Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Laryngeal paralysis in dogs is a condition in which the nerves that control the larynx, or voice box, don't work properly. Laryngeal paralysis can cause changes in the voice and trouble with eating and breathing.

The Normal Canine Larynx

The larynx, or voice box, is located at the back of your dog's throat. When your dog breathes, air passes through his nose and mouth, through the larynx, and into the windpipe or trachea. Normally, the larynx opens when your dog breathes, allowing air to pass through.

Laryngeal Paralysis Explained

In laryngeal paralysis, the nerves that control the larynx stop functioning, and your dog's larynx can no longer open and close normally. This means that when your dog breathes, the cartilages of the larynx don't open to allow air through into your dog's windpipe. This means your dog will have trouble eating and breathing. His voice may change or disappear altogether.

Causes of Laryngeal Paralysis

Older, large-breed dogs appear to be most susceptible to laryngeal paralysis. Some breeds who seem prone to the disorder include:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Saint Bernards
  • Siberian Huskies

Dogs who succumb to laryngeal paralysis are born with normal voice boxes. Somehow, over the course of the dog's life, the nerves that control the function of the larynx begin to deteriorate and the dog loses control over the muscles of the larynx. Vet's don't really understand how this occurs.

In some cases, laryngeal paralysis is an inherited condition. Dogs who inherit laryngeal paralysis will begin to display symptoms very early, at two to six months of age. Puppies suffering from inherited laryngeal paralysis may have difficulty breathing and swallowing. They may gag frequently and have a strange sounding bark.

Breeds who seem to be prone to hereditary laryngeal paralysis include:

  • Bouvier des Flandres
  • Dalmatian
  • Siberian Husky
  • English Bulldog

Dogs suffering from hereditary laryngeal paralysis should not be bred.

Laryngeal paralysis can also occur as the result of trauma. A bite wound or other injury can damage the nerves and muscles of the larynx. Sometimes, the disorder occurs in conjunction with hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis

The first symptom of laryngeal paralysis is a change to the voice. The bark may begin to sound hoarse. The dog may display labored, noisy breathing and may gag or choke when eating. The symptoms worsen in hot, humid weather, during exertion, and in the case of obesity; laryngeal paralysis can become life threatening if the animal's ability to breathe is hampered severely.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet can diagnose laryngeal paralysis by examining your dog's larynx while he's lightly sedated. If the larynx is paralyzed, your vet will be able to see that the cartilages of the larynx aren't opening properly when your dog breathes.

Usually, dogs need surgery to treat laryngeal paralysis. Vets use a surgical procedure known as 'arytenoid lateralization,' or laryngeal tie-back, to permanently suture the cartilages of the larynx in an open position. This allows air to pass through the larynx so your dog can breathe. This surgery carries a high success rate, though there is a small risk that dogs may accidentally inhale food following the procedure.