Tracheal Collapse In Dogs: What It Is, Symptoms To Look For, And How To Treat It
Canine tracheal collapse is a chronic disease in dogs that affects the windpipe. The condition causes mild to severe obstruction of a dog’s airway that results in coughing and other symptoms.
Tracheal collapse can progress to become life-threatening, so it’s important to get your dog checked out by a vet right away if you suspect they are showing symptoms of a collapsed trachea.
Keep reading to discover what you should know about collapsed trachea in dogs, how to spot it, and how to treat it.
What Is A Collapsed Trachea In Dogs?
Also known as the windpipe, the trachea is the part of the respiratory system that carries air from the nose and mouth to the airways in the lungs. It is made of rings of cartilage that form a tube. If the cartilage rings of the trachea weaken, they can collapse and cause the airway to narrow, making breathing difficult.
Causes Of Collapsed Trachea In Dogs
Trachea problems in dogs are usually congenital, meaning the dog is born with weak cartilage in the trachea. Toy or miniature breeds of dogs are most commonly affected, but certain breeds are more susceptible to the condition, including:
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Toy Poodles
Since the condition is progressive, symptoms typically worsen over time. The average age where dogs begin to show signs is about 6 to 7 years old.
Other risk factors for collapsed trachea include:
- Chronic respiratory diseases
- Cushing’s disease
- Heart disease2
- Exposure to cigarette smoke3
Symptoms Of A Collapsed Trachea In Dogs
The most obvious symptom of a collapsed trachea is chronic bouts of coughing that tend to worsen with exercise, excitement, and eating or drinking.4 Other signs of a collapsed trachea in dogs include:
- Rapid breathing
- Abnormal breathing sounds
- Difficulty breathing
- Low energy
- Bluish tinge to the gums
Obesity, exposure to dust and smoke, and humid weather can cause symptoms to worsen.5
What Does A Dog With A Collapsed Trachea Sound Like?
The sound of the cough of a dog with a collapsed trachea makes is very distinct. It is most often described as a harsh, dry cough that sounds similar to a honking goose.
How Is A Collapsed Trachea Diagnosed?
The most obvious sign of a collapsed trachea is the honking cough, but your vet will need to perform a complete physical exam and run certain tests to rule out other conditions.
These tests might include:
- Chest x-rays
- Fluoroscopy (a moving x-ray while the dog is breathing)
- Bronchoscopy (inserting a tube with a camera into the airway)
Your vet may also administer other tests like bloodwork to see if your pet has any co-morbid conditions that are worsening the symptoms.
Treatment For Collapsed Trachea In Dogs
Most mild and moderate cases of tracheal collapse are treated with medications. Your vet will determine the best course of treatment depending on your dog's symptoms and medical history.
Medications For Tracheal Collapse
Bronchodilators for dogs with collapsed trachea (such as theophylline, terbutaline, or albuterol) may be prescribed to open the airways within the lungs to allow more oxygen to reach the bloodstream. These medications can be prescribed in pill form or inhaled form. Inhaled bronchodilators are easier to administer to a pet in distress and require the use of a spacer device (such as the AeroDawg* Chamber).
Liquid cough suppressants such as butorphanol or hydrocodone may be prescribed to soothe the airways from irritation and inflammation from coughing.
Anti-inflammatory steroids such as prednisone or fluticasone may be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the windpipe. These medications can be taken orally or by inhalation, however inhaled steroids have a much lower risk of serious side effects and use a significantly lower dose of drug. Like bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids require the use of a spacer device to administer the medication.
When dogs get excited or overwhelmed, their symptoms can worsen. Butorphanol or acepromazine pills may be prescribed to lightly sedate your dog to help reduce the onset of symptoms.
These medications do not cure the condition but help with ongoing symptom management to help your pet live a happy life.6
Surgical Intervention For Tracheal Collapse
Severe cases of tracheal collapse may require surgery to keep the windpipe open. This surgery usually consists of a veterinary surgeon placing plastic rings around the outside of the trachea. Another option may be placing a stent inside the airway to hold it open.7
Home Management For Tracheal Collapse
In addition to other treatments, there are several things you can do at home to help manage your dogs symptoms.
- When walking your dog, use a harness in place of collar to avoid putting pressure on your dog’s windpipe
- Avoid smoking or using aerosols around your pet
- Make sure your dog’s environment is well ventilated
- Change air filters on a regular basis
- If your dog is overweight or obese, modify their diet based on recommendations by your vet to help keep weight in check and reduce respiratory effort
Although there are ways to help manage your dog's symptoms at home, it is still important to take your dog to the vet so they can get the treatment they need.
Talk to your vet about inhaled medications for tracheal collapse and how the AeroDawg* Chamber can help your dog live a happy and normal life.
1American College Of Veterinary Surgeons, "Tracheal Collapse" (https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/tracheal-collapse)
2Amy Tokic, “What You Should Know About Tracheal Collapse in Dogs.” The Honest Kitchen Blog (https://www.thehonestkitchen.com/blog/what-you-should-know-about-tracheal-collapse-in-dogs)
3American College Of Veterinary Surgeons "Tracheal Collapse" (https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/tracheal-collapse)
4Jennifer Coates, M.D., “Collapsing Trachea in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know.” PetMD (https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/collapsing-trachea-dogs-everything-you-need-kno)
5Pet Health Network, “What Happens When Your Dog's Windpipe Collapses?” (https://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/what-happens-when-your-dogs-windpipe-collapses)
6Jennifer Coates, M.D., “Collapsing Trachea in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know.” PetMD (https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/collapsing-trachea-dogs-everything-you-need-know)
7American College Of Veterinary Surgeons, “Tracheal Collapse.” (https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/tracheal-collapse)