The larynx is the airway within the throat. “Roaring” noises may be heard from horses when control of this opening is compromised, reducing the airflow through the larynx. In most cases, this is associated with paralysis of one of the nerves within the throat.
Laryngeal paralysis is not life-threatening, and horses with a less intense workload may never require treatment.
Horses with more intense exercise regimes, such as racehorses, may benefit from surgery to improve performance.
This is due to their inability to intake oxygen properly.
Laryngeal paralysis occurs more commonly in some breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods, suggesting a genetic inheritance. Tall male horses are also predisposed to developing this condition.
The larynx is the entry point to the windpipe, located at the top of the throat. In a healthy horse, the larynx opens and closes regularly during breathing. Laryngeal paralysis affects the nerves responsible for opening the larynx, causing cartilage to partially block the airway.
The cause of this condition is often unknown. In addition to breed disposition, other suspected causes include toxicosis and injury or as a complication of surgery in the neck or throat region.
Treatment is not always necessary. In cases where no exercise intolerance is present and owners are willing to tolerate the noise, no treatment is needed. In cases with poor performance, a reduced workload is often sufficient to maintain quality of life. In cases where maintaining previous levels of performance is desired, surgery is indicated to open the airway. Surgical intervention often requires additional follow up appointments to monitor recovery and ensure the larynx is healing appropriately.
Laryngeal paralysis is a lifelong condition, although a good quality of life is often attainable without treatment. In some cases, the condition’s severity progresses over time, requiring retirement from performance or surgery.
Prognosis for surgical intervention varies. An operation may not completely reverse the paralysis, and horses performing intense exercise (such as a race horse) may still require retirement or changes in activity.
Avoiding breeding an affected horse may prevent laryngeal paralysis from being passed on to subsequent generations. Otherwise there are no effective methods for preventing laryngeal paralysis.
This condition is common in horses.