My Dog's Bout With Laryngeal Paralysis
We adopted Sonny when he was nearly 3. That wasn't his name but it was easy for him to learn. He was living in a home with a family and another dog who was biting him. That family gave him away as he was "adoptable" so we got lucky. He's got issues like every other dog you'll meet but in most respects he's the yellow labrador retriever everyone wants: friendly, faithful, kind and smart.
About 2 years ago, when he was about 10, he started to move differently. He became sluggish and tired. He's 10, we thought, but he's still healthy - what else could it be? He stopped swimming as much and he had less interest in "retrieving" the ball. He started making noises when he got out breath and that became a more frequent event. His breath was raspy and he sounded like he had a frog in his throat or a really bad clot of mucous he couldn't ever cough up.
When he started looking too depressed for me to understand, I scheduled an appointment with his doctor and we started looking for answers. After a few visits to New York's Animal Medical Center the diagnosis was clear: laryngeal paralysis. He was not getting enough air into his lungs and his body was working overtime to breathe. He wasn't depressed, he was exhausted. He hadn't lost interest in retrieving, he simply couldn't. There is a surgery for it but as always there are complications. What were our choices?
Some people have choices for their animals, we did not. Our dog was 10 years old when his first symptoms appeared and then they worsened. Some might have said he's old already, let time play out. But the veterinarian was clear. This surgery will allow him to breathe again. Instead of getting 30-40% oxygen like now, he'll be back to normal. He'll live through the summer if he has the surgery. The hard part is, dogs with the surgery are not supposed to swim. They could take in too much water and drown because their larynx won't close.
Well if you look at that proud picture I think you can guess that we opted for the surgery. When we heard the news that he had to have the surgery there was virtually no news about this on the internet - save the horror story about the dog that had died a few months later.
This is our success story. Sonny came home from the hospital thin and weak. His new harness looked gigantic on him - collars are forbidden for the rest of a dog's life after this surgery so we had already taken care of providing a new harness for his return but he looked shrunken after barely eating. We fed him special food prepared in meatballs for 2 weeks so he could recover and he did! His 1st walk outside was on a sub-freezing April night and when he breathed, he exhaled a giant plume of fog. We realized we hadn't seen that for years. He was tired, we were tired, but we were on the mend.
Sonny spent the summer with a friend so he could swim everyday and avoid our narrow stairs. He had the surgery when he was 11 and he is now 12. He is getting older and less strong but the swimming and the beach walks help him get stronger. Breathing is no longer an issue for him.
If your dog has a breathing problem like this I hope you find comfort in Sonny's success—I found no wonderful stories to read, no photos to smile with.
Here are some things to consider if your dog has this condition:
- What is your dog's quality of life like now and will it change?
- Speak to an expert surgeon to help you determine what is the right decision for your dog.
- Make sure you have time to be around for your dog's recovery period. It will be taxing on you emotionally and physically.
- Consider a care-giver for your dog if you're not around enough—a neighbor who can stay for a while to feed at lunch and walk for 10 minutes.
- Buy a harness—not only will you no longer be allowed to walk your dog with a collar but for those who don't use collars anyway, they will be helpful when your dog is weakened from the surgery, anesthesia, etc. (ours is made by Dean & Tyler, is made for large dogs and is very easy to use).
Give your dog time to get stronger before you get frustrated. Surgery is a hard choice; a choice that we have to make for our animals. It's harder when the animal is older as the risks are greater. For us it was an easier decision, without the surgery, Sonny would not make it through a hot season. Would he die on the table or would he die in the heat? We knew what we had to do for our family and most importantly for the happiness of a loyal companion, a loving dog.
I hope you enjoy the photos of a happy and healthy dog by the water.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.