Laryngeal Paralysis is the slowly progressive failure of the larynx to properly open, causing breathing problems for patients that can be not only extremely uncomfortable, but life threatening.
The opening of the windpipe, or trachea, has two cartilages called the Arytenoids, which open and close with each breath, allowing oxygen into the lungs.
In some aging dogs, especially large breeds, with Labradors being a high risk candidate for this problem, there is a progressive failure of these arytenoids to properly open and close. This can sometimes be slowly progressive over years, or sometimes very rapidly progressive over weeks. It is not uncommon to have these patients die suddenly, especially in hot whether where these dogs are not able to cool themselves properly.
Classically these patients exhibit increased respiratory noise on exercise, and often their bark has changed in nature becoming quite husky. These patients should be assessed under light anaesthesia to diagnose this potentially life threatening condition that can be successfully treated.
Treatment is surgery, where one of the arytenoids is sutured permanently open to allow the airflow needed. Although this sounds simple, it is in fact an extremely complicated surgery, and only done by specialists and high quality general surgeons. At Southern Animal Health this is a surgery that we do often, with great success.
When should surgery be contemplated?
There are some risks with these surgeries, the main one being aspiration pneumonia. Because the windpipe is permanently open, it is possible for the patients to aspirate saliva or food down the trachea, causing inflammatory and bacterial pneumonia which in itself is sometimes life threatening. Hence in our opinion we do not recommend surgery for mild cases where the signs are subtle, and where the movement of the arytenoids is only partially impaired.
However we do teach the client what worsening signs to look out for and when to operate. Hence it depends on not only the clinical signs of the individual patient, but on the examination or the arytenoids themselves.
Once we do recommend surgery, it is because the risks of not doing surgery far out weigh the risks of doing surgery.