Diagnosis and Treatment for Laryngeal Paralysis in Pets

by | Jan 4, 2023

What is Laryngeal Paralysis?

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition that affects the ability to breathe in deeply, as an indrawn breath causes the windpipe (or larynx) to collapse in on itself, which then makes breathing difficult.

Normally, when an animal inhales, the muscles on either side of the trachea contract, pulling open the flaps of cartilage that cover the tracheal opening, allowing the pet to breathe. With laryngeal paralysis, these muscles weaken and are not able to adequately pull open the flaps, so they remain closed or partially closed during inspiration.

Many times, pet parents will hear a ‘honking’ noise, which is caused by air flowing past the partially open flaps of cartilage, and can be a good indicator of laryngeal paralysis.

There are many cases of the condition, and they can range from tumors of the neck or chest, trauma to the throat, hormonal diseases, and others.

Your veterinarian may recommend surgery to correct the issue. If the patient is not a good candidate for surgery, laryngeal paralysis is not curable but may be managed with medications and other treatments. This condition mainly affects large-breed dogs, but can also be found (rarely) in small-breed dogs, cats, and other small mammals.

Two to four times more male dogs are affected with laryngeal paralysis than female.

Common Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Pets

Laryngeal paralysis symptoms include:

 

  • Coughing, especially after eating, drinking, or exercise
  • “Honking” or wheezing sounds while breathing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Changes in tone or pitch of the dog’s bark
  • Hoarse meows, in cats
  • Cyanosis, where the gums and tongue turn blue or purple
  • Anxiety
  • Heat stroke, as breathing in deeply is affected so cooling down by panting can become difficult
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Common Causes of Laryngeal Paralysis

Since laryngeal paralysis may be an inherited condition or an acquired condition, there are many causes. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Tumors or lesions to the neck or chest
  • Trauma to the throat
  • Hormonal diseases, like Cushing’s Disease
  • Congenital issues
  • “Idiopathic laryngeal paralysis”, meaning there is no known cause

Laryngeal paralysis has no known cure, but can be corrected with surgery, or managed with medication and lifestyle changes.

Diagnosing Laryngeal Paralysis in your pet

Diagnosing laryngeal paralysis is typically confirmed through an exam of the larynx in a procedure called a laryngoscopy. Radiographs (x-rays) can be taken to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Blood work may also be helpful in ruling out other causes of this condition. Ultrasound and urinalysis may also be performed to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

 

Laryngeal paralysis can be an inherited condition but is most commonly an acquired disorder. An acquired disorder means that the pet develops the condition after birth. An acquired condition is often caused by something (i.e.: trauma, tumor, disease process, etc.). Laryngeal paralysis is now thought to be a symptom of a larger neurologic condition called Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis Polyneuropathy (GOLPP). Pets diagnosed with GOLPP often experience laryngeal paralysis along with rear leg weakness, megaesophagus, and other neurologic conditions.

Treatment Options for Laryngeal Paralysis in Pets

Treatment for laryngeal paralysis can range from medication management to surgery, depending on how severely the pet is affected. Talking with a veterinarian and performing all necessary diagnostic testing is the best way to ensure the proper treatment is provided.

Some common medical management prescribed for pets with laryngeal paralysis include:

Many pets require surgery to correct the issue, whether they have a very severe case or their veterinarian believes the pet would benefit from surgery versus medical management. There are a few surgeries that are performed to help with laryngeal paralysis. The most common is the ‘tie-back surgery, or Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization surgery.

Tie-back surgery is often recommended for pets diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis

 

Tie-back surgery, or Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization (UAL) surgery, is a common procedure for pets suffering from laryngeal paralysis. During this procedure, the surgeon places two permanent sutures to hold one side of the larynx in the open position. The typical success rate of UAL surgery is 95%.

Post-op recovery from UAL surgery focuses on keeping the pet calm so that the sutures do not fail from too much movement and barking. Owners may be given the arduous task of keeping their pets from running, jumping on furniture, and vocalizing.

Due to the risk of patients developing aspiration pneumonia after surgery, patients are typically kept upright to eat by using an elevated feeding station. This method of feeding reduces the risk of food and water entering the tracheal opening to the lungs. A soft diet is typically recommended to help minimize irritation to the surgery site.

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How to Prevent Laryngeal Paralysis

Since laryngeal paralysis has many causes, it may not always be possible to prevent the disease. Typically, with surgery or medical management, and some lifestyle changes, most pets do well after diagnosis.

Here are a few lifestyle changes to consider if your pet has been diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis:

  • Avoid neck collars and use a harness instead.
  • Avoid very hot or humid environments as much as possible, or limit time spent in these environments.
  • Reduce anxiety as much as possible.
  • Follow all veterinary recommendations and give medications as prescribed.

Laryngeal paralysis episodes can vary from mild, to moderate, to severe. The prognosis for each pet is based on the cause of the condition. Some pets experience very mild episodes and may never require a trip to the emergency room. Some pets, unfortunately, may have a severe episode seemingly out of nowhere and require immediate medical care. Keeping a close eye on your pet for any symptoms of laryngeal paralysis and being in contact with your veterinarian are the best ways to ensure your pet will receive the proper care for laryngeal paralysis.

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Pawprint Oxygen does not provide veterinary advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a veterinarian with questions regarding your pet’s health.

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