Dear Dr. Fox:

A year or so ago, Marco, our 11-year-old standard poodle, began to pant a lot while walking and during other non-stressful circumstances. Sometimes he would gag as well.

This condition, especially the panting, has gotten worse over time. Our veterinarian concluded it is because of paralysis of the larynx, or “dropped larynx,” which he said sometimes occurs in large, older dogs.

He told us to raise Marco’s food and water dishes and take care that he doesn’t get overheated. There’s not much we can do except have a “tie-back” surgery performed.

For about a month, we have tried working with another vet who does acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic with the hope of slowing this down, to no avail. It seems to be getting worse. So we are contemplating the surgery.

Marco is healthy otherwise.

J.S., Ashland, Ore.

DF: This disorder is serious and is often accompanied by hypothyroidism in older dogs.

It can have a genetic basis and occurs as a congenital disorder in some breeds, such as the Siberian husky, and as a degenerative neurological disorder in Dalmatians and Rottweilers.

Elevating food and water bowls is very important to help prevent inhalation of food and fluids when the larynx does not function properly and the poor dog is gasping for air, which can lead to pneumonia.

Surgical correction through suturing one side of the larynx is the best approach. No surgical procedure is without risk, and complications can occur. But performed by an experienced surgeon, your dog could have a new lease on life.

Otherwise, he might suffer partial asphyxia. The suture-widened larynx will make breathing easier, but the risk of pneumonia will remain.

toxic moss

Dear Dr. Fox:

For several years, our back yard has had a problem from runoff from a neighbor’s pool. To their credit, the neighbors have tried to repair the pool and berm landscape. But the water seems to have no boundaries, and the problem has gotten worse.

My concern is that our dog, our third in just a few years, is suffering identical problems that our first two went through. He’s constantly licking his paws and legs to a point of hot spots, and he has foamy hacking and frequent bowel movements.

How do you test for toxic organisms in moss? My vet has only been able to treat the symptoms.

Our first dog lived for two years after we moved here. Our second dog only lived to be 4 years old. Our third is 6. When he was 3, he started developing focal seizures that seem to come about only in the rainy season and summer months. This dog has had greater exposure to the slime.

We’ve attempted to fix the problem with landscape solutions, but the water continues to surface, killing the grass and taking over the swath of ground our dog runs on.

Is the moss what’s making our pets’ health compromised?

C.B., Clayton, Mo.

DF: Some pool chemicals, especially chlorine compounds, could cause serious dermatitis and possibly seizures.

But the “moss” that you describe is most probably a species of algae that can be toxic to dogs. It causes liver damage, nausea, vomiting and seizures. That is why I advise people to never allow their dogs to drink from standing water in the summer, when algae bloom. Blue-green algae are especially hazardous.

You need to get to the bottom of this health hazard with your neighbor. Where there’s standing water with slimy, potentially toxic algae, there can also be botulism bacteria, producing one of the most deadly poisons to humans and other animals.

asthmatic cat?

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our cat, 8, has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The vet has her on prednisone. She also had a shot of a longer-lasting antibiotic to treat bronchitis.

Is there anything we can do to help with the congestion and coughing?

F.P., Stratford, Conn.

DF: I am concerned about this standardized treatment that proves effective most often on a one-shot, hit-and-miss basis and can have some harmful consequences from steroid and antibiotic side effects.

Many cats with symptoms such as yours actually have food allergy related asthma. And they get better when triggering ingredients, such as corn or fish, are eliminated from their diets.

I would follow a holistic and alternative approach. In addition, provide your cat with daily probiotics, which have been shown to significantly help children suffering from asthma. Also check the archives on my Web site,, for more suggestions.

Cats that are allowed outdoors and kill and eat birds and small mammals should be checked for lungworm parasites, because some wild prey can carry these worms and infest cats, causing respiratory problems. Slugs and snails also carry a parasitic worm species that has been implicated in lung disease in dogs and foxes.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate