A dog’s bark can tell you much more than when the mail carrier is in your driveway or whether your kids are home from school. It’s also a key indicator for overall health; hoarseness, wheezing, or changes in pitch can point to serious unaddressed illnesses. Though many of these do clear with treatment, some can be life-threatening and may seriously jeopardize your dog’s life.
Detecting changes in your dog’s bark or voice is relatively easy. While delighting in his happy greeting when you return home, use a discerning ear to listen to his voice with care. Make sure that you’re alert to any changes in timber, volume, and overall sound, particularly when breathing is strained.
If you do notice changes, don’t ignore them, and don’t assume the problem will self-resolve. Instead, take your dog to the vet to rule out potential conditions like these.
Canine Myasthenia Gravis (MG) is a rare disease your dog can either inherit or acquire later in life. If inherited, it results in poor muscle development and muscles that don’t contract correctly. This poor musculature and structure occurs because of a defect in the number of sodium-transporting receptors throughout the body. The result is that your dog might suddenly and without warning collapse after exercising.
Although canine MG isn’t likely to cause issues with bark suddenly later in life when inherited, it can cause problems if acquired. Dogs with adult-acquired MG often develop antibodies that destroy the sodium receptors on most cells throughout the body. Because sodium is a critical electrolyte, the entire body (including the bark) can be affected).
Scientists aren’t sure what causes sodium receptor destruction. But they do know it causes a significant number of complications throughout a dog’s life. These “side effects” include aspiration pneumonia, neck and head weakness, overall fatigue. Some dogs also develop a condition called “megaesophagus;” the esophagus weakens and grows larger, making it difficult for your dog’s body to move food through the esophagus and into the stomach.
Obstructive Airway Disease
An inclusive and generalized term, Canine Obstructive Airway Disease (OAD) is often used for conditions in which the vet suspects that something is blocking the tracheal opening, the trachea itself or the back of the throat. Regardless of where the obstruction is, the condition can cause severe degradation to the voice as a side effect.
If your vet diagnoses OAD, further testing should reveal the source or area of the problem. One of the most common causes is food pieces, bone shards, or even pieces of couch stuffing, clothing, and toys that become lodged in your dog’s throat on the way down. Identifying and removing these will usually ameliorate the issue.
Growths can also cause OAD, especially if they swell large enough to block off the airway partially. Whether the growth is malignant or benign, its presence means that it could increase in size quickly without further treatment. Fortunately, many growths are benign and can be removed.
If your furry best friend is a giant breed and a senior, and his or her bark changes, this is also a red flag. Such changes can occur because of a condition called Laryngeal Paralysis (LP).
Vets don’t completely understand why LG happens, but many experts believe the source involves the muscles that aid in closing and opening the cartilage over the trachea. In many cases, only one side of these cartilage structures are affected and doesn’t retract completely at first. Eventually, both sides can be affected.
In its early stages, LG may cause your friend to bark harshly or whistle when barking. These signs might be especially noticeable when he or she is panting heavily or after a period of running and playing. These changes are the result of cartilage structure sluggishness that makes it more difficult for the air to flow past the trachea and into your furry friend’s lungs.
If your dog is having severe difficulty breathing as a result of LG, he or she might need surgery to move some of the cartilage out of the way to open the airways.
Another rare condition, Acute Polyradiculoneuritis (AP) is another condition that can cause bark issues in your dog. It is also poorly understood with limited treatment options.
Veterinarians who diagnose this disease see labored breathing, muscle weakness and slowed reflexes with a reduced ability to bark, and typically diagnose it in dogs exposed to raccoon saliva. This fact has many vets referring to acute Polyradiculoneuritis as “coonhound paralysis.”
But raccoons aren’t the only driving factor for AP. In some cases, the dog acquires AP after receiving a combination vaccination. In other cases, there’s no connection to an event, happening, treatment, or attack at all. Many vets compare AP to chronic fatigue in humans because of its complexity and confusing umbrella of symptoms.
While it can lead to complete paralysis, the overall outlook is good for most dogs affected by AP. During the condition’s most severe phase, your dog may require ventilator support or some other measure of breathing assistance. Intense nursing care, including manual bladder expression and help with eating and drinking, often becomes necessary and will be a tandem effort between you and your vet.
Dogs with AP should also be turned regularly; if left in the same position, the paralysis can prevent movement and cause the same pressure sores elderly humans experience.
Fortunately, AP is rarely a death sentence. Most dogs begin to improve after just a month or so, with a complete recovery possible within three or four months.
If your dog has a tracheal collapse, it means her airway is obstructed by the natural collapse of the trachea itself. A tracheal collapse differs from the conditions listed above in that the rings of cartilage that hold the airway open are weak. When cartilage weakness occurs in the trachea, part of the airway can collapse in on itself.
Naturally, tracheal failures tighten the airways, reducing air flow, This applies primarily to the vocal chords. Dogs with full tracheal collapse can’t bark loudly, and in many cases, will experience respiratory distress, too. But partial tracheal collapse is often much more subtle; your only sign may be wheezing or issues with your dog’s bark.
As a pet owner, you may struggle to distinguish whether this tracheal collapse is severe or mild. Because tracheal collapses of any kind can compromise your furry friend’s breathing enough to cause serious issues or even death, you should never underestimate the condition. Enlist a vet’s help to diagnose the condition accurately.
During this visit, your vet will thoroughly assess your dog to determine how seriously the condition affects her or him. In many cases, dogs with a tracheal collapse can lead long and fulfilling lives with few issues and just careful monitoring.
Your dog barks and “talks” to communicate with you. While inappropriate barking can be frustrating, a total loss or quieting of your dog’s bark isn’t something to celebrate; it’s a sign of concern. Always seek a vet’s assistance any time you’re worried about physiological changes in the body, including the vocal chords. Although the conditions listed here are dangerous, quick action on your part increases the chances that your dog will heal and go on to live a long and healthy life.