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Collapsed Trachea in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Rachael Moshman
June 21, 2017

By being aware of the signs and symptoms of a collapsed trachea, you can identify the problem as soon as possible. Here's everything you need to know about this condition in dogs.

A collapsed trachea may sound like a really scary condition, especially because your dog is a valuable member of your family and you hate to think about anything bad that could happen to him. But it's always best to prepare yourself for the worst so that you and your furry friend can tackle any challenge that comes your way. But don't panic if you hear your dog has a collapsed trachea. Most dogs can do just fine with some treatment. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment options for a collapsed trachea in dogs.

How Common Is a Collapsed Trachea?
A collapsed trachea is one of the most common causes of airway obstruction in dogs, says Dr. Blain Kennedy, a veterinarian at Florida Veterinary League. The trachea -- also known as the windpipe -- is made up of rings of cartilage that transport air in and out of the lungs, she explains. "Sometimes these rings collapse, making it difficult for the air to flow in and out."

What Causes a Collapsed Trachea?
"The veterinary community isn't exactly sure why collapsed trachea in dogs occurs," says Dr. Kim Wilson, a veterinarian also at Florida Veterinary League. "It seems to be a congenital abnormality which causes the cartilage in the rings of the trachea to be weaker than normal in some dogs, leading to the collapses."

This condition can occur in both male and female dogs, but it most commonly affects small and toy breeds, says Dr. Wilson. In fact, it's especially prevalent in Yorkshire terriers. Though these collapses can occur at any age, they are most common in middle-aged and senior dogs.

What Are the Symptoms You Should Be Aware Of?
According to Dr. Kennedy, a honking cough is the main symptom of a collapsed trachea in dogs, but other symptoms can include bluish gums, trouble breathing and a lack of desire to exercise. If your dog suffers from this condition, he may not even want to go for walks or play fetch.

The symptoms as a whole may become most apparent when your pet is eating, drinking or excited. You may also find that your dog exhibits these symptoms when he is exposed to hot weather or irritants such as smoke and dust.

What Types of Treatment Options Are Available?
"A cough in a toy breed dog is enough for most vets to suspect a collapsing trachea," says Dr. Wilson. "However, additional testing is needed for a positive diagnosis." This testing may include a radiograph or a fluoroscopy.

According to Dr. Kennedy, treatment usually involves controlling the inflammation of the trachea as well as the cough with cough suppressants, antibiotics and corticosteroids. If your pet is on the heavier side, your vet may also advise that you help him lose some weight, as "the coughing and breathing issues associated with collapsed trachea in dogs are more severe in overweight pets," she explains. "Losing weight often eases these issues."

If your dog suffers from a severe case that compromises his quality of life and does not respond well to other treatment methods, your vet may even recommend surgery, says Dr. Wilson. This surgery typically involves applying prosthetic rings to the outside of your pet's trachea.

How Can You Reduce the Chances That Your Pet Will Suffer From a Collapsed Trachea?
In an effort to reduce the chances of a collapsed trachea, Dr. Kennedy recommends that your dog walker uses a chest harness instead of a collar, keep your dog away from respiratory irritants such as smoke and dust and do what you can to help him maintain a healthy weight.

If your dog develops a strange, honking cough, you should make an appointment with your vet, especially if your furry friend belongs to a toy or small breed. But be sure to remain calm. This condition is not as scary as it may sound. In fact, "most dogs with collapsing tracheas do not experience a decrease in quality of life or in life expectancy as a result," says Dr. Kennedy.

Think your dog may just have bad allergies? Check out Dog Wheezing: How to Alleviate Your Dog's Allergy Symptoms.

Rachael Moshman is a Florida-based writer and dog owner.

 *This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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