Dealing With Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Laryngeal paralysis is a medical condition that occurs more commonly in middle aged dogs and many larger breeds. Among the affected breeds, Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs are the most common. This medical condition obstructs the larynx from opening properly, either due to muscular or nervous dysfunctions.

Larynx, the voice box

In dogs, the larynx is located in the frontal part of the throat, before the trachea opens. It houses the vocal chords that allows dogs to bark and make other sounds. When it is completely open, the dog can breathe in and out. When he swallows, it closes, so that no water or food reaches the lungs.

Overview of Laryngeal Paralysis

The paralysis of the larynx occurs when the local nerves are affected by different medical issues. It can also happen if the muscles that control the larynx have lost their normal function.

The manifestations of laryngeal paralysis can differ from one dog to the other. In accordance with how severe the dysfunction is, the larynx might open partially or be almost fully closed. In the latter case, the symptoms will be more severe, with a poor prognosis.

What are the expected symptoms?

Dog owners generally notice that their pet breathes in a noisy manner. Fido might also experience tiredness and malaise, a refusal to exercise, and pants all the time. Difficulty breathing and altered phonation (noticeable change in the sound of the dog’s bark) are two of the other symptoms that can occur.

In most cases, the symptoms mentioned above can worsen during extreme temperatures (heat) and when your pooch is stressed. Coughing, another symptom, suggests Fido has inhaled bits of food, water or other substances into their lungs. In severe cases, he can collapse and will require emergency treatment.

How is laryngeal paralysis diagnosed?

The veterinarian can make an accurate diagnosis on the basis of clinical symptoms. However, the confirmation is made through imaging studies, such as X-rays (chest and neck). This investigation can also be used to rule out other causes, for differential diagnosis.

In order to verify the general state of health and determine potential underlying causes, such as thyroid dysfunctions, the vet will perform a complete blood work. The movements of the larynx might be examined under sedation and an EMG test might be performed, in case nervous dysfunction is suspected.

What are the causes of laryngeal paralysis?

In many cases, no underlying cause can be detected. However, there are many causes which can lead to laryngeal paralysis. The condition is associated with the dysfunction of the thyroid gland, meaning hypothyroidism.

Another potential cause is the peripheral neuropathy, which is a generalized nerve dysfunction (laryngeal nerves are affected as well). Any trauma to the larynx can cause both muscular and nervous malfunctions, that can lead to other associated problems.

Dogs who have had their thyroid gland removed can suffer from laryngeal paralysis, and causes damage to the laryngeal nerves (a complication of treatment). Neck or chest tumors place pressure on these nerves, and cause other symptoms to occur.

How is laryngeal paralysis treated?

The treatment of laryngeal paralysis depends on the severity of the symptoms, as well as on the underlying cause. A veterinarian will also take into consideration the overall age of your pooch and how much this will benefit him later on. What matters is that the chosen form of treatment, surgical or not, improves his overall quality of life.

Veterinarians will prescribe certain medications for Fido, along with lifestyle changes for mild cases to keep him feeling his best . Weight loss is advisable for overweight dogs.

Light sedation is preferred in some cases, as well as short-term intubation. Antidepressants, protection from the heat, weight loss for overweight dogs, and prevention from strenuous effort are some lifestyle changes that help treat laryngeal paralysis.

It is important to understand that severe cases must not be left untreated, and if surgery is the only viable option, laryngeal paralysis is fatal . The veterinarian can decide to opt for surgical treatment if none of the conservatory measures have worked and Fido is breathing with difficulty.

The surgical procedure will open the larynx on one side, thus improving their breathing ability, but places your pup at risk of aspiration pneumonia. Because the larynx is partially open, there is the risk of food, water or any other substance reaching their lungs.

Aspiration pneumonia is considered a complication of this surgical treatment, and is treatable through medication in mild or moderate cases (antibiotics and symptomatic care). However, if it becomes frequent or the symptoms are severe, the risk of death is significant.

The preferred surgical procedure is the “tieback”, also known as the unilateral arytenoid lateralization (UAL). It also that involves one of the vocal chords will remain in a fixed position, with nylon sutures keeping a side of the larynx open.

In emergency situations, your dog might be administered oxygen (placement in an oxygen cage). For dogs who suffer from overheating, the most important thing is to lower their temperature and then perform the surgical intervention. Temperature can be reduced by showering your dog or applying ice packs. Clipping their fur is another option, while their temperature is monitored throughout the day.

Management of Laryngeal Paralysis

Once a dog is operated for laryngeal paralysis, there are certain measures to consider. One should switch from a neck collar to a harness, in order to avoid further damage to the larynx. Dogs should be fed wet foods, as the dry version can increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
The owners should avoid strenuous physical effort for the dog, as well as the heat stress. Attention should be paid to signs of malaise or excess coughing, as complications might arise.

Your dog should be given the necessary amount of time to recover after the surgery (physical rest ensures the best healing of tissues). Physical rest is recommended for at least two months. As mentioned, soft foods should be given and water intake monitored (not too much water at once).

If your dog suffers from pain, make sure to give him pain medication for relief. Anti-inflammatory medication can be administered to reduce swelling of the larynx. Bronchodilators and corticosteroids can improve breathing, as they reduce laryngeal edema and facilitate the passing of air in and out of the lungs.

Weight control remains a major issue to take into consideration for obese or overweight dogs. Make sure to use a harness for all your outings because the collar can affect the larynx and cause additional damage.

It is extremely important to restrict swimming permanently. The larynx will remain partially open after this operation, thus when swimming, they might swallow water and develop aspiration pneumonia. Moreover, with larger quantities of water being swollen, there is a huge risk of them actually drowning.


Dogs that have developed laryngeal paralysis can be cured through surgery. Post-ops should reduce respiratory distress and improve any resistance to physical training. Nevertheless, the prognosis is not as good for dogs suffering from congenital neuropathy. This is one of the situations in which euthanasia might be the only option.

Dogs who suffer from additional health problems, such as gastrointestinal disorders – megaesophagus, hiatal hernia – have a poor prognosis. The same goes for those with generalized myopathy or neuropathy. In such situations, the vet might decide to opt for tracheostomy. However, in severe cases, euthanasia might be performed.

Dog DNA test

You might not know this for a fact, but dog DNA tests can provide you with a lot of useful information on your pet. It can provide details on the breed composite, as well as on his behavior and especially on genetic mutations. The latter is responsible for the appearance of various medical problems, as it is highly essential to be aware of them.

The test can provide insight into the health of your dog, particularly the one connected to his genetic markers. You will find out data on his coefficient of inbreeding, risk of developing certain conditions and genetic diversity. Thousands of genetic markers are tested, as well as an impressive number of canine health conditions and other genetic information (even a wolf score is included in some tests).

Final word

Laryngeal paralysis is a serious condition that should not be left untreated. The surgical intervention can improve the quality of life for your pet and ensure that he no longer suffers from any of the side-affects mentioned.

If you want to know the conditions your pet is at risk of developing, you can opt for the dog DNA test. These tests can provide useful information on your pet, going back several generations and revealing his unique breeding composition. You can find out about genetic health concerns, knowing what the future lies ahead.


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