Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

Learn the dangers of a collapsed trachea in dogs. The trachea or windpipe connects your mouth and nose to the lungs. Made of muscle and cartilage, the trachea is the essential tube that brings the air you breathe to your lungs where the oxygen eventually travels to the bloodstream and organs. When the cartilage in the trachea collapses, airflow to the lungs is restricted and inflammation of the trachea is greater.

Symptoms of a Collapsed Trachea

A collapsed trachea is rarely an issue in younger dogs. Most dogs with tracheal health issues develop problems around six or seven years of age. When a dog's trachea collapses, there are a number of symptoms. They include:

  • Bluish tint to gums

  • Frequent gagging

  • Hoarse, dry cough

  • Lack of energy, especially during exercise of play

  • Respiratory issues, including labored breathing

If your veterinarian feels tracheal collapse is a possibility, he'll order x-rays of the neck and chest. He may feel the throat to see if the trachea feels different. Additional tests include a fluoroscopy and a tracheobronchoscopy.

Risk Factors for a Collapsed Trachea

Dogs that are obese have a higher risk of developing a collapsed tracheal passage. The same is true of:

  • Allergic bronchitis

  • Diagnosis of kennel cough or a respiratory infection

  • Enlarged heart

  • Enlarged liver

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, chemical irritants or dust

  • Use of an endotracheal tube

  • Use of choke collars

There are also a number of small dog breeds more prevalent to tracheal defects. They include:

  • Chihuahuas

  • Maltese

  • Pomeranians

  • Poodles

  • Yorkies

Dangers of a Collapsed Trachea

Dogs with a tracheal collapse may live a long life without medical intervention. Airflow into the body is restricted, so dogs will pant excessively or gasp for air. Dogs will not be as active as normal and the lack of oxygen can strain the heart and lungs.  For this reason, it's always better to seek veterinary treatment for the comfort of the dog.

Treatments for Tracheal Collapse

The treatment for tracheal collapse depends on the cause. If the trachea is affected by cigarette smoke, chemical irritants or dust, the owner will be asked to change the dog's living environment. The owner may have to quit smoking or limit all smoking to outside the home only. Air filters can help with dust. Changing your cleaning products can help with chemical irritants. Dogs that have a collapsed trachea due to their weight will have to go on a diet.

Prescription cough suppressants, such as butorphanol or hydrocodone, and corticosteroids, such as prednisone, help reduce inflammation caused by tracheal collapse. Some veterinarians suggest the use of inhalers like terbutaline. If medications are your dog's best option, make sure you know the contraindications and reactions so that you can seek additional care if necessary.

If the tracheal tissue is becoming bluish, emergency care is needed. The dog will be put on oxygen therapy and tranquilizers to keep the dog sedated may be necessary.

There is an increase in the use of a tracheal prosthesis to replace the collapsed section. The surgery is invasive and usually is only successful in younger dogs.

No matter which medical treatment is used, dogs that have had a tracheal collapse should not wear a collar. When taking walks, use a chest harness instead.