Bark lacks bite? Laryngitis in animals a common ailment


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With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, we’ll call this one The Case of the Dog That Didn’t Bark in the Night.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/08/2015 (2839 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, we’ll call this one The Case of the Dog That Didn’t Bark in the Night.

Or during the day, for that matter.

We began to suspect something was wrong a couple of weeks ago when our small white dog, Bogey — better known to readers of my Page 2 columns as “Mr. X,” a feisty cross between a Maltese and a Bichon Frise — fell mysteriously silent.

Bogey with Dr. Jim Broughton
Bogey with Dr. Jim Broughton

His constant yipping and yapping had suddenly been replaced by a barely audible squeak, along with an intermittent gagging cough. While my wife appreciated the unexpected break from our pet’s non-stop high-pitched barking, it was clear something was wrong.

A trip to our veterinarian, Dr. Jim Broughton, owner of Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital on Corydon Avenue, confirmed what we had begun to suspect — Bogey had developed a case of laryngitis, an inflammation of the larynx, the part of the throat typically called the “voice box” in humans.

It turns out laryngitis is a surprisingly frequent ailment among dogs and cats, especially in the summer months.

“It’s very common,” explains Broughton, whose practice is devoted to the care of cats, but who has been our trusted family vet for the past 30 years. “We tend to see a lot of it in the summer.

“People are more active with their pets in the summer, and there’s more exposure to bacteria and more of a chance for dogs and cats to traumatize their larynx… Most veterinarians see a case or two of this a week, especially in the summertime. Cats can be affected just as much as dogs.”

Like in humans, the most obvious sign a pet is suffering from laryngitis is a change in the intensity of their vocalizations, or the complete loss of the ability to produce sound. The problem often begins with a dry, harsh cough that later becomes soft and moist and may be extremely painful.

With Bogey, Broughton took his temperature, used a stethoscope to listen to his breath sounds, examined his neck and peered down his throat to see if a foreign object — possibly a blade of grass — had become stuck.

“He’s basically got laryngitis, an inflammation of the larynx,” our vet declares. “Because the vocal cords are adjacent to the larynx, anything that causes swelling will affect the sound he produces. Just like a person with laryngitis.

“He does have a sensitive windpipe. When I put gentle pressure on it, it elicits a cough. That tells me his upper airway is irritated.”

The problem is, diagnosing laryngitis is fairly simple; whereas figuring out the underlying cause is something else entirely.

“It’s a bit of a puzzler because there can be so many things that can cause it. Anything that can create inflammation is going to cause it,” the vet says.

In Bogey’s case, he was prescribed antibiotics to handle any underlying bacterial component and a low dose of steroids to reduce the swelling and inflammation.

In most cases, with treatment, laryngitis will clear up within a few days to a week. In severe cases, surgery might be required if the upper airway becomes obstructed or paralyzed, but that is rare.

“It’s another example of why it’s important to immunize your pets. You can lessen the severity by ensuring your pet is properly inoculated,” Broughton says.

He also stresses that it’s important to ensure pets are vaccinated against rabies, which can cause laryngeal paralysis, a malady that mimics laryngitis.

“Dogs with rabies can’t swallow their saliva because of the paralysis. Rabies doesn’t cause laryngitis, but the two can look the same,” he notes.

Bogey’s laryngitis was expected to clear up within a few days, but a week later he was still squeaking instead of barking, so it was back to the vet clinic, where he had to be sedated and have his throat probed with a laryngoscope.

When the vet touched the little guy’s tonsils with a tongue depressor, it came away tainted with blood. “He’s got a badly infected left tonsil,” Broughton says. “He’s probably just got a more persistent infection and it’s going to take a little longer to clear up.”

Ruling out a foreign object as the cause of the inflammation made our vet reasonably confident we were dealing with a bacterial or viral infection. He prescribed a new antibiotic and another course of steroids.

You don’t remove a dog’s tonsils because tonsillitis is secondary to the underlying infection, which will clear up with treatment.

The exciting news — Bogey’s bark is back! He may never sing opera again, but this precocious mutt has no trouble blasting us out of bed when the newspaper arrives on our doorstep. My wife couldn’t be happier, not that I can hear a word she says.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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