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Laryngeal paralysis in dogs
Laryngeal paralysis is a condition affecting the muscles responsible for controlling the aretynoid cartilages of the larynx (the voice box). This can lead to problems such as respiratory problems and a changed voice. In a healthy dog, the aretynoids will close during swallowing and open up a lot during heavy breathing. In a dog with laryngeal paralysis, the aretynoids will simply hang loosely in a neutral position, which naturally causes breathing problems as well as problem with eating and drinking.
When a dog becomes warm, e.g. due to exercise or hot weather, it needs to pant to regulate its body temperature and avoid hypothermia. If the dog suffers from laryngeal paralysis, aretynoids will open up enough and adequate ventilation becomes impossible. In addition to this, the airways will not be sufficiently protected when the dog swallows, and coughing and gagging is therefore common in dogs with laryngeal paralysis. If a dog accidentally gets something into its airways, it can lead to aspiration pneumonia.
Laryngeal paralysis is more common in large breeds than in small and medium sized breeds. A majority of the effected dogs are middle-aged or old.
In some dog breeds, the laryngeal paralysis is congenital. Examples of such breeds are the Bull Terrier, Siberian Husky, Dalmatian, Rottweiler, and Bouvier des Flandres. Dogs from other breeds can acquire this condition, and acquired laryngeal paralysis is for instance quite common in older Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, St. Bernhard dogs, and Golden Retrievers.
Laryngeal paralysis can be secondary to several different health problems, including cancer, hypothyroidism, and general neuropathies. It can also be caused by trauma. Choke collars are not believed to elevate the risk for laryngeal paralysis.
Laryngeal paralysis symptoms in dogs
A dog with laryngeal paralysis display symptoms such as a changed voice, coughing or gagging during meals, and exercise intolerance. The dog can have respiratory problems and sometimes the breathing will become exceedingly noisy. In severe cases of laryngeal paralysis, respiratory problems can lead to fainting and cyanosis. Severe laryngeal paralysis requires immediate medical treatment, since it can involve hyperthermia and serious respiratory difficulties.
Laryngeal paralysis treatment for dogs
In mild cases of laryngeal paralysis, medical or surgical treatment might not be necessary. Keeping the body weight of your dog at a healthy level, limiting its activity level, and protecting it from environments where it would be exposed to high ambient temperatures can be enough.
In dogs with moderate laryngeal paralysis, mild sedatives can be helpful.
If a dog develops severe acute problems, prompt medical treatment is required. Examples of such dangerous problems are respiratory difficulties, aspiration pneumonia, and hyperthermia. A dog with this type of problems will need sedatives and oxygen therapy. The dog may also benefit from antibiotics and/or steroids. In some dogs, a tracheotomy will be necessary.
A dog with severe laryngeal paralysis may benefit from surgical treatment, but only once it has been stabilized. The procedure is known as aretynoid lateralization (“laryngeal tieback”). During this procedure, one of the aretynoid cartilages will be sutured in a maximally open position. This will increase ventilation, but can simultaneously increase the risk of pneumonia.
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