Diagnosis may be Complex; Relief is Essential

Question:
I have a Great Pyrenees dog, 10 years old. For the past 6 months he acts like he has sleep apnea: he tries to get to sleep, but constantly awakes unable to catch his breathe. He’s big. He doesn’t seem to have it worse when he’s running or barking (which he does less and for shorter periods now – but he’s old) he does often seem to be breathing heavier even when just resting. He’s always groaned when he lies down. Likely arthritic, but I don’t give him anything for it. Lung x-rays have not revealed the problems.

Dr. Nichol:
Your big boy is having serious trouble. His sluggishness and difficulty breathing are important red flags but he’ll need an accurate diagnosis before he can be helped. Start with a blood and urine profile, ECG, and a thyroid screen to rule out chronic infection, internal organ dysfunction, abnormal heart rhythms, and hypothyroidism (low thyroid disease). The answer may be hidden in his x-rays. A specialist consultation would also be wise. If your big dog checks out fine on these preliminary tests his throat should be carefully evaluated.

The larynx (voice box) is a complicated structure. Your 10 year old dog could have an elongated soft palate, polyps, or a tumor that’s getting in the way of normal air movement. It will take general anesthesia to allow a type of endoscope called a bronchoscope to be passed into his throat and windpipe to look for problems. Suspected lesions can be biopsied. The doctor may be able to correct obstructions like everted laryngeal saccules or polyps at the time.

Some middle-aged and older large breed dogs with noisy breathing and really loud panting suffer from partial paralysis of the larynx. Exercise for a dog like this can be stressful and, in hot weather, downright dangerous. An ultrasound can diagnose this cause of poor air flow. If your dog has laryngeal paralysis, surgery can make a major difference.

Obesity is a significant factor in any case of difficult breathing. Shedding extra pounds could be essential to your dog’s survival. A healthy weight reduction diet from your veterinarian would also reduce the load on those long-suffering joints. Your good dog needs relief ASAP.