Laryngeal paralysis in dogs

The throat muscles of the larynx (laryngeal folds) open when breathing and close when eating or drinking. The laryngeal folds are paralysed and remain closed, which significantly impairs breathing. 

This condition often has no identifiable cause, but especially affects certain breeds and may be part of an overall neurologic condition. 

Breathing can worsen when dogs with laryngeal paralysis are anxious. A respiratory crisis can arise from partial or full airway obstruction.

What are common laryngeal paralysis signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Excess panting
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Change in voice/bark
  • Coughing, especially after eating or drinking

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Loud breathing sounds
  • Respiratory gasping or distress
  • Bluish gums
  • Collapse

Excess panting is a sign of laryngeal paralysis in dogs.

How is laryngeal paralysis managed in dogs?  

Management of laryngeal paralysis depends on sign severity. Surgery is highly recommended for dogs with severe breathing difficulty. The most common surgical approach is tying back the laryngeal folds to keep them open. If surgery is not an option, conservative management includes diet and lifestyle modifications, and anti-inflammatory or anti-anxiety medications.

Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian and a veterinary surgeon is important for the best outcome for your dog. 

What is the prognosis for dogs with laryngeal paralysis?

The prognosis for dogs who have surgery is good to excellent, but a 10-20% post-surgical risk of aspiration pneumonia exists.

Conservative treatment may be adequate for mild cases, but laryngeal paralysis is a progressive disease with the risk of acute respiratory distress.

Regardless of the treatment plan, some dogs develop an enlarged oesophagus or more generalised neurologic signs over time.

Management tips for dogs with laryngeal paralysis

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food and water and a comfortable location
  • A prescription weight loss diet, if needed
  • Consistency with prescribed medications or supplements
  • Elevating food and water dishes for larger dogs
  • Low energy activity and play
  • Avoiding stressful situations
  • Monitoring appetite, vomiting, drinking, urination, defecation, weight, and energy level
  • Watching for signs of worsening disease

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog is breathing rapidly, gasping for air, has bluish gums, or collapses.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this progressive disease by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.