When my chocolate Lab was about 13 years old I noticed his bark was sounding a bit hoarse. I thought he had a cold but after checking with my veterinarian I learned it was laryngeal paralysis. I made some changes to his care and lifestyle that helped him live to 17. That's quite old for a Labrador.
The hoarse bark is a telltale sign of Laryngeal paralysis. Some dogs might have noisy or labored breathing. Others might faint from a lack of oxygen.
Read on to learn what dog owners should know about laryngeal paralysis.
Understanding Laryngeal paralysis in older dogs
The Larynx: Gateway to Breathing and Sound.
The larynx - or voice box - is at the top of your dog's throat. It regulates his breathing and includes vocal cords that make it possible for him to bark, growl, and whine.
Flaps inside the larynx cover the airway when your dog swallows to keep food or liquid from entering his windpipe.
The flaps open to allow your dog to breathe.
At least that's what happens in a healthy dog.
What is Laryngeal Paralysis?
Sometimes because of age or injury, the larynx might not open completely. This can restrict your dog’s breathing, especially when excited or playing hard. He might also become anxious, pant excessively, cough, or gag.
Laryngeal paralysis is common in middle-aged and older dogs of medium and large breeds. The sign most owners notice first is a change in the sound of their dog's voice.
It can also be part of a neurologic condition called Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis Polyneuropathy (GOLPP). Owners often notice symptoms of laryngeal paralysis first because they're the most obvious.
A related condition - mega-esophagus - happens when food piles up in the esophagus instead of continuing into the stomach. If there's too much food stuck in the esophagus, your dog might vomit. These dogs are at risk of aspiration pneumonia because of laryngeal paralysis.
Another related condition causes weakness in the rear legs. Often mistaken for arthritis, it's actually caused by the same nerve problem.
Causes of Laryngeal Paralysis
"Laryngeal paralysis can be a genetic condition, especially in Siberian Huskies, Bull Terriers, Bouvier de Flanders, Great Pyrenees, and Dalmatians."
Or it can be caused by trauma, such as surgery, tumors or bite wounds to the neck. Understanding the underlying cause is important as it helps guide treatment and care options.
Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis
Changes in Breathing Patterns
A change in the way your dog breathes is one of the most common signs of laryngeal paralysis. You may notice an increased effort to breathe, a raspy sound while inhaling or exhaling, and sometimes breathing difficulty. When your dog's breathing is restricted it can cause him to tire easily, faint or in severe cases, to die. Let your veterinarian know if you notice any changes in your dog's breathing.
Altered Bark and Vocalization
Your dog's ability to bark normally can be affected by laryngeal paralysis. It might become hoarse, weak, or even completely silenced. This change in the ability to make himself heard can be troubling for both you and your dog.
Exercise and Heat Intolerance
Dogs with laryngeal paralysis may have trouble working or playing and might tire more easily. They might need frequent breaks even during regular walks.
They may also have trouble regulating their body temperature which can make heat stroke more likely. Be sure to provide plenty of cool water and shade on hot days.
Other Potential Symptoms
For some dogs, symptoms include gagging, difficulty swallowing, noisy breathing, extreme panting, and exercise intolerance. If the larynx can't close completely, food or liquid might "go down the wrong pipe" causing him to cough.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
If you notice potential symptoms of laryngeal paralysis, make an appointment with your veterinarian. The visit should include a medical history and a thorough physical examination. To check the diagnosis and evaluate the extent of the problem, your veterinarian might use X-rays or a scope with a camera. Sometimes even more tests are needed.
The treatment options available can depend on the severity of your dog's symptoms and his state of health. In mild cases, medical management may be enough to relieve symptoms.
You might need to make some changes such as taking walks in the cooler part of the day. Managing his weight may help. Also, your veterinarian might prescribe medications.
In more severe cases surgery could be considered. This procedure - often called "tie-back surgery" - permanently tacks open one side of the larynx. Unfortunately, this increases the risk of aspiration pneumonia and choking.
Be sure to check with your veterinarian about the potential benefits and risks to your dog.
Personalized Treatment Plans
A treatment plan should be tailored to your dog's individual needs to improve quality of life and manage symptoms.
Managing Life with a Dog with Laryngeal Paralysis
Home Care Tips
Some things you can do at home to help your dog include:
- Providing a calm and stress-free environment to reduce breathing difficulties.
- Having plenty of fresh water available and a cool place to relax, especially during hot weather.
- If your dog has had the surgery or has a mega-esophagus, buy some elevated bowls to reduce the risk of aspiration.
Also schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian. These follow-up visits will give him a chance to check your dog's breathing, overall health, and response to treatment.
Recognizing and Responding to Emergencies
For a dog with laryngeal paralysis, problems can quickly become critical.
If you notice severe breathing difficulties, pale gums, excessive panting, or collapse, it can be a life-threatening situation. It's important to act quickly. Be prepared to seek emergency veterinary care.
All dogs with laryngeal paralysis need extra monitoring, some more than others. Learning about the symptoms and treatment options available can help you provide the best possible care.
Work closely with your veterinarian and don't hesitate to seek their guidance when needed. Your care and support can help your dog continue leading a happy life.