Bailey wears her Wisconsin Badgers coat for American Heart Month and Wear Red Day
Dogs

Laryngeal Paralysis: What Is It, and How Did We Learn Bailey Has It?

What is it with dogs turning 11 years old in our house? My beloved Thea had just turned 11 years old when we discovered she had a tumor in her bladder. Then, just weeks after Bailey’s 11th birthday, we discovered that she has laryngeal paralysis.

Here’s the back story. Jason and I boarded the dogs at a kennel when we road-tripped to Indy for the 2017 Big Ten Football Championship. Just as we were leaving lunch with friends on Saturday, Jason got a phone call from the kennel. It was about Bailey.

While she was romping around, Bailey’s breathing became somewhat labored. The expert staff immediately recognized the sounds she was making — they were almost positive her breathing issue was the result of a condition called laryngeal paralysis.

Thankfully, the staff relocated Bailey and Naya to one of the suites where staff could keep a closer eye on Bailey. She was absolutely fine except for the heavy breathing when she got excited. When we picked up the kids on Sunday, the kennel staff encouraged us to have Bailey checked out by a veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis.

We did just that.

Bailey snuggles with Naya after her diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis

A few days later, Bailey was at the veterinarian’s office to get checked out. The veterinarian also suspected laryngeal paralysis based on the sound of Bailey’s breathing. They took X-rays to rule out any tumors or fluid around the heart — thankfully, everything on her X-rays was clear! The veterinarian gave a preliminary diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis. To confirm it, we scheduled her for a dental cleaning (which she needed BADLY) during which they could use a scope to look at her larynx.

Yep, laryngeal paralysis on both sides.

What the Heck Is Laryngeal Paralysis?

I worked in a veterinary practice for a year and a half, and never had I heard of laryngeal paralysis. And I’m guessing most other dog owners are in the same boat. So what is it?

Laryngeal paralysis, or “Lar Par” as it’s commonly known, affects a dog’s larynx, or voice box. The larynx has two folds that should close off when inhaling, open when exhaling, and close again when eating or drinking so food and liquid don’t go down the wrong pipe, so to speak. In pets — particularly older, large breed dogs — with laryngeal paralysis, none of this happens. Either just one or both folds of the larynx are paralyzed. It makes taking a good, deep breath difficult to impossible.

Labrador Retrievers are the poster children for Lar Par.

Bailey has bilateral paralysis, meaning both sides of her larynx are paralyzed. But it’s when the condition affects both sides that it’s a noticeable problem. We may have never been aware of her condition otherwise.

The cause of laryngeal paralysis is unknown in most cases, including Bailey’s. However, trauma to the throat or neck can cause Lar Par … and Bailey was victim to a bite to the neck last summer (another story for another time). Tumors can cause it as can hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease. Some dogs are born with it.

What Are We Doing to Treat Bailey’s Laryngeal Paralysis?

Surgical correction for Lar Par is an option. The procedure would “tie back” one side of her collapsed larynx that is obstructing her breathing. But surgery doesn’t come without complications. The most serious complication is aspiration pneumonia caused by inhaling food, water, saliva, or vomit into the lungs. Surgery also requires at least 2 months of strict rest.

Our new veterinarian did a great job putting us at ease about Bailey’s condition. She didn’t feel that surgery was necessary, provided we take some precautions. First, no more neck collar for Bailey. Second, we need to take care with exercise and stress — being overly active or excited will make it more difficult for her to catch her breath. Finally, we will need watch her in hot and humid weather, as her breathing difficulty will impact her ability to cool down.

Bailey relaxes in front of the fireplace

For now, we’ve opted not to put Bailey through surgery. A lot of what we’ve read about the surgery and potential complications really scares us. And we don’t think we could put our precious girl through it. We’ve taken the precautions recommended by our veterinarian, and Bailey is doing well. She is still her same old self … her 11-year-old self.

If you’d like to learn more about laryngeal paralysis, check out these sites:

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