Nacho, our little chihuahua crossbreed was recently diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis. Here’s everything you need to know if your dog is suffering from the same condition;
What is the larynx?
The larynx has three functions;
- To allow vocalisation, such as barking, when the dog is exhaling.
- To allow airflow when breathing in.
- To stop food from entering the windpipe when swallowing.
What is laryngeal paralysis?
Laryngeal paralysis is when the larynx fails to open when inhaling. This disease is progressive, so early diagnosis is key.
Who does it affect?
It is more common in large breeds of dogs, such as Labradors, Great Danes, Mountain dogs etc, however, like little Nacho, small breeds can be affected too.
- Noisy breathing
- Change in bark
- Intolerance to exercise
- Weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
How is it diagnosed?
If you suspect your dog is having difficulty breathing, your first port of call is to visit your vet who will examine your dog. If they feel your dog could have laryngeal paralysis, you will be referred to a specialist vet for further diagnosis and tests. Usually, your dog will have chest X-rays and blood-work taken first, and they will then need to examine the larynx whilst your dog is sedated. Whilst your dog is anaesthetised, the vet will monitor the mouth and larynx, and if laryngeal paralysis is present, the folds of the larynx will not open and close as the dog breathes, instead of remaining closed (paralysed).
What are the treatment options?
Surgery is possible and that is what we chose for Nacho. The surgeon’s aim is to permanently open one side of the larynx with sutures, to allow air to move freely (known as a tie-back). Although surgery has a good success rate, there are risks involved (as with any surgery).
As the larynx will be open all the time, there is a risk of aspiration pneumonia. This is when food particles enter the lungs, causing an infection. The main symptoms of this are a temperature, lethargy, coughing and going off their food; Nacho actually got this the day after surgery, so it does happen, but quick action is best as aspiration pneumonia is serious.
Regurgitation is another risk and this can cause aspiration pneumonia, so again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Our vet gave Nacho Cerina (anti-sickness) and omeprazole when he started to regurgitate. We also experimented with raised food bowls and slow feeders to stop him bolting down his food and to minimise the risk.
Dogs should be kept on wet food for several weeks as there is less chance of them inhaling the meat compared to dry biscuits. The first few days after the operation, get a melon baller and hand-feed them food from above, again, this minimises the risks of aspiration pneumonia.
What happens after surgery?
Your dog might need to stay with the vets for a day or so whilst they recover. When they are sent home, they will have a shaved area on their neck where the operation site was and stitches. Your dog must not scratch or bother the site, so may need to wear a cone to prevent them from doing so. We found a fabric buster collar was best and it sat underneath the operation site.
Your dog will need to be kept quiet for the days following surgery. Nacho is crate trained, so we kept him in the crate for the first few days, and then allowed him to quietly sit in a room with us. He wasn’t allowed walks for several weeks after surgery and was only allowed out in the garden on a lead. It can be hard to confine your pet, however, it is so important they heal.
Although we had quite a journey with Nacho, I do feel the surgery was the right option for him. He does have a collapsed trachea as well, so his breathing isn’t completely normal, however, it’s an improvement to how it was and the risks of leaving these two conditions together outweighed the risk of the operation.
If you have any doubts or worries about your dog’s health, always contact your vet for advice.