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Laryngeal Disorders in Animals


Maureen H. Kemp


Last full review/revision Jul 2020 | Content last modified Oct 2020

Laryngeal disorders are characterized by stertorous breathing and can often lead to death if untreated. The mainstay of treatment is steroids or NSAIDs. Presumptive diagnosis is largely based on clinical signs.

Laryngitis, an inflammation of the mucosa or cartilages of the larynx, may result from upper respiratory tract infection or by direct irritation from inhalation of dust, smoke, or irritating gas; foreign bodies; or the trauma of intubation, excess vocalization, or injury from roping or restraint devices (in livestock). Laryngitis may accompany infectious tracheobronchitis Tracheobronchitis in Small Animals Tracheobronchitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of the trachea and bronchial airways; it may be primary or secondary depending on the etiologic agent. Bronchitis may extend from the bronchioles... read more and distemper Canine Distemper Overview Canine distemper is a highly contagious, systemic, viral disease of dogs seen worldwide. Clinically, canine distemper is characterized by: a diphasic fever leukopenia GI and respiratory catarrh, and read more in dogs; infectious rhinotracheitis and calicivirus Feline Respiratory Disease Complex Feline respiratory disease complex includes those illnesses typified by rhinosinusitis, conjunctivitis, lacrimation, salivation, and oral ulcerations. The principal diseases, feline viral rhinotracheitis... read more infection in cats; infectious rhinotracheitis and calf diphtheria in cattle; strangles Strangles in Horses Strangles is an infectious, contagious disease of Equidae characterized by abscessation of the lymphoid tissue of the upper respiratory tract. The causative organism, Streptococcus equi equi... read more Strangles in Horses , herpesvirus 1 infection Equine Herpesvirus Infection Equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) and equine herpesvirus 4 (EHV-4) comprise two antigenically distinct groups of viruses previously referred to as subtypes 1 and 2 of EHV-1. Both viruses are ubiquitous... read more Equine Herpesvirus Infection , viral arteritis Equine Viral Arteritis Equine viral arteritis (EVA) is caused by an RNA togavirus and produces clinical signs of respiratory disease, vasculitis, and abortion. Horses with EVA infection present with fever, anorexia... read more , and infectious bronchitis in horses; Fusobacterium necrophorum or Trueperella pyogenes infections in sheep; and influenza in pigs Influenza A Virus in Swine Swine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that results from infection with influenza A virus (IAV). IAV causes respiratory disease characterized by anorexia, depression, fever... read more .

Edema of the mucosa and submucosa is often an integral part of laryngitis and, if severe, the rima glottidis may be obstructed. Edema may also result from allergy, inhalation of irritants, or surgery in the area. Intubation for anesthesia, especially when attempted with inadequate induction or poor technique, is likely to provoke laryngeal edema. Brachycephalic and obese dogs, and dogs with laryngeal paralysis Laryngeal Paralysisin Dogs and Cats Laryngeal paralysis is common in dogs and rare in cats. Signs include: dry cough voice changes noisy breathing that progresses to marked difficulty in breathing with stress and exertion stridor read more develop laryngeal edema and laryngitis through severe panting or respiratory effort during excitement or hyperthermia. In cattle, laryngeal edema has been seen in blackleg Blackleg in Animals Blackleg is an acute, highly fatal disease of cattle and sheep caused by Clostridium chauvoei. In cattle, characteristic lesions of emphysematous swelling of the musculature often develop without... read more Blackleg in Animals , urticaria Hives (Urticaria) in Animals Urticaria, in its most common form, is an acute immune response resulting in multifocal dermal edema. Diagnosis is generally achieved via history, physical examination, and response to treatment... read more Hives (Urticaria) in Animals , serum sickness, and anaphylaxis Anaphylaxis in Cattle Anaphylaxis or Type I hypersensitivity reactions in cattle can result in an atypical interstitial pneumonia. The lung is a major target organ in cattle for Type I hypersensitivity. Clinical... read more . In pigs, it may develop as a part of edema disease Overview of Edema Disease Edema disease is a peracute toxemia caused by specific pathotypes of Escherichia coli that affect primarily healthy, rapidly growing nursery pigs. Other names for edema disease include “gut... read more . In horses, cattle, and sheep, laryngeal edema may lead to arytenoid chondropathy.

