Dog Tracheal Collapse

Is your dog making a honking, goose-like cough? Collapsing trachea is a disease most commonly seen in older, toy-breed dogs. The disease tends to present as a honking or a goose-like cough which occurs at first after exercise, excitement, eating or drinking, or when rubbed over the throat/neck. However, over time the disease can progress to constantly coughing throughout the day and night. The cough is dry, non-productive in nature, and may be accompanied by abnormal breathing patterns or exercise intolerance. In the following article, I will discuss collapsing tracheas in dogs as well as common testing and treatment options.

Collapsing Trachea is really a disease of the cartilage which comprises the rings of the trachea, the tube which carries the air that your pet breathes down the throat and towards your pet’s lungs. Over time, dogs with a collapsing trachea will have these C-Shaped rings of cartilage weaken, causing a flattening of the trachea. The result is often a honking-goose like cough which progresses slowly over time. Dogs with collapsing trachea may have other concurrent diseases including heart disease and laryngeal paralysis, and they may be at a greater risk of acquiring upper airway infections.

While the exact cause of why these cartilage rings weaken and collapse is unknown, there are several theories proposed. Genetic predisposition, nutritional deficiencies including Glucosamine/Chondroitin, excessive barking, other systemic or upper airway disease, and even prior trauma or smoke inhalation are proposed causes.

Several breeds of dogs are predisposed to developing a collapsing trachea including the Yorkshire Terrier, Toy Poodle, Chihuahua, Pomeranian, and Shih Tzu. It is most commonly a disease of middle age to older small breed dogs although young dogs can also be affected.

Collapsing trachea can be diagnosed with radiography (x-rays). However, an x-ray is a “snap-shot in time” and collapsing tracheas are dynamic in nature changing based on the phase of respiration. For this reason, cases can be missed without other dynamic imaging studies. Other imaging modalities used to make a diagnosis include fluoroscopy and bronchoscopy. These tests are performed in “real time”, meaning the motion of the trachea can be observed directly throughout all phases of respiration. They represent the current “gold standard” of testing for collapsing trachea.

While there is no cure for collapsing tracheas, cases can often be medically managed with medications designed to reduce the associated inflammation or suppress the cough reflex. In more advanced cases, surgical placement of a stent can be considered to hold the trachea open, although side effects and risks should be discussed with a veterinary surgeon before electing.

In many cases, tracheal collapse is not life-threatening but is uncomfortable for your pet. In rare cases, dogs will present with cyanosis, which is a blue discoloration of the gums or tongue. Dogs that are cyanotic will require life-saving care including oxygen supplementation until stabilized. If you suspect your dog has a collapsing trachea, we recommend scheduling an Appointment with a member of our Veterinary Team for a thorough physical examination and to discuss the testing and treatment options that are most appropriate for your pet.