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Tracheal Collapse in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments

Dog coughing

Does your dog suddenly start coughing, sounding more like a honking goose than a pup? Or, perhaps your dog has a dry, raspy cough, especially after a lot of excitement or activity? If so, it can certainly be pretty alarming, especially if it‘s happening often. Several different things can cause your dog to have a recurring cough. If you notice your canine companion exhibiting some of these issues, your pooch could be dealing with a condition known as tracheal collapse.

What Is Tracheal Collapse?

Tracheal collapse is a progressive respiratory issue that occurs when the C-shaped cartilage rings in the windpipe (or trachea) start to collapse when your pup breathes. The trachea connects your pup’s throat to the lungs, and the rings consist of cartilage about ¾ of the way around. The remainder of the ring consists of a thin membrane. It’s these rings of cartilage that help the tube maintain its shape and keep the airway open.

However, when the rings don’t have enough strength or the membranes grow slack, as your dog breathes air in toward the lungs, it can flatten the rings. This flattening makes it difficult for your dog to breathe properly and makes it difficult for your pup to get enough air.

Tracheal collapse affects the tracheal lumen, which is the supporting structure for your pup’s windpipe. The condition is progressive, ranging from Grade 1, in which the cartilage is well-defined, but there are 25% fewer cells composing the tracheal lumen to Grade 4, in which the tracheal lumen totally collapses. Grade 2 has about 50% fewer cells comprising the tracheal lumen, and Grade 3 takes it to roughly 75% fewer cells.

How Does a Dog Get Tracheal Collapse?

The specific cause of tracheal collapse is currently unknown, although many things point to it being a genetic condition. If your dog is born with tracheal collapse, then it’s a possibility that they were born with fewer rings of cartilage.

However, certain factors can increase the amount of respiratory distress your dog experiences, such as obesity, over-excitement, exercise, pressure from wearing a collar, drinking water, and extreme temperatures.

What Are the Signs of Tracheal Collapse?

The most telling sign of this condition is the dry, honking cough that can make your dog sound almost goose-like. However, there are some additional indicators as well. Here are a few other signs you can keep a lookout for that could signal tracheal collapse in your dog:

  • Your dog displays periods of respiratory distress or difficulty breathing
  • Your pup coughs when you pick them up
  • Your dog’s cough causes them to gag, dry-heave, or throw up
  • Your dog’s mucous membranes appear bluish
  • Your dog wheezes

Are Some Dogs More Prone to Tracheal Collapse?

As you probably know, some dog breeds are more susceptible to certain health conditions than others, but it doesn’t mean any particular pup is immune to a specific disease. Any dog can experience tracheal collapse, no matter their age or breed, but some dogs are more prone to the condition than others. These pups mostly consist of smaller breeds, like Pomeranians, Pugs, Miniature and Toy Poodles, Chihuahuas, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Lhasa Apsos, and Yorkshire Terriers.

Yorkies, especially, seem to suffer from this condition, often receiving a diagnosis when they are still young adults (which is about 1 to 2 years old). Otherwise, tracheal collapse typically occurs in older dogs, and most pups won’t get a diagnosis until they’ve reached middle age (which is closer to 4 years old) or their senior years. Obesity is another significant factor that can influence tracheal collapse, adding to the severity of the condition and making it harder for a dog to deal with respiratory complications.

Diagnosing and Treating Tracheal Collapse

If your pup is exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned above, your first step is to schedule a visit with your vet. Only a veterinarian can make an official diagnosis of tracheal collapse. Plus, the condition can sometimes mimic other, more severe issues like congestive heart failure. In some cases, there could be multiple conditions at play at one time, and tracheal collapse could be one of them.

Therefore, it’s vital to have other possibilities ruled out first (or discovered simultaneously). Your vet will likely perform several tests, including urinalysis, bloodwork, and a chest X-ray, to rule out other conditions. Plus, the chest x-ray can also help your vet determine if the collapse is closer to your pup’s throat or chest.

If tracheal collapse seems to be the likely culprit, your vet may also suggest additional tests like a tracheoscopy to get a closer look at the trachea, as well as a fluoroscopy, which is an X-ray that creates moving images of your dog’s breathing. If the final diagnosis is tracheal collapse, depending on how severe the condition is, your vet will suggest lifestyle modifications first (more on these below).

Your vet may also prescribe certain medications to help with inflammation and manage your pup’s coughing. These could include things like antibiotics, sedatives, bronchodilators, and cough suppressants. In very extreme cases, your vet may also recommend surgery by a board-certified veterinary surgeon, which you can find through the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. There have also been some studies that show a correlation between dogs with tracheal collapse and liver disease, so it’s also possible that your vet may start to monitor your pup’s liver more closely. 


Dog with Neater Slow Feeder

Tips for Helping Your Dog Deal with Tracheal Collapse

Since it’s likely your pup was born with the issue or is predisposed to it, there isn’t much you can do to prevent tracheal collapse. Still, there are many things you can do to relieve the symptoms and decrease the bouts of respiratory distress your canine companion experiences. In fact, lifestyle changes will likely be some of the first things your vet suggests to help your dog cope with a collapsing trachea.

If your pup is overweight, it will be vital to help your dog lose some weight. Talk with your vet about switching to diet food for your pup or altering the amount of food your dog eats. Limiting extras like treats is also a good idea and making sure your pup gets enough exercise (without overdoing it).

Another change would be to switch from a collar to a harness so when you tug at your pup’s leash, it doesn’t put pressure on the throat. Also, ensure you don’t expose your dog to irritants in the air, such as smoke and other pollutants. Another excellent adjustment would be to have your pup use a slow feeder or a Neat-Lik Mat at mealtime to help your dog eat slower and at a healthier pace. Elevated feeders can also help with this condition as it is less pressure on the throat from bending over to eat.

Overall, there is no cure for tracheal collapse, but you can help manage the condition so your dog can live a happy life. It’s essential to keep in mind that the condition does progress. Therefore, even with treatment, your pup’s condition will likely worsen over time, and you may need to give your dog medication for their lifetime.

To learn more about other important pet-centric topics, check out the rest of our blog. You’ll find all sorts of useful information right at your fingertips that can help you be the best pet parent you can be.

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