Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Senior black lab lying in the grass

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Laryngeal paralysis can occur in any dog. This problem affects a dog's ability to breathe and is often recognized by the sound a dog with this issue makes. Knowing how to recognize laryngeal paralysis is important for owners of commonly affected breeds to be aware of.

What Is Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs?

Laryngeal paralysis is also known as "lar par" for short and it is a condition that affects the larynx in a dog's throat. The larynx contains cartilage and sits over the trachea which allows air to flow from the nose and mouth into the lungs. Muscles pull the cartilage of the larynx away from the opening to the trachea to allow air in and it closes when a dog is eating and drinking. With laryngeal paralysis, the muscles that are supposed to hold the cartilage open to allow a dog to breathe become paralyzed. This results in an obstruction of the airway since the cartilage of the larynx is partially blocking the opening. This paralyzation of the muscles in the larynx is called laryngeal paralysis.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

The most obvious symptoms of laryngeal paralysis are audible ones.

Signs of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Noisy panting
  • Tires easily
  • Bark sounds are different
  • Gagging when eating
  • Collapse

Dogs that have developed laryngeal paralysis may sound harsher when they are breathing and panting. This is due to the cartilage of the larynx that is partially covering the opening to the airway. The barks and other noises your dog makes may also sound different and it could also have trouble breathing. Because it is more difficult for a dog with laryngeal paralysis to breathe it will tire more easily and even collapse in more advanced stages of the disease. Finally, when a dog with lar par is eating, it may also gag or cough due to the cartilage not doing what it should to protect or open the airway at appropriate times.

Causes of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

This disease is a frustrating one for pet owners and veterinarians alike because no one really knows what causes it. Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands and English setters seem to be the most commonly affected breeds of dogs but laryngeal paralysis can also occur in other breeds. Some research suggests that laryngeal paralysis is actually a symptom of a bigger problem called degenerative polyneuropathy. Degenerative polyneuropathy affects not only the nerves in the muscles surrounding the larynx but nerves throughout the entire body. This is not the case for all dogs but many dogs who have lar par also develop nerve issues elsewhere. Hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease have also been known to be linked to laryngeal paralysis but this is not true for all dogs. Occasionally trauma and tumors in the throat can cause lar par and some puppies are even born with a congenital form of it.

Diagnosing Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

A veterinarian will listen to and watch the symptoms that the dog is exhibiting in order to make a diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis. They may also want to look at the larynx when the dog is sedated in order to see whether or not the larynx is opening and closing when it breathes. A special piece of equipment called a laryngoscope is typically used to look in the back of the throat where the larynx is. Other tests may be run to rule out other diseases or to ensure there isn't an underlying cause for the laryngeal paralysis. Lar par is typically a disease that affects older dogs so it may be referred to as geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy (GOLPP) if degenerative polyneuropathy is also diagnosed.

Treatment of Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Surgical correction is the only treatment option for dogs with severe cases of laryngeal paralysis. A procedure is performed to permanently "tie back" one or both sides of the larynx to hold the larynx open and allow a dog to breathe. Less severe cases may only need anti-inflammatory medications to reduce laryngeal swelling, weight loss, and activity restriction. If laryngeal paralysis is a problem that is related to hypothyroidism or degenerative polyneuropathy then other treatment options will be recommended by your veterinarian.

How to Prevent Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

There is unfortunately no way to prevent laryngeal paralysis. Since no one knows what causes this progressive disease there is no way to keep it from developing.