Spasms of the larynx

You may recall that we had described the larynx as the “voice box” which contains the vocal cords. These vocal cords may experience a sudden, involuntary and violent contraction. These spasms of the larynx (laryngospasms) usually happen when a droplet of saliva or mucus (slime) falls from the soft palate upon the vocal cords. Of course, if there is a throat infection which is producing a lot of excess mucus, this laryngospasm is more likely to occur. When this contraction happens, the air supply to the lungs can be cut off.  As can be imagined, the dog in this state of suffocation becomes quite frantic, and the inside of the mouth may even begin to turn blue (cyanotic). If this situation continues, the animal will collapse. Once this episode ceases, air returns to the lungs and recovery is quite rapid. If such a condition occurs often, then we may be dealing with a seizure disorder.

Foreign bodies in the larynx

The sudden onset of severe coughing and respiratory distress in a healthy dog suggests a foreign body caught in the larynx. This is an emergency. Get your dog to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.

If the dog collapses, this would mean that he is not getting enough air (oxygen). Immediately perform the ‘Heimlich Manoeuvre.’ Lay the dog on its side, place your palms just behind the last rib and give four quick thrusts. The manoeuvre thrusts the diaphragm upwards and produces a forceful exhalation of air. Usually this dislodges the object (usually, it is a large piece of meat). Check his mouth to see if the object had been dislodged – if not, repeat the thrusts.

Foreign bodies caught in the larynx are not common. Most food particles are of little consequence because the resulting cough expels them.

Note: If your dog is choking, gagging and retching, probably it has a foreign body such as a bone, a splinter or a rubber ball caught in its throat (I have a most interesting collection of objects that I have removed from animals’ throats over the years). Open his mouth and see if you can find the cause of the trouble. Get to your vet quickly, if you can’t solve the problem (remove the obstruction) yourself.

Foreign bodies in the
trachea (windpipe)

Above, we mentioned that large pieces of food are the usual culprits involved in the blockage of the larynx (voice box).

In the case of the trachea, we find that large pieces of food are again the number one agent of blockage. Grass seeds and bone splinters (I have even encountered ‘Jacks’ balls and baby comforters) can also be implicated in the blockage of the trachea. The pieces of food ‘go down the wrong tube’ (the windpipe instead of the oesophagus), especially after a vomiting episode. The grass seeds are inhaled especially by hunting dogs which have to work in grass and underbrush. As a result, the stuck object precipitates an immediate inflammatory process and swelling in the passage.

Any time the air intake is comprised, we have a serious problem, especially if the blockage stems from a large chunk of food. The animal begins to panic and the problem is even more exaggerated. He turns blue (cyanotic), coughs and gasps for air. You have to get in touch with your vet with great urgency. He/she will sedate the dog (after sedating you with soothing and confidence boosting words), and then attempt to remove the bothersome source of the problem.

NB:   Please do not administer a cough syrup with the hope of reducing the severity of the problem. This intervention serves no real purpose and surely delays your visit to the veterinarian. You lose crucial time.

Tracheal collapse

This collapse of the windpipe is listed in the textbooks as one of the respiratory disorders. That’s why I am referring to it here. In fact, I have only encountered this ailment once (many, many years ago).

The literature describes this collapse of the cartilage rings of the windpipe as the result of a birth defect, especially in the toy breeds (Chihuahuas, Pomeranian Spitzes, Toy Poodles, Pekinese, etc). It is contended that the problem does not show itself until the dog has reached adulthood.

The symptoms are croupy breathing and a resounding, honking cough. I should mention that overweight dogs are statistically more susceptible to the problem and exhibit pronounced symptoms. Weight control is therefore advised as an important factor in managing this ailment.

Enjoy the week ahead.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.