Thursday, June 7, 2012

Primer On Collapsing Trachea In Dogs

Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS 

Collapsing trachea is seen mostly in small breeds of dogs, such as Toy Poodles, Yorkies, and Pomeranians. It often shows up in puppies or young dogs and tends to worsen with age because secondary inflammation narrows the trachea, making it even more difficult to breathe in air.

The trachea is the windpipe that carries the air that your dog breathes from its nose (or mouth) through smaller and smaller airways to the lungs. 

It is made up of rings of cartilage connected by fibrous tissue. The cartilage rings give the trachea its round, tube shape. In some dogs, the cartilage rings are weaker than normal, so when air is breathed in and the pressure inside the trachea increases, the rings tend to collapse and the trachea flattens.

1.Normal Tracheal Ring
2.Collapsed Tracheal Ring
3.Collapsed Trachea
Image Camboro Veterinary Hospital
This makes it more difficult to breathe, resulting in a honking cough, especially during excitement or exercise.

Mildly affected dogs have the characteristic honking cough, and they may tire more easily during play or exercise. Severely affected dogs can collapse and even pass out because of breathing problems, which is an emergency situation.

In most cases, diagnosis is based on physical examination and your description of the problem. 

However, your veterinarian may need to take an x-ray or to examine the inside of the trachea with an endoscope, which is a long, lighted flexible tube that can be passed inside the body for viewing internal structures.

All dogs with collapsing trachea should be kept fit and trim, because obesity makes it more difficult to breathe. 

Mildly affected dogs often do fine with very little therapy, so long as they are at a healthy weight. However, severely affected dogs may need specialized surgery to reinforce the cartilage rings. This procedure is technically difficult, so your vet may refer you to a specialist or veterinary teaching hospital.


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  1. The poor little Doggies - do you know what causes this condition?

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy :)

    1. Hi Snoopy. Pick your breed, pick your disease. That's sadly what it's like these days.

      It seems that it is caused by a progressive weakening of the tracheal rings. One study showed that dogs with tracheal collapse have less chondroitin sulfate in their tracheal rings. It can be caused by deficiency of the components of the cartilage, such as components of tracheal ring cartilage like glycosaminoglycans, glycoproteins, calcium, and chondroitin. Cushing's disease can also weaken the cartilages. Chronic respiratory disease and infection can also play a role.

      It seems to be a small dog alternative to arthritis in large dogs (though small dogs, sadly, can get arthritis too)

  2. It's sad that our pets have to go through some of these diseases that affect the quality and length of their lives.

    1. IT definitely is. Animals should not get sick. Ever. Period. Sadly, they do.