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Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Laryngeal paralysis happens when the larynx collapses inward instead of opening to allow for airflow. If not addressed quickly, this can lead to suffocation. Here, our Lacey vets share the dangers of laryngeal paralysis in dogs as well as the signs and treatment options.

What is laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

Your dog's larynx (voice box) is made up of a series of separate cartilage plates in the throat. 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 a deep breath is required. 

The movement of the cartilage plates relies on particular muscles within your dog's throat. When the nerves that control those muscles become weak or paralyzed the cartilage plates cannot move correctly and begin to collapse inward resulting in laryngeal paralysis.

What can cause sudden laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

In many cases dogs are diagnosed with idiopathic laryngeal paralysis, meaning that the cause of the condition is unknown. Often idiopathic laryngeal paralysis can result as a symptom of neuromuscular disease. When this proves to be the case the condition is termed geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy (GOLPP). 

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

While most dogs diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis are middle-aged or older, Bouvier de Flandres, Siberian Huskies, Bull Terriers, and Dalmatians have been shown to have an increased risk for the congenital form and often show signs of the condition when young.

What are the symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

Symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in dogs can be vague and may not always be taken seriously. The condition is most often seen in medium to large dogs who are middle-aged or older. For this reason, some of the signs of laryngeal paralysis can be mistaken for slowing down or lack of fitness due to the aging process, cardiopulmonary disease, bronchitis, or difficulties related to obesity.

Some of the signs of laryngeal paralysis seen by our vets include:

  • Coughing following exercise
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Change in the sound of your dog's bark
  • Coughing when eating or drinking

Sudden and severe cases of laryngeal paralysis can result in a blue tinge to the mouth caused by respiratory distress or even collapse. These symptoms are signs of an emergency.

How is laryngeal paralysis in dogs 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 to prevent obstruction when breathing

This surgery has been used to greatly improve a dog's quality of life when affected by laryngeal paralysis.

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.

Try to avoid walking your dog when the outside temperature is very warm and use a harness rather than a regular collar.

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 showing signs of laryngeal paralysis outside of your primary vet's regular office hours? Contact our after-hours emergency vets in Lacey for care.

Walk-in Patients Welcome

At Olympia Pet Emergency, you can always access our full complement of emergency services without an appointment. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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