Pharyngeal paralysis refers to paralysis of the upper throat (pharynx). The paralysis makes swallowing difficult or impossible. It may be caused by a nervous system disorder (for example rabies or botulism) or other disease that causes collapse, obstruction, or malfunction of the pharynx. Conditions such as poisoning, head trauma, and tumor formation may dramatically affect function of the pharynx in many species. In some instances, the condition may be partial or one-sided (for example, guttural pouch disease) and the horse may be able to swallow, although complications may occur.
In general, pharyngeal paralysis results in severe problems with swallowing; food and saliva come back out through the mouth and nose. Collapse of throat tissues may cause breathing difficulties. Affected animals 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, 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 relieving signs. If the paralysis is caused by another disorder, treatment of that disorder may help correct the problem. Treatment may include drugs to control inflammation, antibiotics to control the complications of aspiration pneumonia, the draining of pharyngeal abscesses (if they are present), and alternative routes of nutrition, such as a feeding tube. In many cases, the outlook is poor. Your veterinarian will consider the welfare of the animal when recommending a course of treatment.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Peter D. Constable, BVSc (Hons), MS, PhD, DACVIM; Gordon J. Baker, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, DACVS; Joseph A. DiPietro, DVM, MS; Walter Ingwersen, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM; John E. Madigan, DVM, MS; James N. Moore, DVM, PhD; Michael J. Murray, DVM, MS; Sofie Muylle, DVM, PhD; Stanley I. Rubin, DVM, MS, DACVIM; Susan D. Semrad, VMD, PhD, DACVIM; Josie L. Traub-Dargatz, DVM, MS, DACVIM