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Senior dog with breathing difficulties outside

Senior dogs and breathing difficulties

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.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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