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Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

What is Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs?

Laryngeal paralysis in dogs involves dysfunction of the larynx, the tubular structure located at the top of the windpipe (trachea), often referred to as the “voice box” due to its role in sound production. The larynx, along with the epiglottis—a flap of cartilage covering the airway during swallowing—ensures proper airflow and prevents food from entering the trachea.

Laryngeal paralysis occurs when the muscles responsible for opening the airway fail to function properly, hindering the normal opening and closing of the larynx. Various diseases can impact the larynx, including:

  • Laryngitis: inflammation affecting the larynx’s cartilage or soft tissue.
  • Laryngeal edema: swelling due to fluid accumulation in tissues.
  • Laryngeal tumors: growths or masses affecting the larynx or nearby structures.
  • Laryngeal chondropathy: an infectious condition of the cartilage, often resulting from injuries caused by foreign objects like sticks, leading to abscesses or bacterial infections.
  • Laryngeal paralysis (most prevalent): a condition where the muscles responsible for opening the larynx weaken due to degenerative nerve and muscle diseases, impairing normal laryngeal function.

Certain ailments such as laryngitis or edema are more common in younger dogs, while conditions like laryngeal tumors or paralysis are typically observed in older pets. Airway-related diseases can pose life-threatening risks. Owners should promptly seek veterinary care if their dog exhibits:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish or purple tongue/gums
  • Facial swelling

Symptoms

A noticeable increase in panting or audible breathing often serves as the initial indication in dogs experiencing laryngeal paralysis. While the onset of symptoms is typically gradual, pet owners may observe the following signs:

  • Elevated panting during stressful situations or in hot/humid weather
  • Audibly noisy panting
  • Reduced tolerance to exercise and increased lethargy
  • Alterations in voice
  • Exhibiting signs of anxiety
  • Coughing or gagging during eating or drinking
  • Episodes of respiratory distress
  • Susceptibility to heat stroke
  • Gums appearing dark red, purple, or blue
  • Instances of collapse

Symptoms usually commence mildly but progressively worsen over time. Initially, dogs may display heightened panting behaviors. Dogs afflicted with laryngeal paralysis are more susceptible to overexertion and overheating, particularly in warmer and humid conditions, as they struggle to regulate their body temperature efficiently through panting. This vulnerability can lead to heat stroke, respiratory complications, or even collapse and fatality.

While the condition can manifest at any age due to congenital anomalies, it predominantly affects older dogs, especially those of giant and large breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, St. Bernards, Irish Setters, and Newfoundlands.

Both hereditary and acquired forms of laryngeal paralysis typically worsen gradually. The partial obstruction of the airway hampers the dog’s ability to intake sufficient oxygen, eventually resulting in breathing difficulties.

Over time, dogs may become increasingly anxious, prompting rapid breathing without improved efficiency. This escalation can culminate in respiratory distress and potentially fatal outcomes.

If symptoms such as labored breathing, respiratory distress, excessive panting even in cool environments, facial swelling, or a change in gum color to blue or purple are observed, immediate veterinary attention is imperative.

Causes

Laryngeal paralysis denotes a condition where the muscles responsible for opening the larynx or voice box fail to operate correctly. Typically, this malfunction stems from a degenerative ailment affecting the nerves and muscles.

While laryngeal paralysis can stem from hereditary factors, it is more frequently encountered as an acquired disorder. Additionally, it is considered a manifestation of a broader neurological ailment termed Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis Polyneuropathy (GOLPP).

Over time, dogs afflicted with GOLPP may exhibit additional signs of neurological weakness, such as hind leg weakness, and may develop a distended esophagus (megaesophagus), leading to difficulties in swallowing and food passage to the stomach.

This condition primarily affects dogs aged 10 years or older. In rarer instances, laryngeal paralysis may arise from nerve damage impacting the larynx. Such damage can result from trauma, such as dog bites, deep wounds, or cancerous lesions in the area.

Diagnosis

To diagnose laryngeal paralysis, veterinarians typically administer sedation to the dog to enable visualization of its larynx and assess the functionality of the cartilage and muscles during opening and closing.

In a normal larynx, both sides open and close widely within one breath. Conversely, in dogs with laryngeal paralysis, the larynx remains stationary in a semi-open position.

Veterinarians often recommend comprehensive diagnostic procedures, including a complete blood panel, thyroid testing, and neck and chest X-rays or radiographs. Radiographs are crucial for identifying potential causes of coughs and determining if there are any complications associated with laryngeal paralysis, such as aspiration pneumonia—an infection occurring in the lungs when food or stomach contents are inadvertently inhaled. Further diagnostic measures or referral to a specialty hospital may be necessary for advanced treatment options.

Treatment

Laryngeal paralysis is commonly addressed through surgery known as laryngeal tie-back surgery or Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization (UAL), where two permanent sutures are utilized to keep one half of the larynx open, facilitating easier airflow. This procedure boasts a high success rate.

During the surgery, an incision is made on the dog’s neck to access the larynx for suture placement. It’s essential to discuss any less common surgical alternatives with your veterinarian.

Prior to surgery, several measures can help alleviate your dog’s discomfort:

  • Utilize a harness instead of collars to prevent external pressure on the larynx.
  • Ensure your dog stays in a cool, well-ventilated environment and avoid exposure to excessive heat.
  • Limit physical activity to prevent exacerbating respiratory distress.
  • Implement strategies to reduce your dog’s anxiety.

In cases of respiratory distress, your veterinarian may opt for intubation, inserting a tube down your dog’s throat to ensure adequate oxygen supply to the lungs. Additionally, intravenous (IV) fluids may be administered to help lower your dog’s temperature.

Living and Management

Following laryngeal tie-back surgery, recovery mirrors that of other anesthesia-related procedures. It involves several weeks of restricted exercise. Additionally, dogs that undergo the surgery should refrain from swimming throughout their lives to prevent the risk of water inhalation.

Initially, coughing or gagging while eating or drinking is common but tends to diminish over time. Pet owners should remain vigilant for symptoms of food or water aspiration, the most prevalent complication post-surgery. Around 25 percent of dogs may develop aspiration pneumonia at some point following the procedure.

Complications stemming from degenerative nerve and muscle conditions like GOLPP are feasible. Therefore, close monitoring of your dog is crucial for symptoms such as vomiting, gagging, or regurgitation, which may indicate megaesophagus. Additionally, observe for signs of hind leg weakness, and promptly inform your veterinarian if detected.

Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs FAQs

How long do dogs live with laryngeal paralysis?

The lifespan of dogs diagnosed with this condition varies based on the type of laryngeal paralysis and any ensuing complications. Many dogs can live for several years following diagnosis.

Is laryngeal paralysis fatal in dogs?

Complications arising from laryngeal paralysis have the potential to be fatal. It is crucial for pet owners to vigilantly observe their dog for signs of respiratory distress and seek immediate veterinary attention if any such symptoms occur.

Can laryngeal paralysis be cured?

Regrettably, laryngeal paralysis cannot be cured. However, most dogs respond favorably to medical and surgical interventions.

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