Imagine not being able to breathe because your windpipe is falling in on itself!
This is a real condition called “Tracheal Collapse” where the trachea (windpipe) collapses during breathing. Typically seen in smaller breeds as they get older, tracheal collapse is an irreversible condition that affects the ability to breathe easily.
The trachea is a like a hose – it’s thin and flexible with small cartilaginous rings to help hold the airway open. In some cases of tracheal collapse, the cartilage in the rings become weak and lose their flexibility, causing the airway to fall flat. This doesn’t allow passage of air into or out of the windpipe, triggering an episode of coughing or gasping.
Who’s Most At Risk?
Smaller breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, Poodles and Chihuahuas are at a higher risk. Even dogs that are overweight or even live in household with smokers can be at risk for developing this condition.
What Does It Sound/Look Like?
A pet affected by this disorder could develop a harsh cough that sounds like something is stuck in their throat or even a honking sound. This could happen after being picked up, periods of activity or when their collar is pulled. Overall, the pet will have difficulty breathing and their tongue may turn blue/purple when excited or after an episode of tracheal collapse.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has It?
Calling your clinic to set up an appointment with your veterinarian is a great first step. At the appointment, your veterinarian may discuss how long it’s been going on, what the cough/difficulty breathing sounds like. Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic testing such as a general blood profile and x-rays of the chest. In more severe cases, your vet may recommend a referral to a specialist where they can do more specific diagnostic testing like a an endoscopy, where the inside of the pet’s throat may be clearly viewed with a fiber optic camera or an echocardiogram to evaluate the heart function.
How Do I Treat This Condition?
While the condition is irreversible, your pet can still have a great life! After diagnosis, your veterinarian may recommend weight loss if your pet is overweight, medications to help reduce spasms or irritation of the airway or mild sedatives you can give at home to help reduce coughing fits. Your pet may benefit from a harness as opposed to a collar that can put stress on the neck and trigger a tracheal collapse episode. Dogs should be kept away from smoke or other environmental pollutions. Additionally, your pet could develop a secondary infection that may need to be treated with antibiotics at the discretion of your doctor.
Treatment with medication works for most dogs, however the medical management may be life-long. In most severe cases, a specialist can perform surgery by placing plastic rings around the outside of the trachea or a stent, which helps to hold the trachea open.
By: Madison Cole