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Disorders of the Pharynx in Cats

By Dana G. Allen, DVM, MSc, DACVIM, Professor and Chair, Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph ; Sharon Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Manager, Pharmacovigilance Regulatory Affairs, Veterinary Medicine Research and Development, Pfizer Inc. ; Ben H. Colmery, DVM, DAVDC ; James G. Fox, DVM, MS, DACLAM, Professor and Director, Division of Comparative Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ; Carlton L. Gyles, DVM, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph ; Walter Ingwersen, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, Specialist, Companion Animals, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd, Vetmedica ; Lisa E. Moore, DVM, DACVIM ; Sofie Muylle, DVM, PhD, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Morphology, Ghent University ; Sharon Patton, MS, PhD, Professor of Parasitology, Department of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee ; Andrew S. Peregrine, BVMS, PhD, DVM, DEVPC, DACVM, Associate Professor, Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada ; Stanley I. Rubin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Clinical Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ; H. Carolien Rutgers, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, DSAM, MRCVS, Senior Lecturer, The Royal Veterinary College, University of London ; Jörg M. Steiner, DrMedVet, PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, AGAF, Associate Professor and Director, Gastrointestinal Laboratory, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A & M University ; Thomas W. Swerczek, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky

Also see professional content regarding pharyngeal paralysis.

The upper throat is called the pharynx. Pharyngeal paralysis refers to paralysis of the upper throat (pharynx) that makes swallowing difficult or impossible. It may be caused by a nervous system disorder or other disease or trauma that causes collapse, obstruction, or malfunction of the pharynx.

The throat and pharynx of the cat

Pharyngeal paralysis results in severe problems with swallowing; food and saliva come back out through the mouth and nose. In most species, collapse of throat tissues occurs. Affected cats are at risk of pneumonia from inhaling food and liquid (aspiration pneumonia), dehydration, and circulatory and respiratory failure. Signs of pharyngeal paralysis include fever, coughing, gagging, and choking. This condition may be fatal. In many cases, emergency surgery to provide an airway (tracheostomy) must be done before any more detailed analysis of the condition can be performed.

In general, treatment for pharyngeal paralysis is directed toward alleviating the signs of the disease. Treatment may include drugs to control inflammation, antibiotics to control the complications of aspiration pneumonia, draining of abscesses (if they are present), and providing alternative routes of nutrition. A feeding tube (a soft plastic tube inserted through the mouth or nose into the stomach) may be required to provide nutrition and water. In many cases, the outlook is poor. The welfare of the cat should be considered when determining what course of treatment to follow.

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