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Laryngeal Paralysisin Dogs and Cats


Maureen H. Kemp


Last full review/revision Jul 2020 | Content last modified Oct 2020

Laryngeal paralysis is common in dogs and rare in cats. Signs include:

  • dry cough

  • voice changes

  • noisy breathing that progresses to marked difficulty in breathing with stress and exertion

  • stridor

  • collapse

Regurgitation and vomiting may occur. Progression of clinical signs is slow, usually taking months to years before respiratory distress is evident. It is a common acquired problem in middle-aged to older, large and giant breeds of dogs, eg, Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, and Great Danes. It is seen less often as a hereditary, congenital disease in Bouvier des Flandres, Leonbergers, Siberian Huskies, Bulldogs, and racing sled dogs.

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs; laryngoscopy under light anesthesia is needed for confirmation. Laryngeal movements are absent or paradoxical with respiration. Electromyography shows positive sharp waves, denervation potentials, and sometimes myotonia. Radiographs are not diagnostic. Denervation atrophy is seen on histologic sections of laryngeal muscles.

Differential diagnoses include:

Therapy is directed at relieving signs of airway obstruction. Tranquilization and corticosteroids are effective temporarily in mild cases. Severe obstruction may require tracheotomy.

Definitive therapy is surgical and directed at enlarging the glottic opening. Currently recommended techniques include:

  • arytenoid cartilage lateralization

  • ventriculocordectomy and partial arytenoidectomy

  • castellated laryngofissure

  • permanent tracheostomy

Studies have demonstrated that bilateral ventriculocordectomy through a ventral median laryngotomy has had good longterm treatment success for surgical treatment of idiopathic laryngeal paralysis in dogs, and unilateral arytenoid lateralization appeared to be a suitable method to treat laryngeal paralysis in cats.

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Respiratory Diseases of Small Animals
An obese, 13-year-old, neutered male Pomeranian is brought to the veterinarian because of a cough that has worsened over the last 3 to 4 months. His owner reports that the cough sounds like a “goose honk,” occurs when the dog is excited (e.g., when the doorbell rings), and is unproductive of sputum. The dog then appears to have trouble breathing after coughing. On physical examination, auscultation of the heart and lungs is normal, and the veterinarian is unable to stimulate the cough. The owner declines thoracic x-rays due to financial concerns. Which of the following is the most likely diagnosis?
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