Dog sitting outside on a wooden deck

Key takeaway

Canine tracheal collapse can block the windpipe and cause a host of breathing as well as other physical issues. Learn more about the different management and treatment approaches that can help your dog find relief.

The trachea or windpipe is the central airway that transfers air to and from the lungs. But when this windpipe stops functioning properly, it can lead to a collapsed trachea in dogs. While this condition could affect dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes, it is widely associated with smaller dog breeds.

A collapsed trachea could result in a number of health issues. These problems not only affect your dog’s quality of life but also have the potential to shorten their life expectancy. Due to this reason, it is important that you learn about the signs, diagnosis, and treatment of this condition in dogs. 

From assessing dog body language to understanding when to seek professional help, this information helps you determine what steps to take in order to keep your dog out of harm’s way. This makes sure that you can address the specific issues that stem from canine tracheal collapse. As a result, you can give your dog the relief, peace, and sense of wellbeing that they deserve.

To help you with this process, here is a guide to canine tracheal collapse as well as the most suitable treatment approaches for the condition.

What Is The Trachea?

The trachea, often referred to as the windpipe, starts from the lower neck and leads to the larger bronchial airways that distribute air through the lungs. This makes the trachea the main airway that transfers air to and from the lungs. It is also one of those organs that is present in almost every air-breathing mammal.

The trachea is supported by cartilage rings that help keep the airway open and carry out its function of unobstructed air transfer. This structure ensures that your dog can inhale and exhale with the required movements of inner muscles. At the same time, the cartilage structure prevents your dog’s windpipe from getting soft and blocking the airway. 

Small dog sitting in the grass

But there are times when these cartilages collapse and make it difficult for your dog to breathe. This can also lead to symptoms including but not limited to dog dry coughing. This collapse, softness, or blockage of the windpipe is known as tracheal collapse.

What Is a Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

The cartilage rings that support the trachea play a crucial role in its function. When these rings of cartilage collapse or cannot hold their structure, this leads to a problem in inhaling and exhaling air for the affected dog. This tracheal collapse in dogs can result in several respiratory issues that can also obstruct the day-to-day movements and functions of the affected dog.

Trachea collapse is segmented into four distinct grades. Across these stages of tracheal collapse1, the loss of cartilage structure leads to the windpipe becoming softer and weaker. This causes a “collapse” effect that gradually makes the trachea smaller and less supported. In turn, when the airway or windpipe gets blocked due to this reason, your dog finds it harder to breathe than usual. 

The different grades or stages of canine tracheal collapse are outlined below.

  • Grade 1: Trachea is reduced by 25%. The trachea’s shape is still normal.
  • Grade 2: Trachea is reduced by 50%. The trachea is partially flattened.
  • Grade 3: Trachea is reduced by 75%. The trachea is almost completely flat.
  • Grade 4: Trachea reduced by 90%. The trachea is completely flat.

Classifications of tracheal collapse

Each stage brings an elevated set of symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs. What makes the condition more difficult is how the signs don’t stop at breathing issues. More often than not, these respiratory problems are accompanied by symptoms that affect other organs or systems.

For instance, the inability to breathe can cause your dog to panic in many cases, which contributes to their already-unusual heart rate and causes it to rise. That is where you need to keep an eye for signs of anxiety in dogs as well as keeping an ear out for collapsed trachea in dogs sounds

Managing these different aspects can be difficult. But understanding the requirements to handle tracheal collapse also allows you to get help without any delay. In turn, it increases the chances for your dog to maintain a better quality of life for a longer time.

What Causes Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

While there is no definitive cause behind tracheal collapse in dogs, the condition is typically congenital or inherited at birth. With that being said, it does not usually make its presence known from the start. 

Since tracheal collapse is a progressive condition, a dog that has inherited it at birth may only show the associated symptoms later in life. However, some dogs may also display these signs at a younger age. These developments heavily vary on a case-by-case basis.

Other possible risk factors of tracheal collapse in dogs may include but are not limited to the following. 

  • Obesity
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Heart diseases

Canine tracheal collapse is also more common in smaller, miniature, or toy dog breeds than it is in larger dog breeds. With that being said, it may still affect larger dogs with the same characteristics and intensity. 

Dog breeds most at risk of tracheal collapse

This makes the condition a highly alarming scenario for pet parents, no matter which dog breed they have made a part of their home. This also means that if your large breed dog is coughing and wheezing consistently, you should consider contacting a veterinarian then writing it off as a random instance. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

The signs of tracheal collapse in dogs depend upon the stage of the condition, as well as the affected dog’s overall health. But most of these symptoms are typically related to respiratory issues due to the restriction of the windpipe. 

