Lab-loving dog parents Brianna and Mark Sovie of Endicott, New York, experienced a series of frightening medical emergencies regarding Nettie, their chocolate Labrador retriever, which led to a life-saving surgery by J. Thomas Ross, DVM, DACVS, Veterinary Specialist at VCA Colonial Animal Hospital in Ithaca, New York. Today, Nettie is happy and healthy. But along the way, this outcome seemed in doubt to her dog parents, which makes her life today even sweeter!

It all Began With a Female Problem

In October of 2021, at age five, Nettie was an unspayed female lab—a condition that led to a diagnosis of pyometra. In her case she experienced severe vaginal bleeding overnight. Pyometra is extremely serious for female dogs and can be life-threatening. Brianna and Mark hurried Nettie to their hometown veterinarian in Endicott. 

“Nettie was then rushed to surgery to remove her lady parts and save her life,” explains Brianna. “Fast forward a few days after we brought her home and we noticed during her recovery that not only did her breathing change but also her bark.” 

They returned to their veterinarian with Nettie where they received the life-changing diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis (LP). “We were told some scary scenarios that very quickly happened in front of our eyes,” says Brianna. “We were given some information on local surgeons and made an appointment with the fabulous Dr. Ross at VCA Colonial Animal Hospital.” 

Driving to VCA for Nettie’s Surgery

The night before Nettie’s appointment with Dr. Ross, she suffered her first and last breathing crisis, which they resolved by having her lie down on cold linoleum to slow down her breathing. 

The next morning, they made the trip to Ithaca and met with Dr. Ross. “From the moment Dr. Ross met Nettie, he put her and her care first,” recalls Brianna. “Nettie was scheduled to stay the night at VCA Colonial but due to her labored breathing, Dr. Ross recommended we take her home to keep her calm. I dropped her off the following morning, unsure if I would see her again. Dr. Ross performed a sedated oral examination to confirm her diagnosis and immediately took her to surgery.”

“I diagnosed Nettie with laryngeal paralysis based on her history, physical exam, her loud breathing and by visual inspection—looking for movement,” states Dr. Ross. “In Nettie, I saw zero movement in her vocal cords. She was on the verge of crisis.”

Surgery Gave Nettie the Ability to Breathe Easily Again 

The entrance to Nettie's tracheal was severely narrowed by her paralyzed vocal cords and scar tissue from a prior irritation. To help Nettie, Dr. Ross performed a procedure called a bilateral ventriculocordecomy. He removed the bottom half of her vocal cords, which opens the doorway to breathing.

Dr. Ross does not perform a laryngeal tie back on dogs with Nettie’s condition, which is a more commonly performed technique. “In my hands, the bilateral ventriculocordectomy through a laryngeal incision is faster and makes dogs less susceptible to aspiration pneumonia following the procedure,” Dr. Ross explains. 
“Without Dr. Ross and the incredible staff at VCA Colonial Animal Hospital, I believe our Nettie girl wouldn’t be here today.”

Getting Nettie to eat Again

Brianna says Dr. Ross and the wonderful staff at VCA were in constant contact with a very scared mama who was waiting in the parking lot during her surgery due to Covid restrictions. 

“The next morning, we received a call from Dr. Eule at VCA Colonial because Nettie didn’t want to eat in the hospital,” shares Brianna. “So, we brought Nettie her favorite boiled chicken breast. We arrived in the exam room that day fully expecting to see Nettie moving very slowly but much to our surprise, she came strolling in. Once that sweet girl saw her mama, she was jumping around and breathing so well! The next day, we went home.”

Signs of Laryngeal Paralysis

This condition is common in older in labs, golden retrievers and large-breed dogs, explains Jeremy Eule, DVM, staff veterinarian at VCA Colonial, who managed Nettie’s care and recovery. 

“Laryngeal paralysis slowly creeps up on dogs,” explains Dr. Eule. “Dogs who have this condition will pant heavily when it’s hot and humid. Their breathing is loud and their vocal cords get weaker. It’s best to keep dogs who are experiencing this condition quiet and cool. Walk them in the mornings and evenings, and keep them in air conditioning when there’s extreme heat. Also, we recommend having an emergency number ready so you can react quickly to find care.”

Dr. Ross says surgery is a major decision for clients and each situation is unique. For an older dog, perhaps modifying their lifestyle is the answer, but not for a young dog like Nettie. Dr. Ross explained that in Nettie’s case, her back was up against the wall. “She stayed with us for a few days after surgery due to the tracheal tube, but then she required only two weeks to heal.” 

Nettie the lab was BACK!

They returned to the hospital 10 days later where Nettie was examined by Dr. Ross, who shared with Brianna and Mark what could develop down the road for Nettie with the LP diagnosis. Brianna says their lives have changed since the surgery, but they would make the same decisions all over again—Nettie has never been better. 

Dr. Ross called quite frequently after her surgery to see how she was recovering. Brianna and Mark also learned that as Nettie ages, she’ll have issues with her hind legs’ mobility due to an affected nerve that runs down her spine.

Mark and Brianna say they’ve become advocates for spaying and neutering pets. “I can’t help but think if we’d spayed Nettie and she didn’t need the emergency surgery, the LP would not have happened. We’ll never go through that again. And all pets that we have in the future will be spayed or neutered as soon as they’re old enough. It truly does save lives.”

Nettie’s parents feel going to VCA Colonial Animal Hospital was the best decision they ever made. “Dr. Ross and the staff at VCA Colonial gave our dog her life back at just five years old,” concludes Brianna. “Without Dr. Ross and the incredible staff at VCA Colonial Animal Hospital, I believe our Nettie girl wouldn’t be here today. We also found a support group that offers us comfort where we can connect with thousands of people with dogs in the same condition. We cannot imagine life without Nettie and thanks to Dr. Ross and the VCA Colonial team, we have more days with our sweet Nettie.”

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