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I recorded this pet tip a few months back and it has turned out to be one of the most watched tips to date, so I figured I had better write a blog on the subject since so many people wanted to learn more about this topic!

The trachea is a flexible tube with sturdy c-shaped rings of cartilage. These cartilages keep the trachea open for air to get in and out of the lungs. Tracheal collapse is a progressive respiratory condition that occurs when these tracheal rings of cartilage collapse. It can cause your dog to have breathing problems as the windpipe collapses.

Signs of Tracheal Collapse

In addition to a honking cough, there are other signs that could indicate tracheal collapse. Some of them include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing when you pick your dog up or apply pressure to their neck
  • Vomiting, gagging, or retching associated with the coughing
  • Cyanotic (turning blue) episodes or bluish mucous membranes
  • Wheezing

The cough caused by tracheal collapse is usually non-productive (no phlegm) and is not accompanied by fever. Activities like drinking water, exercising, excitement, and excessively high or low temperatures may trigger respiratory distress. 

A dog with tracheal collapse will experience bouts of respiratory distress. These episodes can be violent and last a few minutes until they resolve themselves. Obesity and humid weather are other factors that could bring out the signs of tracheal collapse in your dog.

Dogs are most at risk for tracheal collapse, but can happen in cats mostly in older pets.  Which dogs are prone to tracheal collapse? Some dogs are more prone to tracheal collapse than others. The genetic condition mainly affects small dog breeds. These include:

  • Pomeranians 
  • Miniature and Toy Poodles 
  • Yorkshire Terriers 
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pugs 

Diagnosis of tracheal collapse.  Your vet may have to do some tests before making a diagnosis of the condition. Some of these tests include:

  • Chest X-ray: This is used to rule out other conditions and discover whether the collapse is closer to the throat or within the chest.
  • Tracheoscopy or bronchoscopy: Usually performed in a clinic or a specialty hospital as it requires general anesthesia, here an instrument with a camera is inserted into the trachea to examine it.
  • Fluoroscopy: This is X-ray imaging that creates real-time moving images as your dog breathes. 
  • Other tests: These could be blood tests, a check-up that includes urinalysis, blood count, chemistry panel, and/or heartworm testing to check for conditions that may cause coughing.

Other methods like radiographic imaging can be used, but these might not be enough to diagnose tracheal collapse on their own. For instance, chest X-rays do not always reveal tracheal collapse.

Treatment of Tracheal Collapse 

Most pets with tracheal collapse can be treated with medications and preventative care, such as weight loss, using a harness for walks, and avoiding airway irritants. Once the vet makes a diagnosis, they may prescribe medication to manage coughing and inflammation. 

For mild to moderate cases, your veterinarian may prescribe one or more of the following medications:

  •  Antibiotics 
  • Cough suppressants
  • Steroids (oral and inhalant using an aerodawg device)
  • Bronchodilators
  • Sedatives

The vet may use sedatives to reduce coughing and anxiety. Some pets may require heavy sedation to stop the cough cycle. Coughing only increases irritation, which then leads to more coughing. 

Your vet may mention Maropitant (Cerenia®) as a drug of preference to decrease inflammation in the airways.

Keep your pet away from airway irritants like smoke and other pollutants. Switching from a collar to a chest harness may also help to ease your pet’s breathing ability. 

If your pet is obese, weight loss may help reduce your pet’s respiratory effort. This will help in managing some of the symptoms of the condition.

If the symptoms are so severe that they affect your pet’s basic functionality, your vet may recommend surgery. This surgery should be conducted by an American College of Veterinary Surgeons board-certified veterinary surgeon. In it, extraluminal tracheal rings or intraluminal stents are surgically placed around the pet’s trachea to keep it from collapsing.

Remember to give a lot of care to your pet if they suffer from this condition. Keeping your pet away from smoke and other pollutants will go a long way toward reducing and preventing breathing problems. 

Keep those pets healthy and happy everyone!

~PetCoachApril

April Arguin A.S., C.P.N., P.M.H.


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