Some of the most common signs of tracheal collapse in dogs include3:

  • Dry cough with typically no nasal discharge
  • Honking sounds when coughing 
  • Vomiting or gagging that accompanies coughing
  • Difficulty breathing (may show up as panting)
  • Unusual breathing sounds
  • Lethargy or tiredness with no activity
  • Blue discoloration of mucous membranes (gums and mouth)

Signs of tracheal collapse in dogs

When your dog is going through the grueling signs of tracheal collapse, they could experience different episodes where their difficulty in breathing is more apparent than usual. While these episodes may be temporary and the intense symptoms may dissipate shortly after, you should contact a vet and prevent your trembling dog from going through similar experiences in the future.

Otherwise, these episodes may continue to recur at unlikely times with the progression of the condition. This can put your dog through excruciating discomfort. But if you seek timely treatment, you can reduce the occurrence of these episodes.

What Are Treatments for Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

There are various treatments and management techniques available for collapsed trachea in dogs. The ideal treatment approach depends upon a variety of factors, such as the stage of the tracheal collapse, as well as your dog’s weight, age, and general health. 

Medication Options. These approaches focus on managing the tracheal collapse through oral and injectable medications. These medications are focused on relieving persistent cough, treating inflammation of the trachea, as well as reducing anxiety and stress. The precise medications and dosage options may vary on a case-by-case basis. 

Environmental Management. These practices target environmental factors that could contribute to tracheal collapse symptoms in your dog. These measures may include but are not limited to using a harness instead of a collar, preventing exposure to smokers around the home, and improving the air quality inside the home. The main goal of this approach is to reduce pressure on the windpipe while keeping irritants at bay.

Physical Risks. Since tracheal collapse is often associated with certain physical factors, an approach to managing pre-existing conditions can help your dog find relief. These practices may include weight loss, treatment of respiratory conditions, and management of associated infections. This ensures that your dog does not have to deal with unnecessary tracheal issues that could be resolved by targeting their other health challenges.

Surgical Procedures. Even though you can start treatment for collapsed trachea in dogs through noninvasive and minimally invasive procedures, the progression of the disease may eventually call for surgical intervention. That is where your vet may recommend approaches such as stent placement to manage your dog’s tracheal collapse.

All of these treatment options are known to work in a variety of cases. But in order to find a suitable approach that relieves your dog’s symptoms and improves their quality of life, you have to reach out to a skilled vet. This ensures that your dog is receiving personalized treatment that targets specific signs of tracheal collapse. 

In case you are unable to reach a vet in person, you can also explore telemedicine for pets options. While the former approach lets you receive traditional care, the latter practice allows you to get qualified advice from the comfort of your home. Virtual consultations are also ideal for those pet parents who need urgent yet affordable medical care before it’s possible for their dogs to visit a vet in person.

Final Notes

Canine tracheal collapse is a highly challenging condition that could occur in dogs of any breed, size, and age. With that being said, pet parents of smaller dog breeds need to be more mindful of the condition. 

Tracheal collapse can occur in dogs without any contributing factors. But certain pre-existing conditions such as obesity, respiratory challenges, and cardiovascular diseases can elevate the risk. However, besides it being a congenital condition or a challenge that is present from birth, there is no definitive factor that is known for causing tracheal collapse in dogs of any age. 

Since canine tracheal collapse is a progressive condition, its early treatment options may include medication regimes and environmental changes. But when the disease has progressed to advanced stages, surgical intervention may become necessary. This often comes in the form of stent placement to keep the windpipe open. 

All of these treatment approaches can safely be administered after a personalized consultation with a licensed vet. This ensures that your dog is receiving specific treatment and management advice from a qualified expert. This enhances your dog’s quality of life and keeps them safe from a variety of painful symptoms in the long run.

At Dutch, we provide pet parents with accessibility to licensed vets without taking a step out of their homes. Our platform not only helps you connect with qualified independent providers but also lets you benefit from affordable care costs. 

In addition to these connectivity features, we also take our responsibility as a learning resource seriously. This leads us to offer management and treatment overviews for different challenges that different pets may face on a daily basis. As a result, you can take care of your pet to the best of your ability, no matter your distance from an in-person vet clinic.

To see how our solutions can help, browse through our platform today. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to discuss your concerns right away. 

References

  1. Tracheal collapse: Medical Management versus implantable stents. MU Veterinary Health Center. (2019, June 21). Retrieved February 23, 2022, from http://vhc.missouri.edu/small-animal-hospital/small-animal-internal-medicine/minimally-invasive-interventional-procedures/tracheal-collapse-medical-management-versus-stents/

  2. Staff, AKC.“Collapsing Trachea: Indicators and Treatment.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 17 Nov. 2017, vol. 32, no. 3-4, 1977, pp. 138–142.,https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/collapsing-trachea-indicators-and-treatment/. 

  3. Kuehn, Ned F. “Tracheal Collapse in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 10 Feb. 2022, vol. 32, no. 3-4, 1977, pp. 138–142.,https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/tracheal-collapse-in-dogs.