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Disorders of the Pharynx (Throat) in Dogs


Jan F. Hawkins

, DVM, DACVS, Purdue University

Last full review/revision May 2018 | Content last modified May 2018
Topic Resources

The upper throat is called the pharynx. Pharyngeal paralysis refers to paralysis of the upper throat (pharynx) that makes swallowing difficult or impossible. It may be caused by a nervous system disorder, other disease in that area, or trauma that causes collapse, obstruction, or malfunction of the pharynx. In some instances, the condition may be partial or affect only one side of the throat and the dog may be able to swallow, although complications may occur.

The throat and pharynx in a dog.

The throat and pharynx in a dog.

Pharyngeal paralysis results in severe problems with swallowing; food and saliva come back out through the mouth and nose. Affected dogs are at risk of pneumonia from inhaling food and liquid (aspiration pneumonia), dehydration, and circulatory and respiratory failure. Signs of pharyngeal paralysis include fever, coughing, gagging, and choking. This condition may be fatal. In many cases, emergency surgery to provide an airway (tracheostomy) must be done before any more detailed analysis of the condition can be performed.

In general, treatment for pharyngeal paralysis is directed toward alleviating the signs of the disease. Treatment may include drugs to control inflammation, antibiotics to control the complications of aspiration pneumonia, draining of abscesses (if they are present), and alternative routes of nutrition. Tubes can be inserted (intubation) to help the dog breathe, eat, and drink. In many of these cases, the outlook is poor. Your veterinarian will consider the welfare of your pet when determining what course of treatment to follow.

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