Noisy Breathing

Gradual onset of paralysis of the voice box can be dangerous but it is treatable.



My 11 year old female lab’s breathing is labored when walking & if any excitement at home. X-rays were normal. What are treatments? I competed for 6 years with Lucy in hunt tests & owe her so much.


Dr. Nichol:

This must be hard for you and Lucy. Labs are active and playful anyway. But with Lucy also being a working dog she has to be able to handle exertion without getting winded. Have faith; there is help.


While the lungs and airways are complex with many possible causes for breathing difficulty, the most likely problem is laryngeal paralysis. Here is why. When we are at rest our body’s cells need only a small amount of oxygen. But when our body works hard our oxygen needs suddenly become much greater. Lucy’s breathing gets difficult only when she is active. She’s having a hard time getting air inside her lungs fast enough to meet the greater demand. A partial blockage of her larynx (voicebox) will impede adequate airflow.


So to help this high-energy girl get back to work we must find the exact cause. Her normal x-rays tell us that she has a healthy trachea (windpipe). But her larynx may be a different matter. This complicated little structure in our throats is responsible for making sure that we don’t breathe our food or swallow air. Special cartilages will open as much as needed and close when appropriate. Lucy’s larynx may not be opening and closing properly. To answer that question she needs to be given a light plane of general anesthesia so that her doctor can carefully watch the movement of her larynx. If she can’t open her airway wide enough we know that she has paralyzed larynx.


This sounds bad and it is. But the good news is that a surgical procedure called a laryngeal tieback can put her right again. The operation would be best done by a well-trained and experienced surgeon. But Lucy should end up with enough breathing capacity to enjoy a more active life. She’s an excellent dog and an important friend. I say go for it.