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What Happens During a Dog Laryngoscopy

Dog Laryngoscopy

A dog laryngoscopy is an effective procedure if your vet suspects your dog has a problem localized in the larynx. Many dog owners wonder what happens during a dog laryngoscopy procedure because they want to know what to expect. It's not unusual for dog owners to have many questions about a procedure but vets might not be able to answer all of them due to time constraints associated with the hustle and bustle of busy veterinary offices nowadays. This guide will help you better understand what happens during a dog laryngoscopy procedure.

Panting in dogs on steroids

Panting in dogs on steroids

Diseases of the Larynx

Dogs can suffer from a variety of laryngeal problems. Most likely, if your dog is in need of a laryngoscopy, your dog has been exhibiting some problems for some time. Most commonly, dogs suffering from diseases of the larynx (such as laryngeal paralysis) exhibit voice changes, coughing, noisy breathing, heat intolerance and problems swallowing.

What diagnostic tests are carried out when a dog presents with laryngeal problems depends on the symptoms and severity of them. For instance, if a dog presents at the vet's office with severe breathing problems, the dog will be provided with emergency laryngotracheal intubation before anything else. Only once the dog is stabilized, can other procedures be carried out.

Generally, diagnostics for diseases of the larynx start with gathering some history from the dog owner, recording symptoms exhibited in the medical chart and physical examination which focuses particularly in palpating the dog's larynx. Touching the larynx can elicit a harsh, dry cough in cases where there is severe inflammation. By palpating the dog's larynx the vet may also detect any changes in the location of the larynx or the presence of any deformities caused by the presence of masses or foreign bodies.

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Next, the vet may decide to take a lateral x-ray which may be able to detect or rule out any ossification or presence of cancerous growths. If the vet suspects laryngeal paralysis, lung x-rays may help rule out aspiration pneumonia. After x-rays are taken, the vet may suggest having the dog undergo laryngoscopy, which is often done by a specialist.

What Happens During a Dog Laryngoscopy

 Picture of laryngoscope

Picture of laryngoscope

In a dog showing trouble with the larynx, the most insightful test is a laryngoscopy. In this test, the vet will be able to directly visualize the dog's oropharyngeal cavity.

In order to carry out a laryngoscopy, the dog will be kept in sternal recumbency (lying down on his stomach) with the neck and head extended. To carry out the procedure, the vet will need to use a light sedative or anesthetic. Unfortunately, no conscious dog (or even human!) will stay still enough and tolerate having a scope (laryngoscope) inserted through the mouth and then down the throat. On a conscious animal or person that would be quite uncomfortable.

A strategic light anesthetic regimen is needed in this case because it is very important that the dog examined remains still but yet retains the ability to cough and gag during the exam so the vet can evaluate laryngeal function.

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If too much sedation is provided the gag reflex is then gone and this may lead to an incorrect diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis, explains Dr. Don R. Waldron, a board-certified veterinary surgeon.

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Drugs commonly used to induce sedation/anesthesia include short-acting barbiturates or propofol, low doses of mixed ketamine and diazepam. In dogs breathing shallow, Doxapram, a respiratory stimulant, may be administered to stimulate better breathing.

dog laryngoscopy

What Vets Look For 

What are vets specifically looking for when performing a laryngoscopy? In the diagnosis of dog laryngeal paralysis, the vet is specifically looking at the dog's arytenoid cartilages and vocal folds and their movements as the dog breathes in and out.

In a dog with a normally functioning larynx, the vocal folds of a well innervated larynx will move so to widen the airway when the dog breathes in air.

When a dog is suffering from laryngeal paralysis, the arytenoid cartilages and vocal folds do not pull open, widening the airway as they should.

When the dog's arytenoid cartilages do not open and close properly anymore, this is diagnostic of laryngeal paralysis. If this condition is severely affecting your dog, surgery may be suggested if he dog is a good candidate. The most common option is what's called a tie back procedure where the arytenoid cartilages are "tied back" so they always remain in the open position and no longer cause difficulty breathing. This surgery should be performed by an experienced board-certified veterinary surgeon.

On top of checking for the correct functioning of the larynx, a laryngoscopy can help the vet visualize the presence of any polyp or tumor on the vocal cords.

How much does a dog laryngoscopy in general cost? The prices vary from one place and another so it's best to ask your local animal hospital for accurate pricing. Generally, price ranges can range between $600 to $1,100, not to mention extra costs such as blood work, x-rays and other fees. Consider though that generally, your veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary surgeon so that your dog gets the scoping done just before the tieback surgery.

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  • DVM360: Laryngeal paralysis in dogs and cats (Proceedings)
  • Photo Credits: A top view of the larynx (seen with a mirror). The epiglottis, vocal cords, trachea, and cartilage are labeled by National Cancer Institute, Public Domain

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