Common Disease In Senior Dogs Makes Breathing Difficult

By Lee Picket

April 21, 2021 4 min read

Q: For the past year, Sadie, our 10-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix, has barked like she has laryngitis. Gradually, her hoarse bark became a whisper, and now she also pants loudly during our daily walks. What's going on?

A: I suggest Sadie see her veterinarian for an evaluation, because she may have a condition called geriatric-onset laryngeal paralysis polyneuropathy, or GOLPP.

Although the cause is unknown, the disease is common in Labs and other large-breed senior dogs, thus the "geriatric-onset" part of the name.

GOLPP is a polyneuropathy, meaning it affects multiple nerves, starting with those that control the larynx, or voice box. In "laryngeal paralysis," these nerves are paralyzed, so they can't fully open the muscles of the voice box to let air enter the trachea, also known as the windpipe.

The result is a change in the dog's bark and noisy breath sounds that eventually deteriorate into difficult breathing. Exercise, excitement, stress and warm temperatures make it worse.

The "polyneuropathy" part of the disease's name indicates that other nerves eventually become involved, most commonly the nerves to the esophagus, hind legs and then other parts of the body. Over the course of several years, this chronic, slowly progressive, nonpainful disease causes degeneration of both sensory and motor nerves.

Conservative treatment includes using a harness instead of a neck collar and avoiding outdoor exercise during hot, humid weather.

If Sadie's clinical signs worsen, surgery can help ease her breathing by permanently opening one side of her larynx.

Make an appointment to have your veterinarian examine Sadie. If she has GOLPP, ask whether it's time to see a specialist for further evaluation.

Q: I recently took a pet first aid class, and the veterinarian who taught it did not include CPR instruction. I feel cheated. I have three cats and think it's important for me to know feline CPR. Can you tell me what I need to know?

A: The most important thing to understand about CPR is that you probably will never need to use it on a pet, and if you do, your efforts probably will be unsuccessful, even if you'd been trained. That's because a cardiopulmonary arrest usually occurs during the final stages of a cat's or dog's illness.

Even when cardiopulmonary arrest occurs in the animal hospital, where staff can respond immediately with CPR, oxygen, stimulant drugs and other treatments, fewer than 10% of pets that were not anesthetized at the time survive long enough to be discharged from the hospital.

These dismal statistics are even worse when the arrest occurs outside the hospital.

The most common cause of sudden heart failure in apparently healthy cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. Unfortunately, by the time the cat collapses, the disease has progressed to the point that it cannot be reversed, and no amount of CPR is likely to be successful.

I hope you feel better knowing you possess the most important feline first aid skills and that your cats are unlikely ever to need CPR.

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