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Laryngeal paralysis can occur in dogs not only in old age. You will find out in this post what you need to know about the condition, what symptoms indicate laryngeal paralysis and how to help a dog with laryngeal paralysis.
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Laryngeal Paralysis or Paralyzed Vocal Cords
Laryngeal paralysis (paralyzed vocal cords) is a common condition of the upper respiratory tract in dogs. This makes it more difficult to inhale. The condition can produce mild or severe symptoms.
The larynx (voice box) consists of a cartilage structure covered with muscle tissue and connects the pharynx to the trachea. The larynx also contains the vocal cords and is covered by a type of valve called epiglottis . The epiglottis occludes the trachea when the dog eats and drinks. This prevents the dog from choking on food or drink.
The condition develops when the larynx is paralyzed and can therefore no longer open during inhalation. This creates a narrowed larynx that hinders breathing. There are several causes of laryngeal paralysis, but often the condition is idiopathic (no cause can be found). The condition is most common in older large breed dogs. Often the nerve to the larynx is damaged.
Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs – Possible Causes
Causes that can lead to laryngeal palsy include trauma (external damage), an underactive thyroid gland, infiltrating diseases, tumors or damage during surgery.
A hereditary form is seen in Bouviers, and this is suspected in Huskies, Dalmatians and Rottweilers. We also see the condition more often in Saint Bernhards, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers.
However, the most common reason for acquired laryngeal paralysis is neck or cervical trauma, which can often be traced back to a serious leash accident, affecting the neck. Perhaps the dog was tied up outside, ran out inadvertently, reached the end of the rope or leash, and hanged himself.
A single severe trauma, even if it occurred years ago, can cause laryngeal paralysis. The incident may not have seemed like a big deal at the time and the dog may have coughed for a day or two after the accident or may have even coughed up some blood, but otherwise seemed fine.
When the condition worsens, the quality of life for the dog decreases significantly because the slightest effort will lead to major shortness of breath. Fainting or even death can be the result.
Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in the Dog
- Problems with the heart is often the first suspect for increased inefficiency in the dog. A loss of performance can also indicate a larynx paralysis.
- Another symptom is a change in barking. The barking is often hoarse or soundless, while on the other hand rattling breath noises are clearly audible.
- The animals find it difficult to breathe as a result of the paralysis, no longer getting enough air into the airways. The breathing difficulty can cause the mucous membranes in the dog's mouth to turn bluish.
- The dogs also cough more. Choking attacks can occur in a dog with laryngeal paralysis, especially in warm temperatures.
A dog with severe laryngeal paralysis:
Incipient laryngeal paralysis in a dog:
How to Help a Dog with Laryngeal Paralysis
In mild cases of laryngeal paralysis, medicinal treatment (sedatives such as acepromazine and swelling reducers such as corticosteroids) may suffice, in combination with an optimal body weight and adapted lifestyle (no stress, excitement, take it easy in hot and humid weather). A collar should be replaced by a breast collar!
In more severe cases of laryngeal paralysis, acute situations must first be stabilized with oxygen administration, cooling (often overheating due to breathlessness), corticosteroids (swelling of the mucous membrane larynx) and sometimes with intubation (tube in the throat) or a temporary tracheotomy (opening in the trachea).
After stabilization, surgery is usually necessary, usually placing a suture in the cartilage of the larynx to fix the cleft in an open position. Often surgery on only the most affected side is sufficient to provide the dog with a good quality of life (arytenoid lateralization method or tie-back method).
Another, less used, surgical method consists of removing a piece of cartilage from the larynx as well as a piece of vocal cord in order to obtain a better opening of the trachea (partial arytenoidectomy). This method also creates a temporary opening in the trachea with a tube for a few days to allow the dog to breathe properly.
Complications after surgery can include gagging and coughing, choking, and pneumonia from choking. Special attention should be paid to this after the operation and food and drink should be temporarily adjusted.
Sometimes the problems can come back and the other half of the larynx also needs surgery.
Usually the dogs recover well from the operation and the treatment is very grateful to both the dog and the owner.
How to Prevent Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs
The goal is to prevent acquired laryngeal paralysis from wearing leashes, and focus on the steps to reduce the chances of injury to the larynx. Ideally, we want each puppy to learn to walk in a self-controlled manner without pulling on the leash.
But what about that restless dog who, for example, was adopted from a shelter and has never learned to walk on a leash? Constantly pulling on the leash will not teach your dog how to walk in a calmer manner.
This type of dog is a perfect candidate for wearing a harness to take pressure off his neck while learning to walk on a leash responsibly.
Or what about that puppy who has not attended dog school and jumps with mad excitement on a leash? That puppy is at risk because his cartilage is still developing and his neck is very delicate. Damage done at this stage can affect the dog in adult life, and become a permanent problem.
Wearing a harness with this puppy instead of a collar is what most vets recommend:
If your dog had cervical trauma or is in the early stages of laryngeal paralysis, we recommend starting a protocol of cartilage support supplements. Some of the ones we suggest are methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), glucosamine sulfate, perna canaliculus (also called green-lipped mussel), eggshell membrane (not calcium), cetyl myristoleate, and hyaluronic acid: