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 Paralysis of the Vocal Chords
in the Bouvier des Flandres

Webmaster Note: This article came to me from our Bouvier friends in Britain. I have no background information on the article's author, Dr Fenker or the information contained in this article but I thought it was interesting enough to publish here as I, personally, have heard of a number of these cases. Just something else to think about. For further information on this subject, please do some independent research & consult your vet or specialist.

Note: This article first appeared in the BdeF Club of GB newsletter in 1981 and was reproduced in October 1990.

Please co-operate and let us keep this disease out of England. I believe it is very important that we in England are aware of the fact that this disease exists in Bouviers.

There are so many cases in Bouviers on the continent that the Bouvier breed has the doubtful honour of having been selected by Professor Bouw, specialist in genetics at the Veterinary Faculty of Utrecht University, well known dog fancier and Chairman of the Raad van Beheer (Dutch Kennel Club) and by Dr Fenker, a vet working at the same university and doing research into paralysis of the vocal cords, to be the first breed to be used in their research.

In 1970, Dr Fenker came into contact with the first case of paralysis of the vocal chords. Since then a few hundred dogs have had to be operated on and some had to be destroyed.

In December 1980, Dr Fenker gave a lecture on Paralysis of the Vocal Chords in Utrecht.

With special permission of the Dutch Bouvier Club I will try to give a translation of the report which appeared in the Dutch Bouvier Club  magazine.

The disease can be recognised for the first time when they are between 3-5 months old.

The symptoms are:

  • Less stamina

  • Blue tongue

  • Very noisy breathing

  • Flowing of saliva

  • In severe cases acute choking. Dogs may actually choke if nothing is done.


In Utrecht University it is possible to have a good look deep into the dog’s throat. While the dog is given a light anaesthetic it is possible to make an electromiogram; a written registration of the electrical activity of the vocal chords. In this way it is possible to see if the muscles are working normally or if they are paralysed. However this is only possible if the dogs are not older than six months. After this time there will be too much connective tissue and registration of different electric activity is no longer possible.

Differential Diagnosis

While examining a dog, other diseases causing the symptoms or part of the symptoms, have to be excluded.

For example:

  • Little or no stamina can also be caused by a heart condition, HD or affection of the lungs.

  • Noisy breathing can also be caused by tumours and inflammation.

  • Choking can also be caused by tumours and heart and lung conditions.

Treatment of the Disease

  • When the dog is actually choking, a tracheotomy is performed, a small hole is made in the windpipe under the place where it is clogged up. In this hole a small tube is placed.

  • The next step is an operation. If possible one or both of the vocal chords is fastened, thus enabling the dog to breathe again. if this is no longer possible the dog will have to be destroyed.

Cause of the Disease

A defect in the central nervous system, namely in the medulla oblongata, causes the vocal chords muscles to have an insufficient supply of nerves. This affection can be so light, that it cannot be detected. It can also be very severe.

In humans we have a similar disease in which the muscles of part of the under leg are affected, we also saw this in a few Bouviers.


In Utrecht, an experimental mating was performed between two dogs that had the disease. The puppies in the litter all had the disease, except one. So we may conclude that both parents are heterozygous. Next step was to breed a second generation. The affected father was mated to his affected daughter and the affected mother was mated to her affected son. All fourteen puppies, in both litters had the disease.

The third generation was obtained by cross breeding two Bouviers from this litter (both affected) with two greyhounds. As far as we know greyhounds do not suffer from this disease. All thirteen puppies from both litters had the disease.

Because of these results, both Professor Bouw and Dr Fenker think there is a good reason to believe that this disease is dominant.

The disease does not always have to be very severe. It is probably worse in homozygous animals than in heterozygous animals.

Dr Fenker outlined three ways to try to get rid of the disease:

Do nothing – just wait and see.

  • Advantage: costs nothing

  • Disadvantage: many dogs will have the disease, many dogs will have to be destroyed.

The breeder selects

  • Advantage: Does not cost much, nobody has to know.

  • Disadvantage: It is a very rough selection (see Differential Diagnosis) the disease is not illuminated.

A Well Founded Plan

  • Advantage: Good selection, reasonable chance to illuminate the disease.

  • Disadvantage: Costs money. Well known top dogs could become less important.

According to Dr Fenker the plan ought to be as follows:

  • Phase One; Collect Bouviers up to six months of age that are free of the disease.

  • Phase Two: Ask geneticist whether the group is large enough to avoid in–breeding of other heritable defects.

  • Phase Three: Check the progeny of this group.

  • Phase Four: Bouviers without paralysis of the vocal chords are the majority.

So far Dr Fenker’s lecture. You will see how important it is to be aware of the existence of this disease in Bouviers. And please do not sit on the fence but do something about it as soon as you suspect a case.

Remember this disease is thought to be dominant ……..

                                                                                                            Louise Weijland

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