Laryngeal Paralysis

What is Laryngeal Paralysis?

Laryngeal Paralysis refers to the inability of the larynx to move. The larynx receives it nerve impulses by the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which allows the larynx to open during inhalation. If this nerve is paralyzed, the larynx stays in a half closed position and adjustments for increased respiratory effort such as running or panting during hot weather cannot be made. This results in poor oxygenation and overheating.

Who gets Laryngeal Paralysis?

Laryngeal Paralysis is a disease that is usually seen in older animals, and most commonly in Labrador and Golden retrievers. It can also be seen in puppies and young adult dogs as a symptom of a generalized neuropathy. Studies have been published about Dalmatians and Rottweilers having this condition as younger animals.

What are the symptoms?

Laryngeal Paralysis usually has a subtle onset. A change in bark, slight exercise intolerance, or increased raspiness during breathing can be the only symptoms for several months. Your dog may breathe loudly and with an increased effort, clear his throat frequently, gag, or vomit up white foam. Symptoms can become severe enough to cause complete exercise intolerance and acute collapse.

What do I do if my pet exhibits severe symptoms?

If you see a change in color of your dog’s tongue or if s/he collapses, please immediately bring her/him to an emergency. If you notice mild symptoms such as bark change, occasional gagging, or mild increased noise while breathing, please make an appointment with your veterinarian.

How is Laryngeal Paralysis diagnosed?

A sedated exam is necessary to watch the movement of the larynx during respiration. This allows the surgeon to determine if the larynx is paralyzed and/or rule out other conditions, such as myasthenia gravis (a generalized nerve problem), a mass in the larynx, a foreign body in the larynx, mouth or trachea, or laryngeal collapse.

Can this condition be treated?

Yes, an arytenoid lateralization, also called a laryngeal tie-back, is the procedure of choice. The larynx, usually the left side, is permanently opened during the procedure via an incision made in the side of the neck.

Are there risks or complications with this procedure?

There are risks and complications with any surgical procedure. Due to the fact that most of the animals are older when presented, general anesthesia is more of a risk. Some animals may have, or develop aspiration pneumonia that requires intensive antibiotic treatment and could be life threatening. Sometimes the “tied back” cartilage is not good quality and fails to heal, or the dog is too active and barks so much that the cartilage cannot heal. If that happens another tie-back surgery is necessary on the opposite side. Also, over time (months to years) this neurologic condition can get worse and affect hind legs and front legs.

What do I need to do after surgery with my dog?

Dogs need to learn again how to swallow after this procedure since the architecture of their larynx has been changed. We therefore recommend feeding canned food that is made into meatballs, about the size of a quarter, until we know s/he swallows well. Please offer water only in small amounts or ice chips at first. If a lot of water is ingested at once, some dogs may gag or vomit, thus increasing the risk of aspiration pneumonia.