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Vocal Cord Surgery for Dogs

| Updated September 26, 2017

Vocal cord surgery is most commonly performed on dogs for debarking. Actually though, the term debarking is a misnomer, because the surgery does not remove the dog's ability to bark. It merely lowers the volume of the bark. The more correct term for this procedure is bark softening. Vocal cord surgery should always be performed by a qualified veterinarian who specializes in the procedure.

Bark Softening Procedure

A vocal cordectomy, or bark softening, can be done under general anesthesia. The veterinarian removes a bit of tissue from either side of the dog's vocal cords with a surgical punch, scissors or a laser. The procedure, termed in medical journals as a ventriculocodectomy, takes less than 15 minutes, and once the dog is awake, there is no recovery time or medication needed. Bark softening is a simpler medical procedure than spaying or neutering.


A dog who has been bark softened can still bark, howl and whine. The dog's voice will be quieter and less sharp. Some dogs may sound hoarse for a period of time. The dog will vocalize as he normally does and does not know his bark is softer. Occasionally, scar tissue forms over the vocal cords, and the dog's bark can return to full volume.

Surgery vs. Training

Some breeds are predisposed to bark as part of their function, for instance, herding or guarding. Training may help reduce the amount of barking a bit, but it can be difficult to train a dog whose DNA includes excessive vocalizing. When training fails, bark softening can make it possible for owners who would otherwise not be able to keep their pets, especially in living situations such as apartments.

Laryngeal Paralysis

This condition can be the result of an injury to the larynx nerves, or can occur in old age, and is another possible reason to perform vocal cord surgery. Initially, a dog will sound as if he is hoarse or has laryngitis. As it progresses, his bark will become weaker and his breathing labored. The dog can also become lethargic. If not treated, laryngeal paralysis will affect his respiratory system and can cause death.

A veterinarian will surgically enlarge the dog's airway or remove the vocal cords. This can alleviate the condition, but the dog is unable to bark so the surgery is usually a last resort. Sedatives and corticosteroids can be tried first.

Susceptible Breeds

Large and giant breeds are more prone to laryngeal paralysis than smaller dogs. Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Irish setters, St. Bernard, and Great Pyrenees are particularly susceptible. It can be hereditary in Siberian huskies, Bouviers des Flandres, bull terriers, and Dalmatians. Hypothyroidism may also contribute to this condition.