Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs


Laryngeal paralysis is a debilitating disease that prevents a dog from being able to breathe deeply, resulting in the dog constantly trying to get enough oxygen with each breath.

My loving dog was diagnosed by the vet two and a half years ago as having severe arthritis accompanied by hip dysplasia. With the help of Winston’s Joint System he has been able to remain mobile during this time. He has, however, succumbed to a different major problem that is threatening to take his life. He has laryngeal paralysis, a debilitating disease that prevents him from breathing deeply which sometimes results in his gasping for breath, creating a vicious cycle of anxiety and struggles to breathe.

Laryngeal paralysis results when the abductor muscles of the larynx no longer work properly. The larynx doesn’t expand and open wide enough for the dog to take a deep breath; the laryngeal folds just flop weakly and flaccidly. When my dog tries to take a deep breath, he doesn’t get one. This creates tremendous anxiety for him. Imagine yourself attempting to take a deep breath and finding that you can’t; then the anxiety leads to more rapid breathing and more distress. A respiratory crisis from the partial obstruction can develop into an emergency resulting in death.

Laryngeal paralysis doesn’t develop suddenly. For most dogs it is preceded by a fairly long history of excess panting, easily tiring on walks, or loud breathing. If you notice your dog beginning to breathe loudly, gasp for air, or seem in distress when trying to breathe, you should schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Surgery is the only hope for a dog who develops this disease & dog pain, but that is not the answer for many. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a survey of complications in a group of 140 dogs receiving surgical treatment for laryngeal paralysis.

Here is a summary of the results:
(1) Of the 140 dogs, 34% were Labrador retrievers and 80% were classified as large breed weighing over 48 pounds.
(2) 82% were over 6 years of age.
(3) Overall 34% of dogs had some kind of complication from their surgery. The most common complication was aspiration pneumonia which occurred in 23.6% of dogs at some point.

My own vet advised against laryngeal surgery for my dog because he is 13 years old and complications from the surgery would probably cause his death; if not the surgery itself.

I hope that one day he dies a natural death, not from suffocation because of his breathing problems or anything that causes pain in his last moments. I still cannot face the thought of having to make the decision to “put him to sleep”. If the day comes that he suffers a lot and his quality of life has deteriorated to the point where it is no longer humane to keep him alive, then I will make that decision.

So I have no choice but to tend lovingly to my companion of many years and do all that is within my power to make his last days as pleasant as possible. Every morning I wake him and prepare his food as if I were making it for myself. I hug and pet him at every opportunity. I talk to him even though he has gone deaf. I want him to know in his dying days that I loved and cared for him as much as he has for me through these years. If there is a heaven for dogs, I would want to be there with him.

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