Laryngeal paralysis is not a death sentence

Laryngeal paralysis (aka “lar par”) is a common condition in dogs (and rarely cats). What follows are my thoughts about the condition, its treatment and its outcome. They are based on recent science, and many years of experience treating lar par.

What is Laryngeal Paralysis?

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition that severely affects a pet’s breathing.

In the veterinary world, we call it “Lar Par” in short. A few people call it LP.

The larynx (please note, it is larynx and not “lar-nynx” as many people call it…) is the medical name for the voice box. If you’ve ever had laryngitis, then your very own larynx was irritated. The larynx is also the entrance to the wind pipe (or trachea) and, beyond, to the lungs.

Besides making all kinds of noises, the job of the larynx is to close off after we inhale, open up when we inhale, and again shut off when we eat and drink so we don’t “swallow the wrong way.”

When laryngeal paralysis occurs, none of these things happen. Taking a deep breath becomes impossible. The poor dog literally suffocates.

Who can be affected?

The typical patient is an older large breed dog. The poster child is the Labrador.

Most dogs are over 10 years of age.

Males are affected 2-4 times more often than females.

There is a hereditary or congenital form of Lar Par, which can affect Bouviers des Flandres, Huskies and Dalmatians. In those rare cases, young dogs, 1 year or younger, are affected.

Lar Par has also been described in small to medium dogs, as well as cats.

To avoid posting a long list here, I’ve shared the list of breeds I’ve treated over the years at the bottom of this article*.

What happens?

Lar Par occurs because the nerves that control the muscles which act on the cartilages of the larynx are diseased.

Typically, the condition starts on one side (“unilateral” paralysis or hemiparesis). If your dog is an athlete or a working dog (racing, agility, police dog, serious hiking, Search And Rescue), you may notice breathing difficulties. But if your dog is a family pet or a couch potato, you probably won’t notice much.

Only when the condition affects both sides of the larynx (“bilateral” paralysis) will most pet owners realize that there is a problem.

What causes Lar Par?

Most of the time, we don’t know. This is called “idiopathic” Lar Par.

Occasionally, we find an underlying cause, such as hypothyroidism (a lazy thyroid). This is somewhat controversial, since hypothyroidism is common in older Labs and Goldens anyway. That said, treating hypothyroidism will never correct Lar Par. So we recommend treating hypothyroidism because of the other consequences, not because it helps or cures Lar Par.

Rarely, Lar Par is due to trauma, cancer, generalized diseases of nerves or muscles, or previous surgery (e.g. on the trachea or the thyroid gland).

What are the signs?

Lar Par is a very stressful condition for the patient — who obviously doesn’t understand what is going on. These dogs literally suffocate. It’s a terrible and terrifying condition.

Typically, the signs are progressive. The dog pants without exercising, has a noisy and labored breathing, and gets tired quickly during regular walks. Owners may notice that their dog’s voice changes and sounds hoarse.

Unfortunately, because Lar Par most often occurs in older dogs, the signs are often blamed on old age and arthritis… which delays treatment.

Therefore, Lar Par patients are often presented to a vet when they are in real trouble, i.e. when they can barely breathe. Most often, this happens as the weather becomes hot and humid, but I see these patients year-round, even in the Winter. Overweight or obesity worsens the condition.

At worst, the condition can become life-threatening.

How does my vet know my dog has Lar Par?

An experienced vet or surgeon will suspect Lar Par the second a patient walks into the exam room or on a 10 second video. But to confirm the suspicion, an exam of the larynx under sedation is necessary.

Before this can be done safely, we perform full blood work and chest X-rays. The purpose of blood work is to ensure the safety of sedation and anesthesia. The goal of chest X-rays is to know whether the patient has aspiration pneumonia (more on this below). The same X-rays can show if the patient as mega-esophagus, ie an enlargement of the esophagus – the tube between the mouth in the stomach. Finally, these X-rays confirm that there is no hidden cancer in the chest.

Under “light” sedation, the mouth is opened and the larynx is observed. With Lar Par, the folds of the larynx will not open and close as the patient breathes in and out. The folds remain closed – paralyzed.

Light sedation means that it should be heavy enough so the mouth can be opened, but mild enough for the patient to breathe spontaneously.

