The trachea is the windpipe that carries the air from the dog’s nose into its lungs. It is a tube that is formed of rings of cartilage.
Tracheal collapse in large-breed dogs is a condition where the cartilage of the trachea flattens when the dog breathes in. When big dogs get tracheal collapse it makes breathing difficult for them.
Tracheal collapse is most commonly found in certain small breed dogs like Toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, and Chihuahuas.
But tracheal collapse can be found in any breed or size of a dog, including large and giant breeds. If you believe your dog has tracheal collapse make sure you see a vet right away.
Most dogs that have weak cartilage in their tracheas are born that way. It’s overwhelmingly a congenital disorder and it’s often inherited. If you are buying a purebred dog, make sure you are getting your dog from a breeder that accurately discloses the health of the dog’s parents and grandparents.
Other risk factors that are related to a collapsed trachea include:
- Chronic respiratory disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Exposure to cigarette smoke (yet another reason to stop smoking!)
- Heart disease
Tracheal collapse is often comorbidity. That means that it occurs frequently alongside other diseases such as:
- problems with the larynx
- Liver enlargement
- Heart disease
- Dental problems
- Elongated soft palate
If your dog is diagnosed with a collapsed trachea, your vet should also be looking for other health conditions as well. Treating the health conditions together can help give your dog a longer and more comfortable lifespan.
The most common sign of a collapsed trachea in dogs is a dry, hacking cough that sounds like a goose that is honking.
If your dog has a persistent harsh cough, make sure you take them to your vet right away.
Other signs that a dog might have a collapsed trachea are:
- Coughing when its collar is pulled on or when someone picks them up
- A hard time breathing
- Not wanting to / not able to exercise
- Turning blue and coughing when it gets excited
- Wheezing sounds when it takes in air to breathe
Your vet will look for the dry, harsh “goose honk” cough. They will then physically examine your dog and put very light pressure on the trachea to see if it causes difficulty breathing.
If the vet suspects tracheal collapse from these indicators they then will commonly give the dog an X-ray or use a bronchoscope or endoscope to confirm that the diagnosis is correct.
Most of the time it’s middle-aged to old dogs that experience collapsed tracheas. Typically this is a condition that is seen after about 4 years of age.
A collapsed trachea is not the only condition that can cause harsh coughing in dogs. There are other diseases such as congestive heart failure that need to be ruled out as well. Dogs also can have multiple conditions that cause harsh coughing.
No, a dog can’t recover from a collapsed trachea. This is a progressive disease that gets worse over time. However, there are treatment options available to help slow down the progression and manage the symptoms.
There are four stages of tracheal collapse.
Grade 1: The cartilage in the trachea is still shaped normally, but there is about 25% degradation of cells that support the trachea (the tracheal lumen).
Grade 2: The cartilage has become partially flattened and the tracheal lumen is reduced by around 50%
Grade 3: The cartilage is almost flat and the tracheal lumen is reduced by 75%
Grade 4: A complete loss of tracheal lumen with a flattening of the cartilage
While there are surgical options available for collapsed trachea, they aren’t the first line of treatment. Most of the time a dog with collapsed trachea will be treated with various medications and lifestyle adjustments.
Medications used for collapsed trachea:
- Oral or inhaled steroids
- Cough suppressants
An important note is that once your dog begins treatment for tracheal collapse, the medical management has to be continued for life.
Lifestyle adjustments used to treat tracheal collapse
If your dog is obese, your vet may put them on a weight loss plan. If you are using a collar, switching them to a harness for walks can be helpful. And not smoking around your dog can also help.
The primary goal of your vet will be to reduce the coughing. This is important because coughing causes more coughing. And that makes the condition worse.
Surgical options to treat tracheal collapse
There are a few surgical options used to treat tracheal collapse. These include:
Plastic rings: A veterinary surgeon will place plastic rings on the outside of the trachea to support it.
Stents: Sometimes a stent will be placed inside the trachea to help prop it open. This option doesn’t need a surgical incision so recovery time is quicker.
How long a dog lives after they are diagnosed with a collapsed trachea depends on the severity of the diagnosis and the willingness of the dog’s owner to treat them.
Most dogs who are in the early stages of a collapsed trachea can still live for years when they are treated properly.
But sometimes the prognosis is worse because there are other underlying health conditions or the tracheal collapse is severe.