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Collapsed Trachea In Canine: Causes, Signs & Remedy


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Tracheal Collapse in dogs is a form of obstruction of the trachea or “windpipe” caused by flaccidity and flattening of the cartilaginous rings which support the trachea. The condition is most often seen in small-breed dogs, with the condition worsening over time. Collapsing trachea in dogs causes a harsh cough and breathing difficulties which vary in severity and impact on dogs’ lives. Let’s find out more about this condition, the signs of collapsed trachea to look out for, and how to treat collapsed trachea in dogs.

What Causes Collapsed Trachea In Dogs?

The trachea or “windpipe” is a cylindrical tube that carries air from the mouth to the lungs. In dogs, the trachea is made of C-shaped cartilaginous rings. These do not form a complete circle, and the top part is connected with muscle and connective tissue. The lack of complete rings allows for movement can lead to loss of support and intermittent narrowing or collapse of the trachea.

The part of the trachea in the neck is often referred to as the cervical trachea. Whereas the part of the trachea within the rib cage is referred to as the intrathoracic trachea. These parts of the trachea are affected slightly differently during inspiration and expiration due to pressure changes as air moves.

In dogs that suffer from collapsing trachea, the tracheal cartilages lose their rigidity and ability to maintain the trachea as a semi-rigid tube during breathing. The two sides of the trachea touch, which results in a cough or breathing difficulties if the narrowing of the trachea is severe enough to restrict airflow.

The causes of tracheal collapse are multifactorial, including genetic factors, nutritional factors, and allergic triggers. There is a strong genetic cause for the disease. Collapsed trachea is most often seen in toy breeds, particularly Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, and Toy Poodles.  

Symptoms Of Collapsed Trachea In Dogs

The signs of tracheal collapse typically progress over months or years. Some dogs can present with a sudden onset of difficulty breathing and require emergency treatment. The most common signs associated with a collapsing trachea are:

  • Coughing – A harsh, dry cough that has been described as a “goose-honk” is the most common sign of collapsed trachea. The cough can be worse in your dog when they are excited when you pick your dog up or apply pressure to their neck, such as when they pull on a lead. A gag or wretch could be associated with the cough.
  • Difficulty Breathing – If the tracheal collapse is severe, dogs struggle to catch their breath during coughing episodes and have to stop exercising to recover.
  • Cyanosis (turning blue) – If the tracheal collapse is severe and the flow of air into the lungs is severely restricted, then the mucous membranes and gums turn blue due to a lack of oxygen. This is a medical emergency.
  • Collapse – Dogs faint or collapse during a coughing episode if they are unable to get enough air into their lungs due to a collapsed trachea.

The symptoms of tracheal collapse are more noticeable in hot weather when your dog is exercising, drinking water, or is excited.

Episodes of tracheal collapse can be dramatic but often only last a few moments before they resolve themselves. If you are concerned about your dog’s breathing or they have collapsed, then seek urgent veterinary advice.

Diagnosis Of Tracheal Collapse In Dogs

Diagnosis of a collapsing trachea in dogs can be made from the clinical signs alone. Tracheal collapse is characterized by a harsh “goose-honking” cough that is often worsened by excitement or exercise. A definitive diagnosis is made using a combination of different imaging modalities. Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest could be useful, but because tracheal collapse is a dynamic process, meaning it changes with breathing, the disease might be missed on a single x-ray.

Fluoroscopy (a video x-ray that allows the trachea to be visualized as the dog inhales and exhales) can help diagnose this condition. Bronchoscopy, where a camera is passed down the trachea, is used to assess the degree of collapse and rule out other causes of cough or breathing difficulties. Bronchoscopy is performed under general anesthesia, whereas fluoroscopy is often performed conscious or under light sedation.

The degree of tracheal collapse is graded from grade I-IV, with I being almost normal and IV being the most severe.

Treatment For Collapsed Trachea In Dogs

Many dogs have mild symptoms that progress slowly over their lifetime. If the tracheal collapse results in a cough that resolves by itself and doesn’t affect your dog’s ability to exercise or cause severe breathing difficulties, then they are unlikely to need treatment.

A large number of dogs will respond to lifestyle changes. Weight loss is often recommended following a diagnosis of tracheal collapse, being walked with a harness rather than a neck lead, and avoiding airway irritants such as cigarette smoke and aerosols. Medications such as corticosteroids help reduce inflammation, cough suppressants, and antibiotics if a secondary respiratory infection is diagnosed.

Dogs that have a severe tracheal collapse and are struggling with the effects of this, particularly if it is associated with breathing difficulties, could require surgical management. Tracheal stenting involves placing a metal mesh within the trachea to keep it open and avoid obstruction. The stent is placed under anesthesia using fluoroscopy (a moving x-ray) to confirm the correct placement. Complications can be seen following this surgery as the body creates inflammation around the stent. Many dogs require lifelong medication following this type of surgery, and some require a second surgery at some point in their life.

Home Remedies For Collapsing Trachea In Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, there are things you can implement at home to help manage your pooch’s condition. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial. Dogs that are overweight have more severe signs associated with the disease.

Keeping your dog calm during an episode allows your dog to recover faster. If the episode occurs during exercise, then stop and allow your dog to rest until his cough has stopped and breathing has returned to normal.

Honey for collapsed trachea in dogs has been used for centuries. However, it is unlikely to have many benefits. Honey coats the lining of the throat and has natural anti-inflammatory properties. It can help if your dog has been coughing a lot and irritated their throat, but it will not stop the cough as this arises from the windpipe.

Collapsed Trachea In Dogs’ Life Expectancy

There is no exact life expectancy for dogs with collapsed trachea. It depends on the extent of tracheal collapse, how severely it affects each dog, and how it progresses over time. Tracheal collapse is a manageable condition, and most dogs live a relatively normal life after diagnosis. Puppy collapsed trachea may be more serious as signs are apparent from a young age. Tracheal collapse can progress to the point where surgery is required to keep the trachea open and prevent respiratory arrest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a collapsed trachea in dogs fatal?

A collapsing trachea varies in severity. Some dogs are mildly affected and live with a cough from time to time. Other dogs have a more severe form of the disease that progresses with age and results in partial or complete obstruction of the trachea. In very severe cases, this can be fatal as it obstructs the flow of oxygen into the lungs. Thankfully, severe cases like this are rare.

Is a collapsed trachea in dogs painful?

No, tracheal collapse is not normally associated with pain in dogs. However, if the trachea becomes partially or completely obstructed, then this can cause difficulty breathing, with is frightening and stressful for dogs.

Are supplements for collapsed trachea in dogs useful?

Managing inflammation is important to maintain normal respiratory function and health. Adding supplements that contain natural antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet is a safe and natural way to reduce inflammation. Coughing can be worse if your dog is stressed or anxious. Supplements that help manage stress and promote calm in your canine friend can assist in the management of tracheal collapse.

Tips For Dogs Living With Collapsed Tracheas

A collapsing trachea sounds very dramatic, but the reality is many dogs live a good life with this condition for many years. Although there is no cure, a collapsed trachea can be managed with medication, lifestyle adjustments, and sometimes surgery. There are many other causes for coughing or breathing difficulties in dogs, many of which are very serious so always consult with your vet if you are concerned. Learn more about reverse sneezing, as it can often be associated with this condition. Also, find out tips on how to help manage your dog’s weight.

Tagged With: Respiratory

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