The 2 folds of the larynx are unable to open up

What is the emergency treatment?

When a patient presents on an emergency basis, two important goals are to calm the patient, and allow enough oxygen to get on board.

This requires sedation (acepromazine is often the drug of choice). Oxygen can be delivered by many different ways. In extreme cases, the patient needs to be anesthetized and a tube is placed down the throat to deliver oxygen.

My absolute least favorite way of stabilizing a Lar Par patient in crisis is an emergency tracheostomy, although it may be the only option in very rare cases.

If the patient’s temperature is seriously high from overheating, emergency measures are taken to lower it.

Once the patient is stabilized, surgery is the best treatment. Nothing else will work as successfully.

What happens in surgery?

The goal of surgery is to permanently open up the larynx to allow more air to get in.

There are two main types of surgery: intraoral (i.e. surgery is done via the mouth) and extraoral.

These days, the vast majority of surgeons will choose the extraoral approach, i.e. surgery is done through the left side of the neck. Most often, they will typically do a laryngeal “tie-back” procedure, a.k.a. arytenoid lateralization, on ONE side.

Typically, surgery involves placing 2 heavy nylon sutures (i.e. permanent) to open up the left side of the larynx. Only one side (again, typically the left) is opened up to minimize the risk of aspiration pneumonia.

Doing surgery on both sides dramatically increases the risk of aspiration pneumonia… and is simply not necessary.

What is the outcome?

In good hands, the outcome is typically good.

Theoretically, surgery provides instant relief: The patient can finally breathe. Then of course (s)he needs to recover and heal after surgery.

Clients often worry about doing this surgery in their (typically) older dog. The fact is, more lar par patients are over 10 years old.

My standard replies are:

1. Age is not a disease.

2. Lar Par is not a death sentence. It’s a bump along the road, which shouldn’t affect the patient’s life expectancy as long as they don’t get deadly aspiration pneumonia.

What are the complications?

. Coughing is expected after surgery, typically after eating and mostly after drinking. That’s a good thing, as it will hopefully prevent the dog from “swallowing the wrong way.”

. The voice may change, and barking disappears. These are not really complications. They are standard consequence of the tie back procedure you need to be aware of.

. Failure of the nylon sutures and/or a condition of the cartilage of the larynx (too soft or too brittle) are rare but severe complications, which is why we insist on confinement, peace, and quiet after surgery.

. The dreaded complication is Aspiration Pneumonia (also known as AP). This is a type of pneumonia due to aspiration, or inhalation, of food, water, saliva or vomit into the lungs. Thankfully it is an uncommon complication.

. GOLPP (geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis polyneuropathy) is not really a complication of lar par, but something to be aware of, especially in Labs. More information can be found here:

https://www.drphilzeltzman.com/blog/what-is-golpp-geriatric-onset-laryngeal-paralysis-polyneuropathy/

What if my pet gets aspiration pneumonia? Then what?

It’s crucial that aspiration pneumonia is caught early.

It is an aggressive disease that must be treated aggressively.

We look for 4 criteria: coughing, lethargy, poor appetite and a fever.

If you ever suspect AP, time is of the essence. A vet should see the patient ASAP, listen to the lungs and take chest X-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment involves hospitalization, IV fluids, strong antibiotics, nebulization and a type of physical therapy called coupage.

What’s new with Laryngeal Paralysis?

We now give patients 2 anti-vomiting drugs (metoclopramide and Cerenia) and an antacid before surgery.

Then they stay on cisapride (a daily pill) for life, after surgery. The hope is to decrease the risk of vomiting by helping move food downward.

These days, we don’t make the opening in the larynx as big as we used to, just enough for the patient to breathe comfortably. This is clearly art more than science, and you can see how experience comes into play. What’s the downside? The patient will likely have a noisier breathing, as air goes through a smaller opening. But again, as long as the patient can breathe comfortably, we don’t mind. As I always tell my clients, “I don’t treat noise, I treat dogs.”

What do I need to do at home after surgery?

