Chances are, you've shared a good part of your life with a canine companion and never heard of a condition called laryngeal hemiplegia. Also known as laryngeal paralysis, laryngeal hemiplegia is a respiratory disorder where one or both of the vocal cords is paralyzed, restricting airflow and possibly causing an obstruction if one of them gets sucked into the airway during breathing. It's not common, but left untreated it can be fatal.
Function of the Larynx
Located at the back of your dog's throat, the larynx or voice box is the structure that protects the trachea and lungs from aspiration of food, water and other foreign objects into the lungs. Two thin membranes -- the vocal cords -- on either side of the opening in the larynx are responsible for producing sounds like barking, growling and whining. In a healthy dog, these membranes pull apart to regulate the size of the airway opening during breathing.
What to Look For
It may take months or years for laryngeal hemiplegia to progress into severe respiratory distress. Early warning signs are a deeper, raspy bark; gagging or coughing while eating or drinking; lack of energy during exercise; and labored, high-pitched breathing sounds. Only your veterinarian can make the diagnosis. If you suspect that your dog is developing a breathing problem, take him in for a checkup.
Inherited or Acquired
Laryngeal hemiplegia is a disease process that is either inherited as a genetic trait or acquired as a result of a head injury, a tumor or possibly a thyroid dysfunction. Often the cause is unknown. It's not contagious. Siberian huskies, husky mixes, Dalmations and bouvier des Flandreses are a few of the breeds that have a tendency to inherit the disease. As an acquired disorder, it's more common in large breeds such as golden retrievers, Labradors, Irish setters, Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands.
Treatment and Expected Outcome
Depending on the severity of the disease, treatment may require surgery combined with changes in the dog's lifestyle. In less severe situations, lifestyle adjustments may be enough. You should try to keep your dog cool during hot summer months to minimize panting. If your dog is overweight, put her on a diet. Also, try to reduce her stress and physical exertion. Follow the advice of your veterinarian.