Jolly, my young Basset Hound, keeps making some sort of snorting, choking noise when I take her out on a lead. Someone told me it was kennel cough, but she doesn’t do it in the house at all. I’ve changed to taking her in a harness and it’s a lot better, but she still sometimes stops and seems to suck air up really noisily as though she is choking. Someone else has said it could be her soft palate, but I thought that was more to do with Pug-faced dogs and she has a very long nose. Is it really the same and will she need an operation?
James Farrell advises…
The soft palate is a flap of tissue (mucosa) that is designed to close off the nose when you swallow to stop food going the wrong way. I’m sure we’ve all had incidences where it has gone a little bit wrong, like a mistimed sneeze while eating! A normal soft palate just touches the epiglottis, creating a nice secure ‘lid’. When the soft palate is too long, it can interfere with normal breathing by flapping around, or not creating a tight enough seal, or extending into the windpipe itself. A collar around the neck, particularly in a headstrong dog (sorry to make assumptions about your Jolly, but she is a Basset, so I’ll make an educated guess!) can also close the throat, exacerbating the problem.
While it is more common in brachycephalics (flat-faced breeds), as they have a shortened muzzle and therefore less space, it can appear in any breed. Some dogs cope very well with minor cases and have no need of intervention. Often, it’s sufficient to not let the dog get too hot (where it has to breathe heavily) and to use a harness or halter instead of a neck collar. Others can really struggle to breathe during an attack of this socalled ‘reverse sneezing’.
I would recommend getting her checked out by a vet anyway, to assess how severe the problem is, as if this condition continues for a long time, it can damage the tissues in the throat, scarring them and thickening them, and gradually making it worse over time.
Initial treatment managing any inflammation in the throat and airways can be enough to solve the problem. Also, ask your vet to check your dog for allergies. In severe cases, surgery is sometimes required. The palate itself has to be trimmed short with its thickness being reduced also. A good outcome is generally achieved, provided no permanent damage has been done, so the sooner the better in these cases.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can have a specific problem with ulceration of the soft palate, called eosinophilic stomatitis. This causes significant swelling of the soft palate, but is improved with medication.