused by respiratory distress or even collapse. A dog may also experience heat stroke and can even die. 

What can cause sudden laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

Dogs are sometimes diagnosed with idiopathic laryngeal paralysis, meaning that the cause of this condition is unknown. Idiopathic laryngeal paralysis can indicate neuromuscular disease. When this is the case, the condition is termed geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy (GOLPP). 

In some cases, laryngeal paralysis in dogs is caused by lesions or tumors in the neck or chest, trauma to the throat, congenital issues or hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease. 

Though most dogs diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis are middle-aged or older, Dalmations, bull terriers, Siberian huskies and bouvier des Flandres have been known to be at increased risk for the congenital form and often display signs of the condition when they are young. Giant and large-breed dogs, especially golden retrievers, Labradors, St. Bernards, Irish Setters, and Newfoundlands also have a higher risk of this condition. 

Can dog laryngeal paralysis be treated?

If your dog has severe laryngeal paralysis or the congenital form of the condition, surgery can be very effective. Arytenoid lateralization by tie-back can be done to surgically tie back the collapsed cartilage on one side of your pup's throat in order to prevent obstruction when breathing

This surgery is known to be very successful in many cases and can greatly improve the dog's quality of life.

Are there alternatives to surgery for laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

There are few effective alternatives to surgery for severe laryngeal paralysis in dogs, however, if your dog's condition is detected in the early stages your vet may want to try treatment alternatives such as anti-inflammatory drugs, sedatives, antibiotics, or doxepin to help reduce the severity of your dog's breathing difficulties.

Do not allow your pet to participate in strenuous exercise in hot weather, and avoid putting a collar around your dog's neck (have your dog wear a harness on walks).

How long do dogs live with laryngeal paralysis?

The lifespan for dogs diagnosed with this condition depends on the specific type of laryngeal paralysis and any resulting complications. Many dogs can live for several years after diagnosis. 

Can laryngeal paralysis can be cured?

Unfortunately, laryngeal paralysis cannot be cured. Fortunately, medical and surgical treatment helps most dogs diagnosed with the condition. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog displaying signs of laryngeal paralysis? Contact Clearlake vets today. Our team is prepared to offer your pet quality care for its health and well-being.

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