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Collapsed trachea in dogs

Team Walmart Pets

June 18, 2021


min read

Honk honk! Does your dog ever sound like she’s turning into a goose? An intermittent honking cough may mean that they have a condition common among small and toy breed dogs: tracheal collapse.

What causes tracheal collapse?

The trachea, also known as a windpipe, is a rigid tube carrying air from the upper respiratory system into the lungs. It is made up of C-shaped rings of cartilage that are connected by muscle and covered by a thin membrane. As pets age, these rings can weaken, causing the trachea to flatten. When this happens, the membrane droops into the windpipe, causing a tickling sensation that induces a cough. This phenomenon is called a tracheal collapse.

The defect that causes the cartilage rings to weaken is hereditary in many small and toy breed dogs. So breeds like Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians are most often affected. Although mostly seen in middle-aged or older dogs, it can occur in dogs of any age. 

Tracheal collapse is rare in cats but occasionally occurs as the result of injury or because of some other respiratory tract condition.

What does a collapsed trachea sound like?

Clinical signs of a collapsing trachea range from mild, intermittent barking-cough to serious respiratory distress.

In more severe cases, coughing leads to tracheal inflammation and swelling, which can result in a compromised airway. For dogs, symptoms of a collapsed trachea can be triggered by anxiety, eating or pulling on the leash during walks. By the way, the best thing you can use on walks is a dog harness rather than a conventional collar. (Note: if you can, leave the collar on when using your harness, as it has your dog’s ID tags.) 

Be aware, some dogs may have a collapsed trachea but not show signs of it until there is another issue. There are also some factors that can worsen the effects of tracheal collapse, like:

  • overweight/obese pets
  • respiratory infection, such as kennel cough or pneumonia
  • exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke or dust
  • heart enlargement aka congestive heart failure

If your dog or cat has a respiratory infection, your pet’s veterinarian will do a physical exam to check for tracheal collapse and may order chest X-rays to help determine if the condition is intrathoracic (inside your pet’s chest), extrathoracic (located in his neck), or both. Occasionally, they’ll have to assess the severity of the condition through a bronchoscopy or endoscopy. That’s a fancy way of saying they’ll have to use a camera-like tool to look down their throat.

Treating tracheal collapse

For many pets, resolving secondary problems will also resolve the clinical signs of tracheal collapse. For overweight pets, shedding extra pounds can help, and some pet parents use an air filter to help their pets breathe easier.

About 70 percent of affected dogs respond to medical management of tracheal collapse, including oral cough suppressants like this one as well as inhalers to quiet the cough. Severe cases may require surgical placement of a stent in the trachea to keep the airway open.

Tracheal collapse can be very dangerous. If your pet ever appears to be experiencing respiratory distress, head to your vet’s office or the closest emergency center right away! And to make sure your pet is protected from this and all of life’s other unexpected moments, enroll in Walmart Pet Insurance today.

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Photo by Jeremy Tremblay on Unsplash