Troublesome Trachea: What You Should Know About Tracheal Collapse In Toy Breeds

If you already know that the trachea is also called the windpipe and is the tube through which air travels en route to your dog's lungs during the inhalation stage of respiration, the term collapsing trachea sounds like a frightening occurrence. By understanding how tracheal collapse happens and what you can do about it, you and your veterinarian can work together to improve your furry friend's vital respiratory airflow.

Tracheal Anatomy

Your dog's trachea is a tube that runs from the back of your dog's throat to where it branches off into the bronchial tubes. When your dog inhales, air enters the trachea, travels along to the bronchial tubes and ultimately enters the lungs. The trachea is flexible, but rings of cartilage hold its rounded shape in a similar manner as the rings on a vacuum hose. However, the rings do not encircle the entire circumference of the trachea. The rings are C-shaped, with the rounded portion located along the underside of the trachea. The open portion of the C-shape is connected by a thin membrane and located on the topside of the trachea. A trachea can collapse, or flatten, when the unsupported topside stretches out the rounded topside if the rings are weak.

Who Suffers From Tracheal Collapse?

If you are considering a toy breed to welcome as a new member of your family, you need to be aware that tracheal collapse can be an inherited condition that is prevalent in toy breeds. Some breeds that are known for tracheal collapse include the following:

  • Yorkshire terrier
  • Pomeranian
  • Toy poodle
  • Chihuahua
  • Maltese
  • Shih Tzu
  • Pug

Not all cases of tracheal collapse are hereditary. Tracheal collapse can be an acquired condition as a result of the following causes:

  • Being obese
  • Frequent exposure to airborne irritants, such as tobacco smoke
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as Cushing's disease or heart disease

Tracheal collapse can afflict a dog of any age, but it typically presents in middle-aged dogs.

How is Tracheal Collapse Diagnosed and Treated?

The classic early sign of a collapsing trachea is the sudden bout of a dry, hacking cough that owners often equate to a goose honk. Since other medical conditions can present with coughing as a symptom, including heartworm disease, heart problems and kennel cough, it is important to pursue a diagnosis from your veterinarian so that effective treatment can be implemented. Diagnostic imaging tests, such as radiographs and endoscopy, will enable your veterinarian to make a definitive diagnosis. The following types of medications may be prescribed for the treatment of your dog's tracheal collapse:

  • Bronchodilators to aid in widening the airway opening
  • Cough suppressants to control coughing spells

Things that you can do at home to reduce your dog's symptoms include the following:

  • Use a harness instead of a collar when hooking your dog to a leash to avoid applying pressure on his throat.
  • Feed your dog accordingly to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home.
  • While a little light daily exercise will help to maintain your dog's healthy weight and joint health, do not encourage overexertion that will lead him to pant heavily and begin wheezing and coughing.

If your dog launches into a coughing spell that results in cyanosis, or a bluish color to his gums and tongue, be sure to bring him to an emergency veterinary facility immediately.

Nearly three-quarters of dogs who are diagnosed with tracheal collapse respond to the aforementioned medications and lifestyle changes. For more serious cases that do not respond favorably to treatment, surgery may be the better option. Surgical correction of a collapsing trachea may involve either the placement of stents within the trachea or the placement of rigid artificial rings around the outside of the trachea. Talk to a vet, like Groves Veterinary Clinic, for more help.