Laryngeal chondropathy is a suppurative condition of the cartilage matrix that principally affects the arytenoid cartilages; it is believed to result from microbial infection, often as a sequela of inhalation of irritants or trauma to the area. In herbivores, trauma can occur when administering medications by bolus or drench or by ingestion of rough foodstuffs; in dogs, trauma can occur from sticks or foreign bodies. Laryngeal chondropathy is characterized by necrosis and ulceration of the laryngeal mucosa, over or just caudal to the vocal cords, and abscessation within the arytenoid cartilage. Initially, there is often acute laryngeal inflammation. Later, there is progressive enlargement of the cartilages that commonly results in a fixed upper airway obstruction with stertorous breathing and reduced exercise tolerance. Laryngeal chondropathy is seen in horses, sheep, and cattle, most often young males. There is a distinct breed predisposition in Texel sheep and Belgian Blue cattle. Laryngeal contact ulcers are common in young feedlot cattle and often result in necrotic laryngitis and chondropathy.

Clinical Findings

A cough is the principal sign of laryngitis when edema is slight and the deeper tissues of the larynx are not involved. It is harsh, dry, and short at first, but becomes soft and moist later and may be very painful. It can be induced by pressure on the larynx, exposure to cold or dusty air, swallowing coarse food or cold water, or attempts to administer medicines. Vocal changes may be evident, especially in small animals. Stridor may result from swelling and reduced motion of the arytenoid cartilages in laryngeal chondropathy. Halitosis and difficult, noisy breathing may be evident, and the animal may stand with its head lowered and mouth open. Swallowing is difficult and painful. Systemic signs are usually attributable to the primary disease, as in infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, in which temperatures of 105°F (40.5°C) may occur. Secondary systemic signs due to inappetance and dehydration rapidly become apparent. Death due to asphyxiation may occur, especially if the animal is exerted.

Edema of the larynx may develop within hours. It is characterized by increased inspiratory effort and stridor arising from the larynx. Respiratory rate may slow as the effort of breathing becomes exaggerated. Visible mucous membranes are cyanotic, the pulse rate is increased, and body temperature rises. Horses may sweat profusely. Dogs with obstructions of the conducting airways may show extreme disturbance of thermoregulation in hot weather; marked hyperthermia is not uncommon. Untreated animals with marked obstruction eventually collapse and often have signs of pulmonary edema.


  • Based on clinical signs and laryngoscopy

A tentative diagnosis of a laryngeal disorder is based on the clinical signs, auscultation of the laryngeal region, and exacerbation of stridor by palpation of the larynx. Definitive diagnosis requires laryngoscopy. In conscious horses and cattle, this can be achieved with a flexible endoscope passed per nasum and usually requires sedation; in dogs and cats, anesthesia or analgesia usually is required. The history and signs usually permit rapid identification of the primary disease and the associated laryngeal involvement. Bilateral laryngeal paralysis Laryngeal Paralysisin Dogs and Cats Laryngeal paralysis is common in dogs and rare in cats. Signs include: dry cough voice changes noisy breathing that progresses to marked difficulty in breathing with stress and exertion stridor read more , laryngeal abscess, pharyngeal trauma Pharyngeal Trauma in Animals Photograph of a temporary rumenostomy, to be used for extraoral supplemental nutrition in a cow. Lateral radiographic view of a stylohyoid fracture in a horse. Pharyngeal trauma in ruminants... read more Pharyngeal Trauma in Animals and cellulitis, and retropharyngeal abscesses or masses can cause similar signs.


  • Steroids or NSAIDs typically

Identification and treatment of the primary disease is essential. In laryngeal obstruction, a tracheotomy tube should be placed immediately; if a tracheotomy is not possible, airway patency may be established by passage of a pliable tube through the glottis. Corticosteroids should be administered to reduce the obstructive effect of the inflammatory swellings. Concurrent administration of systemic antibiotics is also necessary. In cases in which corticosteroids cannot be used, NSAIDs can be given. Administration of diuretic drugs, eg, furosemide, may be indicated to resolve laryngeal edema and, if present, pulmonary edema.

Palliative procedures to speed recovery and give comfort include inhalation of humidified air; confinement in a warm, clean environment; feeding of soft or liquid foods; and avoidance of dust. The cough may be suppressed with antitussive preparations, and bacterial infections controlled with antibiotics or sulfonamides. Control of pain with judicious use of an analgesic, especially in cats, allows the animal to eat, and thus speeds recovery.

Subtotal arytenoidectomy is an effective remedy for laryngeal chondropathy of horses, although a return to full athletic capacity in competitive horses is uncertain.

Tracheolaryngostomies and permanent tracheostomies have been used successfully to salvage cattle and sheep with laryngeal chondropathy but carry significant anesthetic risk. A medical alternative for ruminants is prolonged antibiotic therapy, 14–21 days of parenteral lincomycin (5–10 mg/kg), plus initial, short-acting corticosteroids for 3–5 days.

Key Points

  • Laryngeal disorders need rapid treatment, including the recognition and treatment of the underlying problem.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications and analgesics are important aspects of treatment.

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