Zane Stick

We previously posted a warning about airway disease in short-muzzled dogs. But our smaller canine companions are not the only ones that can develop breathing problems in higher heat and humidity! Another common breathing problem, especially in warmer months, is laryngeal paralysis. This problem most commonly affects older large breed dogs such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and others.
Laryngeal paralysis is a disorder of the larynx, especially the vocal cords. When pets inhale, their vocal cords separate to open the larynx for air to move into the lungs. With laryngeal paralysis either one or both vocal cords cannot move to open the airway. Pets with this problem have to try to inhale air around the vocal cords, which act as a physical obstruction to the movement of air down into the lungs.
The most mild signs of laryngeal paralysis include changes in the voice when barking, a raspy hollow sound that accompanies breathing (especially panting), and occasional coughing/gagging. These signs can lead to intolerance of physical activity. Over time, these breathing signs can be progressive and lead to a respiratory crisis.
It is also possible for dogs with laryngeal paralysis to develop a crisis associated with physical activity or high heat/humidity environments. During a crisis dogs will continue to struggle to breathe against the obstruction in their airway. The harder a dog attempts to breathe against this obstruction the more progressively swollen the airway becomes. Ultimately this causes more obstruction to the movement of air.
In addition, the gums will often be gray to blue in color because they are not receiving enough oxygen through the narrowed airway. Dogs in crisis will not be willing to walk or be active. They may appear to be choking and can cough up foam or drool. This is a true emergency. These dogs will also develop a high body temperature that can cause heat stroke-type illness.
Diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis requires a sedated examination of the larynx in a professional veterinary setting. A dog with mild signs may remain stable with some types of medical management. This can include being kept in an air-conditioned environment, weight loss for overweight dogs, anti-inflammatory medications, and limited exercise.
For dogs with severe signs or both vocal cords affected, the recommended treatment is a surgery to permanently open the vocal cords (laryngeal “tie-back”). This procedure can be life-saving but has some long-term risks.
If you have a large breed dog that develops the signs of a change in voice or raspy hollow breathing you should have him/her evaluated by a veterinarian. In the meantime, consider the following precautions at home:
• During hot, humid days go for short walks in the morning or evening when temperatures are lower.
• Stop the walk immediately if your dog is slowing down, panting excessively, or tired. Transport your pet home to cool off in an air-conditioned environment.
• If your dog is overweight consult with your veterinarian about healthy weight loss. Extra weight puts more pressure on the airways.

If you observe the following signs of a crisis, have your pet seen by a veterinarian immediately:
• Fast, noisy breathing that causes your pet to struggle to breath
• Collapse or weakness associated with activity
• Purple-blue gums or tongue instead of your pet’s normal pink color (look now while your pet is normal for comparison as needed later)
Newtown Veterinary Specialists is dedicated to furthering medical knowledge about laryngeal paralysis: Our Chief Medical Officer, Debra Weisman, DVM, MS, DACVS, has published an article in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association and is conducting a research project on this problem.
If you have questions about your dog’s breathing do not hesitate to call your primary care veterinarian or our 24/7 emergency service at 203-270-VETS (8387).
–Story edited by Joan Eve Quinn, Communications Specialist, Newtown Veterinary Specialists,