This will depend on your surgeon’s recommendations. In my practice, we recommend:

• Strict rest for 2 months to allow proper healing with scar tissue

• Soft food (“meat balls”) for 2 weeks

• Not too much water intake at once

• Pain killers for 7 days

• Cisapride for life (not all surgeons do that)

• Weight loss (these patients are often chubby), or weight control as needed

• A harness instead of a neck collar

The only restriction is swimming: your dog will have a permanently open larynx, with no possibility of closing it off, should (s)he swallows water. There is therefore a risk of aspiration at best, and drowning at worst.

What’s the bottom line?

Overall, Lar Par is a stressful condition for the dog and a stressful situation for the owner. Fortunately, in most cases, results of Laryngeal Paralysis surgery are good to excellent.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

www.DrPhilZeltzman.com

* Here is a list of breeds I’ve treated over the years:

Labradors and Lab mixes are # 1 by very very far.

Golden retriever

Pitbull

Greyhound

Shepherd (and mixes)

St. Bernard

Britany spaniel

Husky (young or old)

Sheltie

Beagle

Akita

Mastiff

Boxer

Bulldog (yes, really)

Pomeranian

Wheaten Terrier

Border collie

Springer spaniel

Chessie (Chesapeake Bay Retriever)

Bassett hound

Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!

Does the length of my pet’s incision matter?

Clients often ask me how long their pet’s incision will be after surgery.

Does the length of a pet’s incision matter?

The short answer is no. When it comes to incisions, it’s not the length that matters, but the care taken to keep it clean and protected.

Incisions heal side to side, not end to end, meaning that a 1 inch incision and a 10 inch incision heal at the same pace – most often 2 weeks.

It’s very predictable.

It pretty much would be that simple, if it weren’t for pet’s obsession with licking their “wound.”

Why do they do it? It’s an instinct. They can’t help it. They don’t know better.

But people should…

In addition, the incision area may become itchy as fur grows back. A pet’s natural response to itchiness or anything unusual is to lick or chew.

A few simple recommendations need to be followed to ensure that the incision heals without complications.

. Activity should be kept to a minimum. The skin and underlying tissues need time to heal. During healing, they cannot be stretched or moving constantly because motion slows healing down.

This is the reason why strict rest is critical for proper healing. Stairs, furniture, running, jumping and playing must be prevented during healing. Walks should be minimized to no more than 5 minutes, on a short leash, and for bathroom duties only.

. You should inspect the incision once or twice daily to make sure it looks good. If you see drainage, you can clean it with a soft cloth and tap water. Avoid using antiseptics of any type (peroxide, alcohol, cleaning solutions etc.) or triple antibiotic ointment. Only tap water. Then gently blot it dry.

. Speaking of drainage, what should you expect? Initially, some bleeding is possible. But then the red should turn to pink, and the pink should turn to clear (or light yellow). Then it should stop. Many times, you will not see any drainage.

If you see anything different, including a whitish, yellowish or greenish discharge, please get in touch with your vet or surgeon ASAP.

. You may also see bruising and swelling, both of which are common after surgery, just like in humans. It should decrease over time, then disappear.

. Whether stitches, skin glue or staples were used, the end result is the same: the edges of the skin should touch each other, and progressively fuse.

. The incision and surgery area should not smell much. If you notice a strong or foul smell, please get in touch with your vet or surgeon ASAP.

The next picture is a bit graphic, so please skip it if you have a sensitive stomach. It is not for the faint of heart.

. Most pet go home with a plastic cone (aka E-collar or Elizabethan collar) around their neck. It should be kept on at all times (24/7), even to eat, to prevent your pet from licking or chewing at the incision, which could cause it to open up and possibly get infected. We don’t use a cone when the incision is in the mouth or in a location where the edge of the cone might cause harm by rubbing on it. Throat and neck incisions come to mind.

REMINDER: THE NEXT PICTURE IS A BIT GRAPHIC. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

(caption: this dog was allowed to lick the incision, which didn’t open up but looks rough 2 weeks after surgery)

. Since your pet shouldn’t be able to lick the incision, you also need to prevent other pets from licking. We don’t know why they have this bizarre habit… we just know they do. So pets recovering from surgery should be separated from other pets so they can heal peacefully.

. You may have heard an urban legend that claims that pet saliva helps with healing. It’s a myth!

Is it important to remember that your pet’s tongue has been in all kinds of weird places. Yes, including that place!

