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How Long Can a Dog Live With Laryngeal Paralysis Without Surgery?

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Dog With Laryngeal Paralysis

How long can a dog live with laryngeal paralysis without surgery is a question many dog owners may ask. Not all dogs may be good candidates for surgery due to very advanced age or medical problems, or perhaps the surgery is too costly. Regardless, there is ultimately a no real, one-size-fits all- answer to this question considering that there are too many different factors at play. Factors may include whether the paralysis is unilateral versus bilateral, the dog's age, how advanced the condition is, the dog's overall health status etc. These are just a few factors that can make a difference on how long a dog can live with laryngeal paralysis without surgery.

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While age is not a disease, some health conditions associated with aging can make dogs poor surgical candidates.

The Risks of Not Doing Surgery

Not all dogs are good candidates for laryngeal paralysis surgery. Dogs who have a heart condition, dogs of very advanced age (although advanced age should ultimately not be a factor if the dog is in overall good health) or dogs with hind leg weakness, may be too weak or debilitated to endure the surgery.

In some cases, dog owners living in remote areas may choose not to do the surgery due to lack of a board-certified surgeon that is close enough. For some dogs with laryngeal paralysis a long car ride may too exciting or too stressful. On top of this, some dog owners may simply not be able to afford the costs of tieback surgery. 

Not doing surgery may feel like an intimidating path to take, and in many cases, the fear is due to not knowing what to expect.

Will the dog start having more bad days than good? Will breathing progress slowly and progressively, or will the dog take a turn for the worse and develop a frightening breathing crisis out of the blue, possibly in the dead of the night or during the weekend or holiday when all vet's offices are closed?

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Unfortunately, there is no straight answer. Each dog seems to suffer differently from another. There are reports of dogs with this condition leading fairly decent lives for many months or even years, while there are others who progress rather quickly.

Regardless, one thing is for sure, laryngeal paralysis is sadly a progressive condition so dogs tend to get worse rather than better over the course of time, and the matter is just "when" rather than if.

Progression of the Condition

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Dogs with laryngeal paralysis struggle to breathe in hot, humid weather or when excited or anxious.

Left untreated, laryngeal paralysis continues to progress and there are risks for a breathing crisis and suffocation. What happens exactly during a breathing crisis?

Dog owners report that their dogs struggle to breathe and gasp for air often with their neck extended. Their gums and tongue may turn blue due to lack of oxygen.

Due to not knowing what is happening, many dogs start to panic which increases their breathing rate, leading them into a frightening vicious cycle. In some cases, dogs may faint if they are unable to calm down.

The breathing crisis is often triggered by hot and humid weather, over exertion or exposure to overly exciting or anxious situations such as going on car rides or seeing the vet.

Dog owners may help their dogs calm down by petting their dogs and talking to them in a soothing voice. Dog owners may keep on hand veterinarian-prescribed calming medications such as Trazodone or Acepromazine. S0me meds may be available in injectable form for a faster effect. In some mild cases, Benadryl can help as well.

Attempts to cool the dog are very helpful. Offering a cooling mat to lie down on, a fan to be blown in direction of the dog ,and a cold wet towel around the neck, may prove useful. If it's cooler outside, the colder air may be of great help.

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Importance of Seeing the Vet 

In some cases, dog owners struggle with the decision of whether they should take their dogs to the vet during a breathing crisis or attempt to calm them at home. This can be understandable especially with dogs who get anxious going in the car or on a trip to the vet.

However, seeing the vet during a crisis where the dog is really struggling to breathe is usually the ideal approach considering that dog owners cannot provide the level of care needed when things get critical.

Veterinarians are equipped with important devices that can save the dog's life. Oximeters can be used to measure a dog's vitals, IV sedatives may be given to provide fast relieve and oxygen therapy may be started. Severe cases may require intubation and assisted breathing to stabilize the dog and keep him alive.

It's an unfortunate fact, but generally most dogs who have reached a crisis point tend to continue to suffer from these episodes because their airway has become ineffective.

dog back

Dogs with GOLLP develop progressive weakness of the hind legs

A Generalized Neurological Condition

Dr. Bryden J. Stanley, a board-certified veterinary surgeon, started researching laryngeal paralysis in 2005, and discovered that laryngeal paralysis is the first sign of a slow-developing, generalized neurological disorder known as Geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis polyneuropathy (GOLPP).

Stanley's research revealed that 75 percent of dogs diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis also exhibited signs of esophageal dysfunction, and at the time of diagnosis, 31 percent of these dogs showed neurological abnormalities, particularly affecting the hind legs.

After one year, all dogs showed signs of other neurological issues such as the inability to walk and muscle wasting affecting the muscles of the back legs, muscles of the spine and muscles on top of the head.

Unfortunately, there is currently no therapy that has been proven effective in reversing this nerve degeneration associated with GOLPP.

While tieback surgery to fix the laryngeal dysfunction can help prevent further breathing crisis, and the potential for respiratory collapse causing sudden death from suffocation, it will not have any positive effects on the progressive nerve degeneration affecting the dog's hind legs. Tie-back will unfortunately help with the dog's breathing issues only.

This means that, should a dog owner decide to skip the tieback surgery, the dog will still deteriorate eventually from the progression of GOLPP (because the rear hind weakness becomes so severe), possible aspiration pneumonia or some other un-related health condition.

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How Long Can a Dog Live With Laryngeal Paralysis Without Surgery?

Is laryngeal paralysis a death sentence? Not necessarily, considering many dogs with laryngeal paralysis go on to live many more months or even years, and even end up living the life expectancy for their breed and then end up dying from some other, non-related disorder.

Not every dog will progress to the point of suffocation. The condition can be managed by minimizing exposure to heat, exercise and stress. Using a harness rather than a neck collar may help too. A medication known as doxepin is rising in popularity. Doxepin for dogs with laryngeal paralysis used off label has shown promising results for some dogs. There are cases of dogs on Doxepin still alive after a year or more of being diagnosed.

However, it is also true that some dogs progress quickly or and develop a scary breathing crisis out of the blue or a time may come where medications are no longer effective or when minimal or no exertion may bring up a crisis. In advanced cases, dogs may be struggling to breathe even when resting on the couch.

Survival times in dogs with laryngeal paralysis/GOLLP is difficult to predict considering that every dog progresses at a different rate. According to Dr. Laurie Cook, a board certified veterinarian specialized in neurology, generally dogs suffering from degenerative polyneuropathy tend to progress and develop additional neurologic signs around one year following diagnosis.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to predict how long a dog can live with laryngeal paralysis without surgery and which dogs will go on to develop the more generalized, neurological signs, and this is ultimately sort of like asking why people suffering from the same cancer have different survival rates.

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