Why would an older dog’s bark be hoarse and is the scoping procedure safe?

Original Question: Hi Dr. Greenway my sister’s dog is a large female Shepherd mixed breed who is 11 years old. A few months ago her bark has become quite hoarse. Her vet put her on a course of antibiotics for three weeks thinking it might be an infection but that hasn't had any effect. The vet suggested a scope would be the next course of action. My sister is a little concerned about putting her through the scope, would that be the course of action that you would recommend? - Janette

Why would an older dog’s bark be hoarse and is the scoping procedure safe? Oct 10, 2017

Hi Janette,

Thanks for your question.

I would assume that your veterinarian has shared a few possible causes of a hoarse bark. The location where this noise is produced is well obscured. It is possibly coming from the area of the larynx which is deep in the back of the oral cavity. This is the reason why your veterinarian is recommending the scoping procedure. It allows access and evaluation of the structures in that area.

Prior to a general anesthetic or sedation, I would recommend that you perform imaging of the area to evaluate it as much as possible. However, I would not actively avoid the use of a general anesthetic or sedative. I understand that you may be concerned given your sister’s dog’s age, but these procedures have become safe and reliable even in geriatric patients. The value of ascertaining a correct diagnosis certainly exceeds any associated risk.

The short list of causes that I can form given limited information would be a common condition in large breed dogs, particularly Labrador Retrievers and their mixes, is laryngeal paralysis. This is a condition where one of the two arytenoids becomes partially or fully paralyzed. These structures sit on either side of the airway leading down to the lungs. When their function becomes impaired with this condition, the airway narrows and makes it difficult to breath. This leads to a hoarse breathing pattern, altered bark, exercise intolerance and at its worst, respiratory distress and collapse which can lead to death. As you could agree, diagnosing this problem early on can be life-saving and well worth the insignificant risk of general anesthesia.

Other possible causes include an infection, a foreign body (such as a piece of wood that got lodged or traumatized the area), a tumour pressing on the area, and others. These can have treatments and interventions that easily could be life-saving.

In short, I do agree with the current recommendation of your veterinarian.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

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