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Laryngeal Paralysis (Lar-Par)

We often notice certain changes in our dogs as they age. They are stiffer in the morning, their eyes have a cloudy look, and they may get a little grey around their muzzles. In some cases, our dogs' voices seem to change. They can develop a hoarse bark, raspy panting, or they may cough frequently as if clearing their throat.

These symptoms may be linked to a condition called laryngeal paralysis, (often shortened to lar-par). We typically think of the larynx as the voice box, but it also protects our trachea (the windpipe) while we eat and drink by covering the opening to the airways with two flaps, or "folds". When a dog has laryngeal paralysis, the muscles that normally pull the airway open are not able to work properly. They may either weaken or not pull back at all. In mild cases, the folds sit in the opening of the airway and create the increased noise when breathing, but in severe cases, the folds stay completely shut and air cannot get into the lungs, creating a crisis.

This typically affects older large breed dogs such as Labradors, Huskies, and Great Pyrenees, but can affect any breed. Bouvier des Flandres can have a hereditary form of lar-par that can affect them at a younger age. It is very rare in cats. Lar-par typically progresses gradually rather than in a sudden onset.

To officially diagnose this condition, the larynx is evaluated while the dog is sedated. Some specialty hospitals have the ability to use endoscopy, which can eliminate the need for sedation if the pet can sit still for the procedure. 

Aside from raspy breathing and a change in the sound of the bark, dogs may pant heavier and tire more easily on walks. They may also begin panting in comfortable conditions or while sedentary. This is because they are not getting adequate air movement through. Since dogs use panting/breathing as one of the ways to cool themselves, dogs with laryngeal paralysis are more prone to overheating – even in comfortable temperatures or with minimal exertion.

Treatment is aimed at preventing a crisis – dogs are encouraged to wear a harness to avoid pressure on the neck and to avoid excessive heat and exercise. Anti-anxiety medications can be used to keep pets calm if they are likely to become too worked up and overheat in certain situations. There are several surgical approaches that can help keep the airways open, but they are not without risks that should be taken into consideration with your veterinarian's guidance.

The cause of lar-par has long been studied and discussed and it is now considered part of a bigger neuropathy called “Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis and Polyneuropathy”. Laryngeal paralysis often seems to be the first symptom but with time the legs can weaken and the esophagus can become dilated. However, this progression is quite slow so most dogs will live their normal lives without major issues from this condition. It was originally thought that hypothyroidism was a cause of lar-par, but while hypothyroidism can be associated with other neuropathies known to complicate the laryngeal paralysis, it does not cause it. Hypothyroidism should still be diagnosed and treated to help manage weakness and metabolism, but the laryngeal paralysis will not improve.

While laryngeal paralysis cannot really be prevented, most dogs who develop it can still maintain a good quality of life with the proper precautions and management.

Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at [email protected].

Thank you for choosing us to be part of your pet's healthcare team!

With warmest regards,
Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital


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