Laryngeal paralysis in dogs is a disease that although it cannot be cured, can be treated and managed. Our Los Angeles vets explain how you can give your pup the best quality of life possible while living with laryngeal paralysis.

Laryngeal Paralysis

Similar to humans, dogs have a larynx, also known as the voice box, which is made up of a number of cartilage plates that form a box in the throat. The larynx's ability to seal off the lungs and trachea when eating and drinking is its most crucial job. Alternatively, if a deep breath is required, it will open wider.

The integrity and stability of this box are maintained by the laryngeal muscles and when the nerves of these muscles become weak (paretic) or paralyzed, the muscles relax, and the cartilage plates tend to collapse inwards resulting in laryngeal paralysis.

What can cause sudden laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

The disease that most frequently affects a dog's larynx is laryngeal paralysis. Even though the cause of laryngeal paralysis is typically unknown, there are many instances where it is. Some of the known causes are listed below:

  • Trauma to the throat
  • Tumors or lesions in the neck or chest
  • Congenital disease
  • Old age
  • Cushing's disease
  • Hyperthyroidism

Most impacted by LP are dogs that are middle-aged or senior dogs, as well as medium to large-sized breeds. This, however, does not mean smaller and/or younger dogs can develop it as well.

What are the symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

Laryngeal paralysis may cause a range of symptoms. A lot of cases go undiagnosed and, consequently, untreated because the disease's initial symptoms (mild breathlessness, coughing, and loud breathing) are not particularly alarming.

Here is a list of some of the symptoms (which tend to be gradual) you can expect to see in a dog suffering from laryngeal paralysis:

  • An increase in panting during stress or on hot/humid days
  • Increase in susceptibility to heat stroke
  • Lethargy
  • Noisy panting
  • Anxiety
  • Voice change
  • Collapsing
  • Dark red, purple, or blue gums
  • Coughing or gagging when eating or drinking
  • Respiratory distress

Are there alternatives to surgery for laryngeal paralysis in dogs?

Yes, more mild cases (especially in smaller breeds) of laryngeal paralysis can be controlled with medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and sedatives. 

Avoiding hot environments and strenuous exercise with your dog, as well as collars that put pressure on your dog's neck, will help these mild cases succeed. For diagnosed dogs, harnesses are recommended.

If the case is more severe, opting not to operate means it is not a matter of if, but when.

Treatment for Laryngeal Paralysis Via Surgery

Severe cases of LP will necessitate surgery. Because of the frequency with which they appear, several different techniques have been developed. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your dog's specific situation.

The most common technique is called unilateral arytenoid lateralization (UAL). Also referred to as laryngeal tie-back surgery,  this method uses two permanent sutures to tie the collapsed cartilage to the side of the larynx, keeping it open and air to pass through easier.

Although the surgery will not completely restore laryngeal function, it will significantly improve your dog's quality of life, giving them an additional 1-3 years of life on average.

What to Expect After Surgery

Coughing or gagging is common after surgery while eating or drinking, but it usually goes away after a few days. The owner should be aware of the symptoms of food/water aspiration, the most common post-surgery complication.

Please monitor your dog closely for vomiting, gagging, or regurgitation. Your dog should also be monitored for hind leg weakness, and if noticed, notify a vet immediately.

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 pup is showing signs of laryngeal paralysis or has been diagnosed and requires surgery, contact our vets at Washington Dog and Cat Hospital today.