Have you heard about collapsing trachea before? If you have a small or toy dog breed, your dog may develop a collapsing trachea, so it’s important for you to understand what collapsing trachea is, what the symptoms are, and how it’s treated in order to prevent your dog from suffering needlessly before you take him to the vet for a diagnosis. And while larger dog breeds may also suffer from a collapsing trachea, small and toy breeds are significantly more likely to suffer from this condition. In particular, Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Maltese, Pomeranians, Pugs, Shih Tzus, Toy Poodles, and Yorkies are especially prone to developing collapsing tracheas. Being overweight increases the risk, so it’s very important to know the symptoms if you have a dog that could be at risk.
What is a collapsing trachea?
A collapsing trachea, also known as tracheal collapse, is a result of weakening in the windpipe, causing it to become squished and making it more difficult for your dog to breathe. Whereas the trachea should be circular, a collapsed trachea is a flattened oval shape and isn’t as efficient at bringing air to and from the lungs. It would feel like the equivalent of trying to breathe through a straw.
Most cases of tracheal collapse are thought to be congenital – inherited at birth – although obesity, diet, environmental factors, Cushing’s disease, and multiple respiratory illnesses may all be contributing factors.
What are the symptoms?
-A dry cough that may sound like honking
-Coughing when pressure is placed on the windpipe, such as a leash pulling on a collar or picking the dog up awkwardly
-Gagging or retching, especially while eating or drinking
-Gums turning blue when stressed or excited
-Secondary heart disease
-A dog with both laryngeal paralysis and a collapsing trachea will wheeze when they inhale
-Cough gets worse in hot, humid weather or exposure to smoke or dust
-Abnormally fast breathing
-Unusual breathing sounds
How is it diagnosed?
There are several different ways of diagnosing collapsing trachea. Your vet will probably start with a urinalysis and complete blood count in order to rule out other health issues, like kennel cough. Sometimes a simple X-ray can show the collapsed trachea. Fluoroscopy, a moving X-ray, can show a moving image of the trachea as your dog breathes in and out, but it is a specialized procedure that may not be available in your average vet’s office. An endoscopy – a tiny camera attached to the end of a tube that goes down your dog’s windpipe – can help your vet see any damage to your dog’s trachea, and tissue samples can be removed for additional analysis. Your vet may also do an echocardiogram to check your dog’s heart function since a prolonged amount of time without getting proper oxygen can affect your dog’s heart.
What is the treatment?
The first thing you’ll want to do is replace your dog’s collar with a harness, which will help reduce the amount of pressure on your dog’s trachea. Mild exercise such as slow walks is best, and overexcitement should be avoided.
Mild to moderate tracheal collapse is typically treated with cough suppressants, antispasmodics, bronchodilators, and sedatives to help reduce coughing and anxiety. Your dog’s weight and environment will also be assessed. An overweight dog can get some symptom relief by losing some weight. A dog that lives with a smoker may get some symptom relief if the smoker avoids smoking in the house or near the dog.
Some holistic vets also recommend supplements that may contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM.
Severe cases of collapsing trachea may require surgery, where plastic rings or a stent are placed inside the trachea (depending on the area of collapse) to help keep the airway open.
Collapsing tracheas can get progressively worse, so early diagnosis is key for optimal symptom relief. If your dog is displaying any symptoms of tracheal collapse, you should take him to the vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis.