LiL’ BitS Pet Health BreathingisNOTOver-Rated! airway Problems in our Pets t he summer heat is now upon us, which raises special concerns for our pets. Did you know that dogs and cats don’t sweat like we do to help lower their body temperature? That would be a bitmessy with their fur so they have othermechanisms to cool off, and one of themost important is panting. Pets that have airway or breathing problems cannot properly pant to lower their body temperatures, and doing so can actually result in emer- gency situations that can become rapidly life-threatening. So what are some of the airway conditions that can cause this problemand how can they be recognized andmanaged? The twomost common conditions are brachycephalic airway syndrome and laryngeal paralysis. Continue reading to see if your dog falls into one of these 2 categories and how you can be prepared tomanage their condition. Brachycephalic airway Syn- drome is seen in dogs that have flattened faces, such as Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs and Pekinese. These kiddos have all the tissues needed for a long nose, but they have been compressed like an accordion into their flattened facial structure. All that excess tissue fills their air passages and makes movement of air in and out of the nose, nasal passages and throat difficult. Laryngeal paralysis is typically seen inmediumand large breed dogs such as Labrador Retrievers, Spaniels and sporting breeds, although other breeds can be affected. Understand- ing how the throat region works helps to understand this condition. The throat is designed to allow both breathing and eating to take place in the same space. For both of these functions to co-exist, design elements are in place so that air can enter the airway but food cannot. One of these design elements involves a set of car- tilage “doors”, called the arytenoids. These “doors” open with breathing and close with eating. Laryngeal paralysis is when the nerves to open these doors no longer function prop- erly, leaving the cartilage “doors” in the closed position, thereby blocking the flow of air into the lungs. Symptoms for both conditions are typically gradual in onset, so they may bemissed until an acute episode of respiratory distress occurs. The most common symptoms include loud breathing, especially when panting, snoring, exercise and heat intolerance, and coughing or gagging with eating or drinking whichmay progress to vomiting small amounts of foamy fluid. Laryngeal paralysis dogsmay also have a voice change (soft or hoarse sounding bark). Acute episodes of respiratory distress occur when increased airflow is required (heat, excitement, exercise). How are these conditions treated? Treatment involves a combined approach. Avoid heat and keep your pet in an air conditioned or cool environment. Exercise should be limited to short episodes of activ- ity during cooler times of the day. Situations that initiate excitement or anxiety (storms, separation, play time) should be carefully controlled or avoided. It is imperative that overweight dogs loose weight as the additional pounds canmarkedly contribute to the problem. Allergies need to be controlled because they will worsen airway problems. Use of a harness instead of a collar is also recommended. Definitive treatment for both conditions involves surgery. The goal of surgery is not to recreate a normal airway, but to instead create amore functional airway that allows for amore normal lifestyle and qual- ity of life. Brachycephalic airway surgery typically involves procedures to open pinched nostrils and trim a FaCt: Heidi Hottinger,DVM, DiplomateACVS Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists palate that is too long. Doing these surgeries early may help to slow the progressive nature of their airway condition and prevent more exten- sive and risky surgeries later in life when their airway condition worsens. Themost successful surgery for laryngeal paralysis is the tie-back procedure, which involves fixing (ty- ing back) one of the cartilage “doors” in the open position. Because this “door” can no longer close when eating, aspiration of food and result- ing pneumonia is a concern, but it actually happens infrequently (about 10% of patients) and can usually be successfully treated. Keep inmind that aspiration pneumonia is also a problem for dogs with laryngeal pa- ralysis that doNOT have surgery, so all patients should be monitored for symptoms of pneumonia (lethargy, decreased appetite,moist cough), regardless of treatment. What is the prognosis? Dogs treated with proper life-style changes and surgery when indicated can have a very good prognosis for improved airway function, exercise tolerance and quality of life. Most dogs with laryngeal paralysis can return to a normal or near-normal level of activity. The low risk of aspiration pneu- monia is typically offset by the benefits of treat- ment, especially since dogs without surgical treatment are at risk for aspiration pneumonia as well. Brachycephalic dogs can also experience markedly improved quality of life fol- lowing surgery, especially when sur- gery is pursued EARLY to help slow the progressive nature of their airway condition. If you think your dog may be a candidate for surgery, be sure to talk with your veterinarian. Houston PetTalkMagazine 47 Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists was founded in 1988 and is a referral-only facility. They offer surgery, diagnostics, avian/exotics, dermatology, internalmedi- cine, critical care, neurol- ogy, oncology and rehabili- tation/fitness services.