Treating Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs with Doxapram (Dopram)

Many veterinarians use Doxapram/Dopram-V to diagnose laryngeal paralysis in dogs. The medication stimulates respiration helping veterinarians to compare breathing patterns before and after the medication. Doxapram works within two minutes, so results are almost immediate.

Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs Causes and Symptoms

Most cases of laryngeal paralysis in dogs involve an unknown cause. Certain breeds seem more susceptible, particularly Bulldogs, Dalmatians, Huskies, Newfoundlands, Retrievers and Saint Bernards. However, research hasn't found a clear reason why dogs develop this condition. It may occur hand in hand with certain cancers, hypothyroidism or trauma, but some cases have no secondary condition.

The condition occurs when the cartilage of the larynx weakens and fails to open during activity and close properly while eating or drinking. Instead, the larynx opens a small amount and never closes. As a result, many dogs will gag during meals causing a higher risk for pneumonia from aspirated food particles. Air intake becomes difficult, especially during exercise, as a result the pet can faint. Symptoms include gagging while eating or drinking, labored breathing and a hoarse-sounding bark.

Testing and Treatment for Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

If your veterinarian suspects laryngeal paralysis, he uses anesthesia to help relax the animal and then view the larynx with a scope. Many veterinarians view the dog's larynx first to get a baseline measurement and then administer Doxapram/Dopram, either through an injection or by placing drops under the tongue.

Once the medication has had time to work, usually a couple of minutes, the larynx is viewed again to see if the medication helped open the airway's gap. In dogs with laryngeal paralysis, the Doxapram will help open the airway. This simple test offers the best evidence that a dog has laryngeal paralysis.

Surgery is the best remedy for laryngeal paralysis in dogs. Laryngeal Tieback is commonly performed. During this procedure, the cartilage is pulled back and stitched. The surgeon must be careful with how much cartilage is moved to prevent the risk of aspiration pneumonia.

Debarking surgery is also used. Vocal folds are surgically removed to create a larger airway. Once the dog heals, his bark will be much quieter. There is the chance that the tissue will regrow and then an additional surgery will be necessary.

Usage and Side Effects of Doxapram

Doxapram and Dopram-V are prescription medications commonly used to trigger the breathing response in new newborn pups that aren't thriving without medical intervention. It's also used to stimulate breathing when a dog is under heavy anesthesia.

Doxapram works by stimulating the portion of the brain that controls breathing. It's effective but has downsides. First, it does help open the airways by triggering the brain's response, but the dog's central nervous system must work harder to open the passage. Therefore, the body uses up oxygen to open the airways and take the breath. As a result, oxygen within the blood doesn't increase.

Side effects for Doxapram include:

  • Changes to heart rhythm

  • Hyperventilation

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Seizures

Most dogs respond well to Doxapram, however there are some contraindications. Make sure your veterinarian is aware if your dog has asthma, heart issues, high blood pressure or hypothyroidism. Your dog cannot use Doxapram if he is currently taking muscle relaxants.