Your dog's voice box, or larynx, consists of different cartilage plates, with a structure kept in place by his laryngeal muscles. If these muscles weaken through nerve damage, the cartilage falls inward. The affected muscles quickly atrophy, causing laryngeal paralysis. Typical causes of laryngeal paralysis include trauma, tumors and certain hormonal disorders. Even so, no actual reason for the condition is found for the majority of affected canines.
Laryngeal Paralysis Symptoms
Symptoms of laryngeal paralysis include a hoarse bark, raspy normal panting and considerable panting when the dog hasn't performed any physical exertion and the weather isn't hot or humid. As the condition progresses, the dog experiences breathing difficulties and exercise intolerance even when out for simple walks. The tongue may appear permanently darkened. A severely affected dog might collapse. In some dogs, these symptoms portend a general neurological deterioration.
Although any dog may develop laryngeal paralysis, large breeds or mixes are more likely to suffer from the condition. Labrador retrievers are perhaps the most affected breed, but it's also relatively common in Irish setters and Newfoundlands. The Bouvier de Flandres, Siberian husky, Rottweiler, Pyrenean shepherd, Dalmatian, Leonberger and bull terrier appear genetically predisposed to laryngeal paralysis. The same holds true for white German shepherds, but not those of other shades. While the disorder usually appears in older canines, in those with a hereditary predisposition, symptoms show up much earlier.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A definite diagnosis requires sedating the dog so the veterinarian can examine the larynx. Another option is using an endoscope threaded through the animal's nostril to view the voice box. Your vet will likely take X-rays of the dog's chest to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, including aspiration pneumonia.
If a dog suffers only mild symptoms, the vet may prescribe bronchodilators to widen airways and anti-inflammatories to reduce any pain and swelling. If there's an infection involved, she'll likely prescribe antibiotics. Cases of severe laryngeal paralysis require surgical correction.
Treatment may include surgical debarking, not to stop the dog from making excessive noise but to permit sufficient air to flow through. The vet may opt to partially debark the dog by removing just one of the vocal cords, but this surgery actually has a higher complication and mortality rate than total debarking. Another option is tieback surgery, formally known as lateralization surgery. The vet sutures the airway on one side of the larynx open, just enough to allow air through but not fluids or food. Potential issues include an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia, and a chronic cough after drinking water or consuming food.
Afterward, you must walk your dog with a harness and lead, rather than a leash attached to his collar. If your dog is too fat, your vet might recommend a diet to help ease breathing issues as well as to aid his general health. Don't allow your dog to swim.