Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

icon May 30, 2024

Laryngeal paralysis in dogs is a condition that affects the larynx, or voice box, which is responsible for protecting the airway during swallowing and controlling airflow during breathing. This condition occurs when the nerves that control the muscles of the larynx become damaged or lose function, leading to the inability of the laryngeal cartilages to open and close properly. This can cause a range of symptoms from mild to severe and can significantly impact a dog's quality of life.

What Does Laryngeal Paralysis Sound Like in Dogs?

Laryngeal paralysis is often identified by its characteristic sound. Dogs with this condition typically exhibit:

♦  Stridor: A high-pitched wheezing sound during inspiration.

♦  Hoarse bark: The dog's bark may become noticeably quieter and hoarse.

♦  Gurgling: A gurgling sound during breathing, especially noticeable when the dog is at rest.

♦  Loud panting: Excessive and noisy panting even with minimal exertion.

These sounds are due to the restricted airflow through the partially paralyzed larynx and the resulting turbulence as air passes through the narrowed airway.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

The symptoms of laryngeal paralysis can vary in intensity and may worsen over time. Common signs include:

♦  Noisy breathing:
A high-pitched, wheezing sound known as stridor is often the first noticeable symptom.

♦  Voice changes:
A dog’s bark may become hoarse or raspy.

♦  Coughing:
Especially during or after eating or drinking.

♦  Gagging:
Often occurring when eating or drinking.

♦  Exercise intolerance:
Dogs may tire easily, especially in hot or humid weather.

♦  Panting:
Excessive panting or labored breathing, even when at rest.

♦  Cyanosis:
Bluish discoloration of the gums and tongue due to lack of oxygen.

♦  Collapse:
In severe cases, dogs may collapse due to respiratory distress.

What Causes Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

The exact cause of laryngeal paralysis can be multifactorial, but common causes include:

1. Idiopathic:
In many cases, the cause is unknown, and it is termed idiopathic. This is the most common form in older dogs.

2. Inherited:
Some breeds are genetically predisposed to developing laryngeal paralysis. Breeds like the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Saint Bernard, and Great Dane are more commonly affected.

3. Trauma:
Injury to the neck or throat area can damage the nerves controlling the larynx.

4. Neoplasia:
Tumors in the neck or chest can impinge on the nerves controlling the larynx.

5. Polyneuropathy:
This condition involves multiple nerve dysfunctions throughout the body, often seen in breeds with a genetic predisposition.

6. Hypothyroidism:
Low thyroid hormone levels can lead to nerve degeneration.

What Are the Stages of Laryngeal Collapse in Dogs?

Laryngeal collapse is a progressive condition that can occur as a result of chronic laryngeal paralysis. It typically progresses through three stages:

♦  Stage 1:
The laryngeal cartilages lose rigidity and start to sag inward slightly. At this stage, symptoms are often mild and can include occasional coughing and noisy breathing.

♦  Stage 2:
The cartilages collapse more significantly into the airway, causing moderate to severe breathing difficulty, increased stridor, and exercise intolerance.

♦  Stage 3:
Complete collapse of the laryngeal cartilages into the airway, leading to severe obstruction, respiratory distress, and potentially life-threatening breathing difficulties. Dogs in this stage require immediate veterinary intervention.

Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs Treatment

Treatment for laryngeal paralysis can be divided into medical management and surgical intervention.

Medical Management:

♦  Weight management: Keeping the dog at a healthy weight to reduce strain on the respiratory system.

♦  Environmental control: Avoiding heat, humidity, and excessive exercise which can exacerbate symptoms.

♦  Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications: To reduce stress and anxiety that can worsen breathing difficulties.

♦  Anti-inflammatory drugs: These can help reduce swelling around the larynx.

Surgical Intervention:

The most common surgical treatment is a procedure called arytenoid lateralization or "tie-back" surgery. This involves suturing one side of the larynx in a permanently open position to allow better airflow. While this surgery can significantly improve breathing, it carries risks, including aspiration pneumonia, where food or liquid enters the lungs, causing infection.

What to Feed a Dog with Laryngeal Paralysis

Feeding a dog with laryngeal paralysis requires careful consideration to avoid aspiration. Here are some tips:

  • Consistency: Feed wet or moistened food, as it is easier to swallow and less likely to cause choking.
  • Feeding position: Feed the dog with its head elevated to prevent food from entering the airway.
  • Small, frequent meals: Smaller meals are easier to manage than one large meal.
  • Avoid hard treats: Hard treats and kibble can be difficult to swallow and may pose a choking risk.
  • Slow feeding: Using a slow-feeder bowl can help prevent gulping and reduce the risk of aspiration.

How to Help a Dog with Laryngeal Paralysis

Caring for a dog with laryngeal paralysis involves several supportive measures:

Environmental adjustments:
Keep the dog in a cool, well-ventilated area and avoid strenuous activities, especially in hot weather.

Monitor breathing:
Keep an eye on the dog's breathing and be aware of any changes in sound or effort.

Emergency plan:
Have a plan in place for emergency situations, including knowing the location of the nearest emergency veterinary clinic.

Regular vet visits:
Routine check-ups to monitor the progression of the condition and adjust treatments as necessary.

Training and behavior:
Train the dog to remain calm and avoid barking or excessive excitement that can strain the larynx.


Laryngeal paralysis in dogs is a serious condition that can significantly impact a dog's quality of life. Early recognition of symptoms and prompt veterinary care are essential for managing the disease. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options, as well as providing appropriate care and feeding strategies, can help pet owners improve their dogs' comfort and quality of life. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to ensure adequate airflow and prevent life-threatening complications. Regular monitoring and supportive care are critical to managing this condition effectively and ensuring the best possible outcome for affected dogs.

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