Therefore, their tongue is covered in bacteria, some of which are very aggressive. When you smear a surgical incision with fecal bacteria… guess what can happen!

The next picture is very graphic, so please skip it if you have a sensitive stomach. It is not for the faint of heart.

. Of course, the other risk of licking or chewing is opening up the incision, partially or entirely. Sadly, that may require another surgery to stitch it closed. Ironically, it will require another anesthesia, more money… and another plastic cone!

REMINDER: THE NEXT PICTURE IS VERY GRAPHIC. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

(caption: This dog was allowed to lick the incision, which opened up partially. A second surgery is needed to clean it up and close it. In the end, it’s always the pet who pays the price…)

. We cover some incisions with a Band-Aid, not to replace the plastic cone, not to protect them from the tongue, but to protect them from the environment. This may reduce the risk of infection.

So the rules as simple: prevent licking of the incision, keep your pet strictly rested, and you will give your pet the best chance at healing completely and uneventfully, the first time around, no matter the type of surgery.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!

Is my pet’s surgery urgent?

As you can imagine, some conditions are more severe and urgent than others.

Removing a small lump that’s been there for 3 months is logically less urgent than a C-section.

Still, how do you, how does your family vet, how does a surgeon, decide what surgery is urgent and what is not?

A simple way to decide is to consider that a surgery is urgent if not performing it would cause irreversible harm. This can include:

. Threat to the patient’s life (e.g. severe internal bleeding, “bloat” or a “twisted stomach”, pyometra aka an infected uterus, some C-sections)

. Risk of irreversible damage to the patient’s physical health (e.g. difficulty breathing, risk of paralysis of the legs)

. Threat of permanent harm of an extremity or an organ (e.g. urinary blockage that can cause kidney damage, intestinal blockage that can damage the intestine)

. Risk of rapid worsening of severe symptoms (e.g. a pet hit by a car with open wounds).

. Severe pain that can be solved with surgery (e.g. a severely broken bone that cannot be stabilized)

On the opposite, some surgeries are not urgent: most lumps and bumps, a torn ACL, some fractures that can be stabilized (e.g. with a splint), bladder stones, etc.

Now, just because these surgeries are not considered urgent, doesn’t mean that you should procrastinate for months!

. Delaying the removal of bladder stones can lead to a blockage (of the urethra) that can in turn cause kidney damage and heart problems.

. Removing a small tumor is obviously less invasive than removing a huge one.

. Delaying the repair of a torn ACL for months means that there will be much more arthritis and muscle loss (and pain).

Even though some of the above examples are sometimes debatable, these are pretty good guidelines.

Everything is relative, even in the surgery world…

Basically, urgent or emergency surgery is recommended when it provides relief to the patient or to an organ, and a non-surgery option is not available or practical.

Importantly, as you read these examples, please remember that I am only talking about surgical conditions. There are countless other conditions that are medical, i.e. that are not treated with surgery. Those are beyond the scope of this blog.

Bottom line: when in doubt about a specific condition in your pet, the best thing you can do is ask your family vet, an emergency vet, or ideally, a surgeon.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!

Why is my dog crying after surgery?

“Doctor, I don’t know what to do, my dog keeps crying ever since coming home from surgery.”

This is a concern we occasionally hear after surgery. So why do dogs cry (or vocalize) after surgery? Note: we do not mention cats below, because, well, cats are different, so only part of what follows applies to cats.

1. Dysphoria

Dys what?

Dysphoria.

Dogs who wake up from surgery are discombobulated. They have no idea what happened to them. They’re spacey or groggy or loopy while the anesthesia medications wear off. They may not know who you are and where they are.

If you’ve ever had anesthesia, you likely felt the same way. You may also have seen videos of kids or adults waking up from anesthesia, after dentistry or surgery, and they say the weirdest or funniest things – which they don’t even remember later.

Since dogs don’t understand what’s happening, it causes anxiety. And they don’t know how to express that, except through whining.

While it’s stressful to any pet lover, the good news is that it should go away after a good night sleep.

If you doubt it, let me give you a classic example.

If we only sedate a dog (not even full anesthesia) to take X-rays or change a bandage or trim their nails, and reverse the drugs, they may experience dysphoria. We haven’t done anything painful, yet they cry like they’re in severe pain.

