Laryngeal paralysis is a frightening condition for any dog owner as it can stop your dog from swallowing and even breathing, so its important to understand this distressing condition and how to support your dog.
It is a paralysis which hits the larynx – part of your dog’s throat. There is treatment available depending on the severity of the condition, which varies from medication to surgery on the throat to enable your dog to breathe again.
What it is?
Laryngeal paralysis affects the muscles which surround the larynx in your dog’s throat, making them stop working. The larynx is the part which opens and closes in the throat to allow air in when your dog is breathing and to close it when your dog is eating. With these muscles that create the open and close motion paralysed, it becomes very difficult for your dog to eat, drink or even breathe properly over time.
What causes Laryngeal paralysis?
Unfortunately, nobody knows the cause of this condition although it does seem to be most commonly seen in certain breeds of dog, including English setters, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, golden retrievers and St. Bernards. However, it can happen in any dog.
Research has shown that a dog pulling against its collar or a harness that doesn’t fit properly can lead the animal to develop problems with its larynx and there are some medical conditions that can make the development of laryngeal paralysis more likely, including tumours, defects in the throat anatomy and hypothyroidism.
What are the symptoms?
Some of the initial symptoms are your dog sounding like it’s got something stuck in its throat but other things to look out for are if your dog sounds really noisy when it’s breathing or panting, because the larynx is covering his airway.
Other signs of laryngeal paralysis in your dog include gagging while trying to eat or drink, coughing and breathing problems, sounding odd when he barks, suddenly being very tired or collapsing and sounding very noisy when breathing or panting.
You should look out for any change in your dog’s bark as all the sounds it makes will seem different due to the problems with its larynx and if he starts gagging or choking while eating and drinking this could be because his larynx is allowing food into his airway.
If you see any of these signs or symptoms in your dog, you should take him to the vet straight away as this condition in its most serious stage will stop your dog from being able to breathe altogether and needs to be treated before it gets to that.
How is it diagnosed?
Your vet will need to assess your dog’s symptoms in order to deliver a diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis. It will involve listening to his breathing but might also involve using a laryngoscope to have a look at your dog’s larynx and to assess whether or not it is working properly. This would be carried out under sedation. There may be other tests to make sure the diagnosis is correct and to check for any other underlying conditions.
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. For dogs who have a less severe case, they can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications which can help to reduce swelling in the larynx. They might also need to lose weight to reduce pressure on their throat area and be advised to take it easy and avoid getting too excited. Treatment for this condition may also be costly, so it’s important that you have pet insurance and knowing what your dog insurance covers is best prior to visiting the vet.
If your vet discovers that your pet’s laryngeal paralysis is due to another underlying condition, then the course of treatment will be different as they will need to treat the underlying condition as well as the paralysis.
For very severe cases without an underlying condition, surgery is the only treatment, which involves permanently opening part or all of the larynx so that the dog can breathe, and the good news is that after this treatment most dogs will go on to live a semi-normal life, with help and support.
There is no way to prevent your dog from suffering with laryngeal paralysis because it’s not known what causes it, but one of the ways to lower the likelihood is by not using a collar around your dog’s throat.
Well-fitting harnesses that go around your dog’s chest avoid putting any pressure on the dog’s larynx so you should always opt for one of these wherever possible. If you do spot any of the symptoms and suspect your dog has laryngeal paralysis its important to seek professional help from your vet as soon as possible.
The good news is that there are treatments available, and the chances are you will be able to enjoy the company of your dog for some years to come, even with this frightening condition.