If you’ve got a dog that is as vocal as a Chihuahua, a Pomeranian, or even a Beagle, you’ll know something is wrong if you no longer hear it barking. Is your hound losing its voice? Is it even possible? Like anything else that is out of the ordinary, a dog losing its voice definitely warrants a closer examination by your veterinarian.
How Dogs Produce their ‘Voice’
While we are not sure if it is proper to call the process of producing sounds in dogs as phonation for the simple fact that it is closely related to the human ability to produce comprehensible sounds, the processes involved are generally the same. It is important that we examine how sounds are produced by dogs so we’ll be able to understand how they can lose their ‘voice’.
At the back of the throat of dogs is a region called the larynx. This is a lot similar to what we have as humans. The larynx is also aptly called the ‘voice box’ because of its principal role in the production of voice or sounds. But the larynx is not only involved in the production of voice. It also serves as a protective mechanism for the airways or the trachea so that food will not enter through this tube and cause problems in breathing.
The larynx is made up of vocal cords, cartilage, muscles, and other tissues. The vocal cords open to allow air to enter the dog’s trachea and into the lungs. It also closes when the dog is swallowing its food so that it doesn’t enter the trachea. The vocal cords are important in voice production. The vibrations that they produce are needed to make sound. The vibrations are created by the movement of air from the outside environment through the mouth and the pharynx or throat and from the lungs through the airways. Air pressure moving through the voice box opens and closes the vocal cords, producing sound.
Possible Causes of Loss of Doggie ‘Voice’
Since dog voice is primarily a function of its voice box or larynx, any problem in this body organ can lead to a loss of ability to produce sound. Other problems that stem from the other organs that convey air through the voice box can also negatively impact the production of sound. Let’s examine closely the possible causes of your dog’s losing its ‘voice’.
Brachycephalic dogs or breeds that have short muzzles are quite prone to inflammation of the larynx. While an upper respiratory tract infection can be the number one cause of laryngitis, it can also be brought about by other factors such as direct irritation of the mucosal lining of the voice box. It can be due to the presence of foreign objects, irritating gas, dust, or even smoke. Allergies, kennel cough, and canine distemper can also produce laryngeal inflammation.
In an inflammation, swelling and the buildup of fluids within the larynx itself and the surrounding tissues can negatively affect the full functionality of the voice box. Not only is your dog going to temporarily lose its ‘voice’, it may also have problems breathing.
- Paralysis of the Larynx
Certain dog breeds are at an increased risk of developing laryngeal paralysis. These can include Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain dogs, and Weimaraners, among others. It is believed that this condition is more common among dogs in their middle-aged and senior years, although it is also possible for younger dogs to have congenital laryngeal paralysis. Congenital laryngeal paralysis is common among Dalmatians, Rottweilers, and even White GSDs.
The problem in laryngeal paralysis is not the vocal cords themselves, but rather the nerves that supply the muscles surrounding the voice box. If there is damage to the nerves or even a generalized dysfunction such as peripheral neuropathy, then there will be no electrical impulses to open and close the vocal cords. Since sound production is predicated on the very fast opening and closing of the vocal cords in a vibratory fashion, the absence of nerve stimulation can result in the loss of voice in dogs. Laryngeal paralysis can also occur in dogs with uncontrolled or poorly-managed hypothyroidism, trauma to the laryngeal nerve, or even tumors in the dog’s neck.
- Collapse of the Larynx
Laryngeal collapse is a condition that is more common among short-faced breeds like English Bulldogs and Boston Terriers, among others. What happens is that the cartilage in the dogs’ voice box loses its rigidity. In other words, it couldn’t support the larynx anymore, causing it to fold and eventually collapse. Since the larynx is not in its normal anatomical orientation and position, the generation of sound is compromised.
Unfortunately, this is not really a serious issue. A graver concern is the obstruction it causes into the trachea. This can lead to airway problems that beget other problems such as respiratory and cardiovascular anomalies. Laryngeal collapse can be brought about by trauma to the dog’s neck or even chronic upper airway disorders.
- Overuse of the Vocal Cords
There are dogs that are so vocal that they bark all day and all night long. Unfortunately, this also puts strain on the vocal cords. We should always remember that the ‘voice’ is produced because of the in and out movement of air through these vocal cords.
Over time, the tissues of the vocal cords as well as the different structures of the larynx can weaken such that they no longer function as efficiently as before. This can also lead to changes in the dog’s bark or voice without necessarily causing the dog to lose its voice completely.
- Injury to the Larynx or Obstruction in the Airway
Any traumatic injury to the dog’s neck, whether it is penetrating or non-penetrating, has the potential to produce swelling in the dog’s larynx. Any swelling can disrupt the normal efficient movement of air through the vocal cords resulting in the dog’s loss of voice. Using a dog choke collar also has the potential to injure or damage the voice box.
Any obstruction in the airway such as those from the bronchial tree and trachea can also lead to a loss of voice in the dog. This can include tumors that grow in the trachea or in the larynx itself. Your dog may also swallow a large-enough object that can get lodged down its throat. Even chunks of dog treats that get lodged at the back of the throat can get in the way of the movement of air through the vocal cords.
- Other Causes
Muscle disorders, autoimmune disorders, and hypothyroidism can also cause some dogs to lose their ‘voice’. In hypothyroidism, it is possible that the nerves supplying the larynx can also be affected, leading to a loss of function in the vocal cords. The same is true with certain autoimmune disorders whereby the dog’s own immune system cells attack other cells of the body. In certain cases, these hyperactive immune system cells attack and damage the nerve cells supplying the voice box.
How You Can Help Your Dog
If you noticed your dog to have fallen ‘silent’ lately, there’s a fair chance that it may require veterinary attention. But before you take your dog to the vet, it is often wise to check for other symptoms as well.
You may want to look for signs of labored or difficulty breathing or even a wheezing noise from its breath. Does it snort? Have you seen your dog having difficulty swallowing its food? Did you notice your dog to be constantly pawing its nose or even mouth? How about tail tucking or raspy panting? Have you checked your dog’s throat if there are any foreign object that may be lodged inside? How about your dog’s body temperature? Fever is almost always a good indicator of an inflammatory process.
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Your vet can help you determine the exact cause of your dog’s loss of voice. He will run some diagnostic tests and order a number of laboratory checks on your dog. He will also conduct a thorough assessment of your dog’s health and medical history as well as a focused physical assessment of your dog’s throat and the associated organ systems.
Depending on the exact cause of your dog’s problem, your vet may recommend the appropriate antibiotics if there’s an infection. If there is none, then an anti-inflammatory medication may be ordered to help reduce the severity of the inflammation. If there’s an obstruction, these may have to be removed either by surgery or through other means, depending on the size of the lodged object. If the issue is related to other health problems like autoimmune disorders, hypothyroidism, or even tumors, then these have to be addressed first since loss of voice is only an effect of any of these conditions.
Your dog’s losing its voice can simply mean that the tissues in its voice box have reached their limit and need to rest first. However, it could also signal the presence of a much more sinister health issue. Having your vet check your dog will really help.