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. In some instances, the condition may be partial or affect only one side of the throat and the dog may be able to swallow, although complications may occur.
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 dogs 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 (tracheos-tomy) 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 alternative routes of nutrition. Tubes can be inserted (intubation) to help the dog breathe, eat, and drink. In many of these cases, the outlook is poor. Your veterinarian will consider the welfare of your pet when determining what course of treatment to follow.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Dana G. Allen, DVM, MSc, DACVIM; Ben H. Colmery, DVM, DAVDC; Lisa E. Moore, DVM, DACVIM; Stanley I. Rubin, DVM, MS, DACVIM; Sharon Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM; James G. Fox, DVM, MS, DACLAM; Carlton L. Gyles, DVM, PhD, FCAHS; Walter Ingwersen, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM; Sofie Muylle, DVM, PhD; Sharon Patton, MS, PhD; Andrew S. Peregrine, BVMS, PhD, DVM, DEVPC; H. Carolien Rutgers, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, DSAM, MRCVS; Jörg M. Steiner, DrMedVet, PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA; Thomas W. Swerczek, DVM, PhD