Laryngeal paralysis is a diagnosis I can often make as soon as the dog walks in the front door of the hospital. The dog is usually an older, large breed, and he is wheezing like a freight train or a 3-pack-a-day smoker.
When a normal dog breathes in, the laryngeal nerves fire and the muscles of the larynx contract, opening the airway. With laryngeal paralysis, the nerves fail to fire, and the airway does not open. In fact, on inhalation, the airway actually collapses. And the harder the dog breathes in, the more the airway collapses.
Spunky, a fine old spaniel, had been panting for several months. He still played and chased the household cat. But recently his panting had become louder, and he had slowed down. Spunky could no longer run more than a short distance before he had to stop and sit to catch his breath. Then one warm day when chasing a squirrel, he collapsed. His owners reported that his gums and tongue had turned blue; he was wheezing and gasping for air with shallow breaths. He revived, but clearly it was time to do something.
On examination, we discovered that Spunky had a heart problem as well as laryngeal paralysis, so we decided to postpone surgery until his heart could be checked. Spunky, however, had other plans. Later that same day he could barely breathe and had to be carried into the hospital by his owners. So we plunged ahead and performed the surgery right away.
The surgery to treat laryngeal paralysis – arytenoid lateralization – can be a tricky one, but it is one of my very favorites. One side of the airway is sutured in a permanently open position. When done correctly, the dog can breathe easily as soon as he wakes up from anesthesia.
Spunky recovered like a star, and one week later he was back to chasing the family cat.
Recently we spoke with Spunky’s owner, who said, “Spunky’s tie-back surgery improved his quality of life by 100%. He breathes easy now, has a hearty appetite, and enjoys his days both indoors and outdoors again! We would highly recommend this surgery to anyone who is contemplating it. Our only regret is not doing it sooner!”