The condition consists of a degeneration of the nerves, which stimulate the muscles of the voice box (larynx).  Paralysis of the larynx is quite common in elderly dogs, especially males, and although the Labrador, Irish Setter and Afghan Hound seem to be particularly susceptible, practically any breed in the middle weight range could be involved.

Signs may go unnoticed because owners expect elderly dogs to slow up and huff and puff a bit when exercising.  One or more of the following are the most frequent signs of laryngeal paralysis:

  • Noisy laboured breathing
  • A moist retching cough
  • Changed bark
  • Reduced exercise ability
  • Episodes of extreme breathing difficulty, especially when exercising in hot weather.

Collapse and death can occur if the loose vocal folds block the airway completely.

If you believe your pet has this problem it is necessary to see your vet to get the diagnosis confirmed. Treatment is by operation to fix the voice-box in a safe position.  In spite of the age of many dogs subjected to surgery, the results are generally excellent.

Following the operation, the dog may be hospitalised for between two to four days, although dogs that bark excessively may be sent home earlier if there is concern they will tear the stitches.

Diet and exercise should be modified for the first six weeks after surgery as advised by your vet.

Although an immediate improvement of the respiratory distress may be evident, the full benefits of the surgery will not be seen for a couple of weeks, when the internal swelling has gone.

Most dogs cough to clear their throats to begin with, following ‘tie back’ surgery.  This may be quite frequent in the first week or so, particularly after eating or drinking.  The coughing should get less frequent, although a few dogs can cough once or twice a day indefinitely.