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Pet Health:
Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs & Horses


Laryngeal paralysis usually occurs in older dogs and horses.  It sometimes is referred as "roaring" or roarer's syndrome in the horse.  In the dog, paralysis of the larynx or "voice box", usually results in noisy breathing, excessive panting, decreased activity level, and decreased in overall well-being. 

In extreme cases, laryngeal paralysis can result in decreased oxygen flow to the individual, resulting in asphyxiation if not attended to quickly.  What is actually affected by this nerve paralysis are two tissue folds that are located on either side of the windpipe (trachea) opening, which function to open and close in response to breathing or swallowing.

What causes laryngeal paralysis to occur.  Most cases are older dogs over the age of 8 years, and usually affected are larger breed dogs (over 50 lbs), although any dog is susceptible to this condition.  Sometimes associated with hypothyroidism, or other neuromuscular diseases, often times the cause of laryngeal paralysis remains unknown. 

Blood tests are warranted on patients diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis to determine if an underlying cause exists.  In the event that hypothyroidism or another problem is discovered, treatment for that problem rarely reverses the paralyzed larynx condition.

Mild cases involving only one side of the larynx, usually fare quite well with rest and minimal exertion.  In cases with both sides of the larynx affected (bilateral disease), symptoms are much more pronounced.  These patients also have a greater risk of asphyxiation if they become stressed which can then result in an "air hungry" individual. 

Bilateral laryngeal paralysis patients in an "air hungry" state, are exerting all their energy into breathing in a forced manner.  This leads to swelling around the tissue folds of the larynx, which further serves to block the flow of air.  Treatment in these cases involves passing a breathing tube by the larynx (often requires sedation), allowing oxygen to go directly to the lungs. 

Drugs administered to these patients are designed to reduce swelling in this area, as well as to reduce anxiety.  Often times sedatives are continued to prevent these patients from relapsing into the "air hungry" state again.

Surgical means of correction have been tried in patients with bilateral laryngeal paralysis, in attempts to "open" up or pull back these tissue folds in the larynx which are blocking the flow of air.  This results in a wider opening to the windpipe, but the opening remains wide during breathing and swallowing food and water. 

Unfortunately, in virtually all cases in which this surgery is performed,  food and or water ends up going into the lungs as a result of this wider opening, which results in a condition known as aspiration pneumonia.  This type of pneumonia is very difficult to treat, and often times treatment is unsuccessful for the patient.

Most cases of laryngeal paralysis are managed medically, with medications that help reduce swelling in this area of the larynx, as well as relaxing agents (sedatives) to reduce anxiety in cases that appear "air hungry".  Broncho-dilators tend to open up the airways lower down in the lungs, which can serve to better help oxygen transfer for the patient. 

Surgery should only be considered as a last resort option, and only if medical management is not working.