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Collapsed Tracheas in Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Small Dogs Are Predisposed to Collapsed Tracheas

Small Dogs Are Predisposed to Collapsed Tracheas

Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

As a dog trainer, I am well aware of collapsed tracheas, and I know I can play a role in helping dog owners prevent them by recommending the right training tools. But what exactly is a collapsed trachea, and why do the wrong training tools play such an important role in its development? Obviously, this article is not meant to replace the advice of a veterinarian—if your dog has symptoms of tracheal collapse, please consult with your veterinarian.

What Is the Trachea?

The trachea is basically the dog's windpipe—a rigid tube made of muscles and cartilage rings meant to connect the dog's mouth to the lungs. It is located in the dog's throat but also extends to the dog's chest. Its main function is to transport air to the lungs and protect the airway. As much as the dog's trachea is fairly rigid, it may, however, weaken over time, causing it to collapse.

X-Ray of Collapsed Trachea in Yorkshire Terrier: The white arrows indicate the normal-sized  trachea, whereas, black arrows mark the collapsed trachea.

X-Ray of Collapsed Trachea in Yorkshire Terrier: The white arrows indicate the normal-sized trachea, whereas, black arrows mark the collapsed trachea.

What Are the Symptoms?

When the trachea collapses, air has difficulty passing through, which causes the typical honking cough to take place. This honking cough should not be confused with bordetella, also known as kennel cough.

The collapsed trachea cough is often triggered by excitement, exercise, eating and drinking, and irritants. Second-hand smoking has proven harmful to dogs in many ways, and it may aggravate coughing in dogs affected by collapsed trachea.

This condition, however, may cause more than just coughing. Trouble breathing, panting, exercise intolerance, and bluish gums are all worrisome signs that may also develop.

Causes of a Collapsed Tracheas in Dogs

The most common candidate for this condition is the breed type (toy breeds). Poodles, Yorkshire terriers, and Pomeranians are breeds commonly affected. The predisposition for tracheal collapse appears to be hereditary. Other potential predisposing/aggravating factors may be the following:

  • Obesity
  • The use of an endotracheal tube during anesthesia
  • Exposure to irritants
  • Respiratory infections
  • An enlarged heart that presses against the trachea
  • Being a middle-aged dog (6-7 years old, but may affect dogs of any age)
  • The use of collars

How Is It Treated?

Once x-rays confirm tracheal collapse, dogs are treated with the use of medications such as cough suppressants, airway dilators, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and antibiotics. Obese dogs may need to be put on a weight-loss program.

The use of a harness versus a collar may help considerably. While medications will not completely cure a dog of this condition, according to Veterinary Partner 71% of dogs responded to medication treatment and medical management with a good long-term response, while 16% required surgery. Surgery encompasses the use of a rigid prosthesis which is bonded around the collapsed trachea as to effectively create a non-collapsible tube.

While a collapsed trachea is a chronic and potentially progressive condition, it rarely causes a significant reduction in quality of life. It helps to try to keep the dog calm. A good product to calm dogs down is an anti-anxiety mixture known as Composure Liquid from Vetri Science or Rescue Remedy."

Dog Coughing From a Collapsed Trachea

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli


Sue on July 10, 2020:

I have a 13-year old teacup yorkie. She developed a “collapsed trachea” condition about 2 years has progressed since then. She is coughing more now to the point that sometimes she loses oxygen and has syncopal episodes (she faints) but comes back rather quickly. I took her to the vet who gave me medication for her. Hydrocodone. I didn’t want my dog being a zombie and live out her remaining years “spaced out”. I put her on CBD Oil for pets to try and keep her calm. She always was a playful, full-of-life, happy dog that loved to run. It breaks my heart to see this change in her. I have never had a leash on her since I got her at 6-weeks old. My other option was to have a “stent” inserted into her trachea to keep open but do I really want to put a 13-year old 6-pound dog through that? Not sure how much more this condition will progress and if she can handle it...

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 07, 2020:

Hi Thorn, if you have any questions in particular about collapsed trachea in dogs, feel free to ask. I used to work for a vet and we saw many small dogs with this condition. It sounds like your dog may benefit from a second opinion from another vet to know what may be going on. Seeing a specialist sometimes is necessary when repeated vet visits are inconclusive. A severe collapse to the point of causing quality of life issues should be readily recognized on x-rays of the neck/chest as you can see in the picture, it could be something else may be going on. Please note the article never said "no reduction in quality of life" but "it rarely causes a significant reduction". Consider that this refers to the quality of life of dogs whose condition is managed through some type of intervention (meds, surgery).

Thorn3686 on April 06, 2020:

for my 13 year old ShiTzu, it is becoming serious. I've already spent $800 at the vet for tests which were all negative (blood, heart, xray, etc, etc). It was at my groomer that she told me about collapsing trachea...the vet didn't even mention anything about it.

I was hoping to find some good information here..but nothing useful at all.

Author says no reduction in quality of like..well my dog is not too far from having to be euthanized from this and no other health issues.

Lou martinez on March 06, 2019:

I have a 13 year-old multipoo who was recently diagnosed with collapsed trachea. She would cough at night and I was prescribed some pills. I didn’t want to medicate her and I had read that menthol rub would help. I rubbed a small amount right below her neck and she slept so well! No coughing-she slept through the night for the first time in months. I’ve continued this every night and she is doing great. I am so thankful that I found this simple yet effective treatment for my fur baby. She goes on daily walks and I do use a harness collar. She has an occasional cough but no longer that hacking cough that caused her so much discomfort.

Sherri on August 03, 2018:

I bought a new rubber toy brought it home my dog has been coughing and gagging and throwing up since he was laying there licking on it for a good 45 minutes

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 31, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your comments. I hope they find a treatment for her so to make her more comfortable, best wishes!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on August 30, 2012:

I was glad to read this information because my 14-year-old Maltese "grand-doggy" has an enlarged heart that is now pressing somewhat on her trachea. In fact, she has a lot of health problems for which she's on many medications, and my daughter is very worried about her--dreading what may happen. It's good to know there are some treatments.

Thanks for an excellent informational hub.


Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on March 17, 2012:

this is a very useful and interesting hub.

our sweet dogs are like humans they can have problems too.

thanks for writing this

voted up