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Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs & How It's Treated

Laryngeal paralysis is a serious condition seen in dogs that causes the sides of your dog's windpipe to be sucked into the opening as they attempt to breathe in. Tragically, in severe cases, laryngeal paralysis can lead to suffocation, but treatment is available. Our Santa Cruz vets explain more. 

The Mechanics of Laryngeal Paralysis

There is a series of separate cartilage plates located in your pup's throat that makes up their voicebox or larynx. The larynx is essential to your dog's health since it is responsible for 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 do not move correctly and can begin to collapse inward resulting in laryngeal paralysis.

What causes sudden laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

It is common for dogs to be 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.

Most dogs diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis are middle-aged or older, and breeds including Bouvier de Flandres, Siberian Huskies, Bull Terriers and Dalmatians have been shown to have an increased risk for the congenital form - often showing signs of the condition while they are still young.

What are the symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

The symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in dogs are often vague in the early days 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 most common symptoms of dog laryngeal paralysis include:

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

Sudden laryngeal paralysis can be severe and may result in a blue tinge to the mouth caused by respiratory distress or even collapse.

What is the treatment for dog laryngeal paralysis?

If your dog has severe laryngeal paralysis or the congenital form of the condition, surgery is typically the most effective treatment. Arytenoid lateralization by tie-back can be done to surgically tie back the collapsed cartilage on one side of your dog's throat which prevents the obstruction from occurring as your dog breathes in.

This surgery is known to be very successful in many cases and can greatly improve the dog's quality of life.

What are the alternatives to surgery for laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

In some cases, if your dog has mild laryngeal paralysis your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, sedatives, antibiotics, or doxepin to help reduce the severity of your pup's breathing difficulties.

Other precautions that may help your dog to cope with mild laryngeal paralysis include never allowing your dog to take part in strenuous exercise in hot weather and avoiding putting a collar around your dog's neck (have your dog wear a harness on walks).

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.

If your dog is showing signs of laryngeal paralysis contact our Santa Cruz emergency vets right away!

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Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists is always accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about restoring good health to Santa Cruz companion animals. We are open 24/7 to provide your pet with care, whenever they need us.

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