If your dog has a hoarse bark you may be wondering what triggered this sudden voice change. After years of owning your dog, you are very familiar with the pitch and tone of your dog's bark and therefore, you're able to rapidly recognize changes. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares reasons dogs develop a hoarse bark and what can be done about it.
Barking from Your Dog's Perspective
If you are a dog parent, chances are you have witnessed thousands of barking sessions. Even if all dogs in the neighborhood bark, you can recognize your dog’s voice. It is like listening to a close person talking – you could recognize the familiar voice in millions of voices.
Mostly due to human encouragement, barking is the most common type of vocal communication in dogs. More often than not, barking, or better said, excessive barking is a severe behavior issue. However, it should be noted that certain dog breeds are naturally inclined to barking. Namely, for some dogs, barking is a normal part of their working duties. This includes dog breeds selectively bred to serve as alarm and guardian dogs.
Since there are different types of barking, it is essential to pay attention to the bark's tone. Generally speaking, there are seven different barking types: territorial barking, alarm barking, compulsive barking, attention-seeking barking, greeting barking, frustration-induced barking, and socially facilitated barking.
Although there are different types of barking, do dogs always bark the same? The answer is no. A dog’s bark may become hoarse. This change can be transient and self-limiting or persistent and triggered by a more severe underlying issue. If you notice changes in your dog’s bark, the responsible thing to do would be to schedule a visit at the vet’s office.
Causes of a Hoarse Bark in Dogs
There are several reasons why a dog’s bark may become hoarse. All causes can be classified as physiological and pathological. Following are some causes of a hoarse bark in dogs.
Old dogs do not bark with the same intensity as young ones. However, just because getting old alters the dog’s bark, it does not mean it will make it hoarse. But, since older dogs are more likely to experience health problems that trigger hoarseness, it is advisable to have your geriatric canine checked by a vet.
In a nutshell, old dogs do not bark differently just because they are old. Instead, the barking change occurs secondary to conditions that are more common among old dogs.
Consequences of Excessive Barking
Just like we can lose our normal voice after loudly singing in the nightclub, dogs can lose their voices after barking too much. Excessive barking puts too much strain on the vocal cords thus impairing their normal functioning.
Dogs tend to become super vigilant and engage in excessive barking when in new and unfamiliar surroundings – such as boarding kennels, grooming studios and examination rooms at the vets.
If the hoarseness is caused by over-barking, it will resolve in a few days, as long as the dog keeps calm and quiet. You should try to keep your dog comfortable and in a calm, familiar environment for several days so that the vocal cords can get some well-deserved rest and continue working properly.
If your dog’s excessive barking is triggered by outdoor noises, it is advisable to play white noise that will muffle the trigger. If the barking is triggered by outside sights, it is advisable to put a curtain that will block the view and eliminate the trigger.
A Matter of Local irritation
All changes regarding the vocal cords will result in changes in the dog’s normal voice. This includes local irritations, potentially caused by grass awns stuck in the larynx, upper respiratory tract infection such as kennel cough or throat trauma inflicted by a collapsing trachea.
It should be noted that these causes are more serious and more often than not accompanied by additional signs and symptoms, particularly coughing.
Frequently reported causes of irritation are masses that develop near the voice box. They can be relatively harmless and benign (polyps) or dangerous and malignant (cancer of the larynx).
Weakening of the Larynx
The muscles of the voice box weaken as the dog ages. That weakening, in some cases may culminate in a neurological condition medically termed as laryngeal paralysis.
A dog with laryngeal paralysis, in addition to hoarse barking, will exhibit coughing, gagging, heavy panting and impaired exercising. In more severe cases, affected dogs may even faint due to breathing problems.
The clinical manifestation occurs because the airway is tighter than normally (the muscles that control its expansion are not working properly). Laryngeal paralysis is more common among large breed dogs, particularly middle-aged and old.
The condition has gradual onset and is usually triggered by a more serious underlying issue such as Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism or cancer. Moderate cases can be managed by limiting the exposure to triggering events. More severe cases warrant surgical correction.
Is Debarking the Answer?
Debarking is a surgical operation that is carried out more frequently in some countries than in others. In this procedure, the fold of tissue on each side of a dog’s larynx (voice box), which naturally becomes tightened when the dog barks, is removed.
The operation leaves the dog with a quiet, whispery bark. Complications after this type of surgery are common and can be life-threatening. For example, scar tissue that forms in the larynx can block the airway, causing breathing difficulties and pain. Even after debarking, the bark may return after several months.
Debarking is inhumane because it deprives a dog of one of its natural means of communicating with people and other dogs. Dogs are supposed to bark when something is wrong. Excessive barking may be a problem, but it is usually a problem with the environment, not the dog.
A dog that barks continuously may be poorly socialized or trained, stressed, lonely, fearful, or frustrated. In these cases, it is essential to deal with the cause of the problem, not merely suppress the symptom by surgically "turning down the volume". There are several effective training techniques that, with some effort and patience, will discourage a dog from barking excessively.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.