Understanding Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

laryngeal paralysis

Understanding Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Dogs with laryngeal paralysis cannot regulate their airway. They become overheated and can struggle to breathe when summer returns.

Surgery can provide good control of the disease.

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition that affects your dog’s ability to breathe normally, significantly impacting their quality of life. This condition causes the vocal folds (vocal cords) to become paralysed, preventing them from opening properly during breathing.

Often seen in older, large-breed dogs like Labrador Retrievers and Saint Bernards, this condition progresses gradually, eventually affecting both vocal folds and leading to severe breathing difficulties.

Why It's Important

As dogs age, their risk of developing laryngeal paralysis increases. The condition often develops slowly, and early signs might seem like normal ageing—reduced exercise tolerance and slower walks. However, as it progresses, it can lead to life-threatening complications. Understanding the signs and seeking veterinary care early can prevent emergencies and maintain your dog’s comfort. Dogs with this condition learn to avoid activities that make them breathless, but they can still become excited by visitors or play, leading to a crisis. They also tolerate hot weather less well. Recognising and managing early signs can prevent emergencies.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis

Identifying laryngeal paralysis early is key for effective management. Look out for these symptoms:

  • Noisy Breathing: Wheezing or loud breathing, especially during excitement or after physical activity.
  • Change in Bark: A hoarser, squeakier, or weaker bark, or loss of bark.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Struggling to breathe, particularly in hot weather or after exercise.
  • Coughing and Gagging: Frequent coughing or gagging, especially when eating or drinking or after having laid down and slept for a while.
  • Exercise Intolerance: Reduced interest in exercise or quickly tiring during activities. Dogs may stop and lie down during walks.

If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your veterinarian promptly.

Causes of Laryngeal Paralysis

Understanding the common causes can help manage and potentially prevent laryngeal paralysis:

  • Neurological Disease: Most often, laryngeal paralysis is part of a more general neurological disease, impacting the nerves to larynx.
  • Idiopathic Causes: Often, the exact cause remains unknown, particularly in older dogs.
  • Genetic Factors: Breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Bouvier des Flandres, and Bull Terriers are genetically predisposed.
  • Trauma and Injury: Damage to the neck or chest can lead to paralysis.
  • Secondary Health Conditions: Conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease can contribute to or exacerbate the condition.

Diagnosing Laryngeal Paralysis

Early diagnosis is crucial for effective management. Veterinarians typically use the following methods:

Early diagnosis is crucial for effective management of laryngeal paralysis. Here’s how veterinarians typically diagnose this condition:

  • Physical Examination: Vets often identify laryngeal paralysis during examinations by noticing characteristic signs like a change in bark tone and stridor (a high-pitched wheezing sound).
  • Breathing Sounds: A dog with laryngeal paralysis’s unique sound profile can be a significant clue. Veterinarians experienced with the condition, including the team here at AURA, can often make a preliminary diagnosis based on these sounds alone.
  • Laryngoscopy: The definitive method for diagnosing laryngeal paralysis is through observing the larynx directly under anaesthesia. This procedure allows the vet to see the movement of the vocal folds during breathing to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Additional Tests: In some cases, other diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, a complete blood count, or a biochemistry profile, might be performed to rule out other conditions or assess the dog’s overall health, particularly if secondary conditions are suspected.

Understanding the underlying cause and confirming the diagnosis through these methods allows for a more targeted and effective treatment plan, improving your dog’s likelihood of a good outcome.

Treating and Managing Laryngeal Paralysis

Treatment focuses on restoring normal breathing and managing symptoms. The choice depends on the severity of the condition and the dog’s overall health.

Surgical Intervention: Tieback Surgery

The most common treatment for severe laryngeal paralysis is tieback surgery, which involves securing one vocal fold in an open position to improve airflow. At AURA, we typically operate on only one fold to reduce the risk of complications like aspiration pneumonia. This surgery can significantly improve a dog’s quality of life.

Medical Management

For dogs unsuitable for surgery or with milder forms, medical management includes:

  • Monitoring: Keep a close eye on your dog’s respiratory pattern, especially during excitement or hot weather. Being aware that your dog has the condition is often just as crucial as the treatment itself, as this allows you to avoid situations they might struggle with, such as hot cars, vigorous bursts of exercise, or long walks. Protecting them like this can significantly improve their overall health and well-being.
  • Environment: Ensure your dog stays cool and calm, avoid strenuous exercise, and use a harness instead of a collar to reduce pressure on the throat.
  • Dietary Adjustments: Along with the nerves to the voice box being impacted, so too can the nerves that help swallowing. This means that in advanced cases, food and/or water can go the wrong way, heading down the windpipe (trachea). This aspiration pneumonia, or inhalation pneumonia can be life-threatening. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals and helping a dog eat more slowly (e.g. food-dispensing toys) can help reduce this risk.

Post-Surgical Care for Laryngeal Paralysis

Post-operative care is crucial to prevent complications:

  • Careful Monitoring: Watch for signs of infection or breathing difficulties and schedule regular vet check-ups.
  • Adjusting Feeding Habits: Soft foods and hand feeding initially to ease swallowing and digestion.
  • Maintaining a Calm Environment: Avoid excitement and stress to aid recovery.

Complications to Watch For

Managing a dog with laryngeal paralysis requires ongoing attention and care. With proper care, many dogs live full and happy lives, including a return to normal vigorous activity in all weathers. Regular check-ups, appropriate exercise adjustments, dietary adjustments, and careful monitoring are key to effective management.

Living with Laryngeal Paralysis

Managing a dog with laryngeal paralysis requires ongoing attention and care. With proper care, many dogs live full and happy lives, including a return to normal vigorous activity in all weathers. Regular check-ups, appropriate exercise adjustments, dietary adjustments, and careful monitoring are key to effective management.

Managing an Airway Crisis

In case of a breathing crisis:

  • Stay Calm: Minimise excitement or distress.
  • Cool Down: Use cold-water showers, methylated spirits, or ice baths to reduce body temperature.
  • Immediate Veterinary Care: If breathing distress continues, transport your dog to a vet for oxygen supplementation and further stabilisation.


Laryngeal paralysis can be a daunting diagnosis for any dog owner, but with the right knowledge and support, managing this condition is entirely possible. The specialist team at AURA has decades of experience managing laryngeal paralysis and may have taught your vet the best ways to handle it. Recognising the symptoms early and consulting with your vet promptly are critical steps in ensuring your dog receives the necessary care to maintain a good quality of life.

Whether through surgery or careful medical management, there are effective options available to help your dog breathe easier and stay comfortable. Post-operative care and ongoing management at home are crucial to prevent complications and support your dog’s well-being.

Remember, laryngeal paralysis doesn’t have to diminish your dog’s spirit or joy. With attentive care, regular veterinary check-ups, and a supportive home environment, dogs with this condition can continue to lead happy, fulfilling lives.

Being Referred to AURA Veterinary

At AURA Veterinary, our dedication to excellence in animal healthcare is unmatched. We understand that specialised care often starts with your local veterinarian. Therefore, we encourage you to speak with your vet first for access to our advanced treatments in areas like animal cancers, soft-tissue surgery, internal medicine, and interventional procedures.

They will be able to assess your pet’s condition and, if specialised care is needed, refer you to us at AURA Veterinary. This collaborative approach ensures that your pet receives the best possible care tailored to their specific needs.