Why is that?

Well, it’s exactly for the reasons explained above. It’s dysphoria. They’ll get over it.

Bottom line: This type of crying should stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

2. Pain

Pain can definitely cause crying. Now, if your vet or your surgeon takes pain seriously, and provided appropriate pain control, the crying is most likely not due to pain.

As I always say, “pain is unacceptable in 2020.” We have enough pain medications available. We routinely dispense 2 or 3 pain medications to make sure your dog is comfortable after surgery.

If you are convinced that your dog is in pain, please call your vet and get an additional pain medication. That’s an easy solution.

Bottom line: This type of crying does not stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

3. Attention-seeking

Some dogs, like some babies (or older kids!) are quick at learning that if they whine, it makes you stop what you’re doing and you pay more attention to them. You pet them. You use your funny voice. You give them a treat.

It’s a learned behavior, which you encourage by “giving in.”

Bottom line: This type of crying should stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

4. Other reasons

There are other reasons for which your dog might cry after surgery. It can mean anything from “I hate this stupid cone around my head” to “I hate being locked up in a room/in a crate” or “Why do I have a 10 pound bandage on my leg?” or “I am bored to tears in here!” or “Why don’t you understand that I need to pee?”

So these are “benign” reasons that make them anxious. Again, they don’t know how to express their frustration besides crying. Other reasons include not feeling well, being unsteady, feeling nauseous, feeling cold.

Some breeds are more sensitive than others. And some individuals are more sensitive than others (“every patient is different”).

So depending on the situation:

. You may bring water or food closer. Some dogs need help when they wear a cone (which you should not take off). Handfeeding may help.

. You may want to give your dog a (safe) chew toy to prevent boredom.

. You can use white noise to drown out the normal sounds of the household.

. You can’t do anything about a bandage, although if it’s too tight, it can cause pain, so you should seek medical attention.

. You should absolutely follow your vet’s or your surgeon’s instruction to keep the cone on 24/7, or to keep your dog confined 24/7.

. If your dog needs to eliminate, then obviously you should allow that. Remember, you’ve trained your dog to be potty trained, so they may absolutely refuse to go on the floor or in their crate.

But be careful, as some smart dogs can learn that “whining = I can escape from jail and go outside” and they may take advantage of that.

Bottom line: This type of crying should stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name… or your take them outside to eliminate.

These are the main reasons for which a dog may cry. If you’re still not sure what’s going on with your dog, please call your vet clinic and brainstorm with a nurse to try to figure out why it’s happening.

The good news is that if you follow the rules, the whining should stop overnight or within a few days. If it doesn’t, then I’ll give you 2 more options:

. The reason for the crying is not listed above, and you need to figure out what the cause is by talking to your veterinary team.

. All we need is a mild sedative or tranquilizer to “take the edge off” and help your dog relax and accept their new fate: the plastic cone, confinement, a bandage etc.

After all, waking up from anesthesia is not fun for humans, so there is no reason to believe that it’s any more fun for a patient who has no idea what just happened.

Again: this is normal and it will get better with time, so hang in there!

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!

Simone falls out of a window!

Simone, a 1 year old Chihuahua, was relinquished to a rescue organization in New Jersey (www.facebook.com/SecondChancePetAdoptionLeague). Her story was nebulous, but it sounds like she sustained a 10 foot “fall” through a window. The story doesn’t say how…

That’s a pretty big fall for a 5 pound dog… Luckily, Simone’s only injury was a broken forearm (radius and ulna), just above the wrist.

The Animal Clinic of Morris Plains in NJ reached out to me to fix Simone.

Because there was so little space below the fracture, we “cheated” and used a special plate called a T- plate and 5 tiny screws. The T part allowed us to fit more screws below the fracture.

To reinforce the repair even more, a splint was placed on the leg after surgery. Simone recovered smoothly from anesthesia and went to recover in her foster home.

After 2 months of strict confinement and TLC, Simone’s bone looked healed on X-rays.

It is now time to start to rehab Simone. This simply means that she will need to be walked longer and longer to rebuild muscle. Then she can start to live a happier life with her new family.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!