Dear Daisy Dog
Since winter, our 8-year-old golden retriever, Cody, can only whisper when he tries to bark. This spring, he pants more during our walks. Is this just old age, or does he have a medical problem?
It sounds like Cody might have laryngeal paralysis, a common problem in large-and giant-breed dogs.
The larynx, also called the voice box because it contains the vocal cords, sits at the back of the throat, at the entrance to the trachea, or windpipe.
Cartilage, ligaments, muscles and nerves make up the larynx, pronounced “LARE inks”.
When the nerves to the laryngeal muscles are damaged, the muscles do not fully open the larynx. Instead, they remain flaccid, partially blocking the entrance to the trachea.
This makes it difficult for the dog to inhale, particularly during exercise, stress and hot weather. Some dogs develop a raspy or soft bark, and they may cough and gag when eating and drinking.
Usually no specific cause is found. However, sometimes veterinarians can identify an underlying condition, such as hypothyroidism, that contributes to dysfunction of the laryngeal nerves.
To diagnose laryngeal paralysis, your veterinarian will sedate Cody and observe the function of his laryngeal muscles as he breathes.
If Cody has laryngeal paralysis, you can help by keeping him lean and minimizing exertion, particularly on warm days.
If his breathing worsens, surgery may be helpful.