Laryngeal Paralysis – dogs at risk

1st August 2017


What is laryngeal paralysis?

This is a condition where the larynx (voice box) fails to open the vocal cords when breathing thereby making it difficult to breathe. The condition is pronounced when a dog is active, hot and breathing fast. It can significantly reduce an animals exercise tolerance and if not managed properly, it can also be life threatening. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we usually come across this condition in middle aged and/or older dogs of medium to large breeds - examples include  Labradors, Retrievers and Weimaraner's.


What are the signs?

Laryngeal paralysis is usually a progressive condition which slowly worsens over months or years. Look out for some or all of these signs;

  • Harsh breathing – typically a raspy noise which is loudest when breathing in. The noise increases with excitement, activity and panting. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we will often notice dogs affected with this condition in the summer as they pant to keep cool.
  • Voice change – sometimes you will notice a change in the dog’s bark as it becomes higher pitched and squeaky.
  • Difficulty swallowing food and water – you may notice choking on food when swallowing.
  • Exercise intolerance – dogs will be less inclined to run and play or go on long walks.
  • Collapse – in extreme cases dogs may have blue gums and tongue through lack of oxygen. This is known as cyanosis and is extremely dangerous. Please call us immediately if this occurs as this is an emergency and your dog will need immediate treatment.
  • Cough – if your pet is coughing or retching, we need to have a look.


What causes laryngeal paralysis?

In the majority of cases it occurs as a result of a failure of the nerves that control the larynx to function normally. The exact cause is unknown but it is considered an age-related issue. Occasionally the problem happens as a result of trauma to the neck, nerve damage during surgery, tumours of the neck and chest or under-active thyroid glands. If we make a diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis we will try to find the cause.


How is laryngeal paralysis diagnosed?

The breed and age of the dog may be highly suggestive of laryngeal paralysis, but we need to confirm the diagnosis by using a light anaesthetic to look at the vocal folds in action. Blood tests to check for other diseases and a chest x-ray to rule out tumours and pneumonia are often recommended.


How do we treat laryngeal paralysis?

Unfortunately, there are no tablets or injections that will treat laryngeal paralysis. Symptoms can be alleviated by keeping your pet slim, using a harness and not exposing it to hot and humid conditions. However, care must be taken and the animal may deteriorate suddenly without warning.


Laryngeal tieback surgery

Surgery provides an effective treatment using a procedure known as a ‘laryngeal tieback’ or ‘arytenoid lateralisation’. This surgery holds one of the vocal folds in an open position making it easier to breathe without obstruction. Surgery is usually very successful with over 90% of cases showing significant improvement.


Tell us if your pet has harsh breathing >


Watch this video above of a Laryngeal Paralysis Arytenoid Tie Back case - Before and After