Overview of Laryngeal Paresis and Paralysis in Dogs
Laryngeal paralysis, commonly abbreviated as LP, is a dysfunction of the larynx, or voice box that is a common problem in dogs. The larynx is located at the entrance to the trachea or windpipe and is covered by a movable, valve-like structure or flap called the epiglottis, which covers the windpipe when we swallow to prevent food from entering the trachea. The larynx itself also closes to prevent aspiration of food and water and acts to control airflow into the windpipe.
Laryngeal paresis (weakness) is caused by malfunction either of the muscles that move the two halves of the larynx into an open position, the nerves that control those muscles, or both. In laryngeal paresis/paralysis the larynx fails to open properly during inhaling, and this leads to airway obstruction.
Acquired idiopathic (unknown cause) laryngeal paralysis, the most common form of the disorder, occurs more commonly in middle aged or older, large breed dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and St. Bernards. Less commonly, the disease can occur secondary to injury to the larynx or laryngeal nerves, neuromuscular disease, or it may be congenital in some breeds.
If the disease is allowed to progress over time, the quality of the pet's life decreases because of the inability to inhale sufficient oxygen to permit even the simplest of activities. Fainting, severe respiratory distress, or death may result.
What to Watch For
Signs of laryngeal paresis and paralysis in dogs may include:
Diagnosis of Laryngeal Paresis and Paralysis in Dogs
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize laryngeal paralysis and differentiate it from other causes of respiratory difficulty. These may include:
Treatment of Laryngeal Paresis and Paralysis in Dogs
Treatment of mild cases
Treatment in moderate to severe cases
Home Care and Prevention
Take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as the first signs of respiratory difficulty arise. If your veterinarian prescribes medical management, keep your dog from overly stressful situations, avoid excessively warm days outside, avoid letting your dog become overweight, and always use a harness-type leash instead of a neck collar. Watch your dog to make sure his condition does not worsen.
If surgical management is prescribed, watch for potential complications after surgery such as:
Because most cases of laryngeal paralysis are acquired later in life and have no known cause (idiopathic) prevention is not possible.
In-depth Information on Laryngeal Paresis and Paralysis in Dogs
Laryngeal disease is just one of many causes of difficult breathing in dogs. Other causes of respiratory distress include:
Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.
In-depth Information on Diagnosis
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize laryngeal paralysis from other causes of respiratory difficulty, including:
In-depth Information on Treatment
After the dog has been stabilized and the crisis situation is over, surgical treatment is recommended. There are several different surgeries that accomplish the same basic thing - to create a larger air passage through the larynx. The two most popular are:
Follow-up Care for Dogs with Laryngeal Paresis and Paralysis
Take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as the first signs of respiratory difficulty arise. Minor abnormalities such as change in the character of the dog's bark or loud breathing noises should be brought to the veterinarian's attention during the annual check-up if they are not causing difficulty breathing before then.
Your veterinarian's recommendations for medical management should be followed closely to avoid respiratory crisis situations. If medical management is pursued, protect your dog from overly stressful situations, avoid excessively warm days outside, avoid letting your dog become overweight, and always use a harness-type leash instead of a neck collar. Watch for deterioration of clinical signs. If the dog becomes dyspneic or cyanotic, or collapses, visit your veterinarian immediately. Severe respiratory distress leads to periods of hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood) and can cause irreversible injury to the body.
If surgical management is done, watch for potential complications after surgery. After partial arytenoidectomy, the tracheostomy site must be monitored until it is completely healed.
After a surgical procedure, the dog must be monitored for recurrence of respiratory difficulty that could indicate failure of the surgery or aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is a relatively common complication of any surgical treatment for laryngeal paralysis because moving or removing part of the larynx out of the airway leaves the airway unprotected from food or vomit entering from the pharynx.
Gagging or coughing during eating or drinking may occur during the recovery period as the animal accommodates to the permanently open larynx. Try different food types to find the one that minimizes these problems in your dog. If drinking water causes gagging, you may need to mix in with the food so it is easier to swallow.