Tracheal Collapse

Collapse of the trachea is a condition where the windpipe is flattened instead of being rounded.

It occurs most commonly in middle-aged to older smaller breed dogs that are overweight.

The trachea is composed of cartilage rings in the shape of a “C”. The open part of the “C” is located on top of the trachea and is composed of muscles and ligaments that hold the “tube” together.

In cases of tracheal collapse, the windpipe collapses much like a soda straw does when sucked with excessive pressure. This decreases the size of the airway, limiting movement of air within the windpipe and causing breathing difficulty and a cough or “honking” sound.

If the collapse occurs in the part of the windpipe located in the lower neck before reaching the chest, then the collapse occurs upon inspiration.

If the segment of the trachea involved is located within the chest, then the collapse occurs when the dog exhales the air.

If both segments are involved, then the collapse is constant, but clinical signs are usually worse on expiration.

The cause of this condition is unknown.

Obesity is commonly associated with tracheal collapse.

It may be the result of a weakening of the tissue from bouts of bronchitis or other respiratory infections.

Symptoms Of Tracheal Collapse:

The classic symptom of tracheal collapse is a cough resembling a "goose honk".

Coughing may be exaggerated by hot weather, exercise, or excitement.

Often, dogs suffering from tracheal collapse will not tolerate exercise well.

If the tracheal collapse prevents airflow to the lungs, fainting episodes may occur. 

Diagnosis Of Tracheal Collapse:

Diagnosis of tracheal collapse is diagnosed by physical examination, radiographs (x-rays) and/or endoscopic examination (where a lighted tube is passed down the airway).

Ultrasonic examination can be helpful in diagnosis also.

A blood screen and heartworm test may be necessary to rule out other diseases which can cause similar symptoms.

Other, more specialized blood tests may be necessary depending on the dog's clinical symptoms and results from other diagnostic tests.

Sometimes a tracheal wash (a technique which allows collection of cells from within the trachea for examination) may also be necessary to rule out other diseases.

Treatment Of Tracheal Collapse:

Most cases are successfully treated with cough suppressants, such as torbutrol or hydrocodone.

Antibiotics may be necessary to treat or to prevent secondary bacterial infections.

Occasionally, steroid medications, such as prednisone are used to treat tracheal collapse, but their usage is generally short-term to control acute symptoms rather than long-term because of their tendency to predispose an animal to infection.

Some severe cases may require surgery which involves implanting a prosthetic device around the trachea in an attempt to prevent collapse. Surgery, however, is not guaranteed to solve the problem. Successful outcome is based largely on the location of the collapse within the length of the trachea (i.e. whether the trachea is collapsing in the neck area or within the chest cavity).

Home Care Of Tracheal Collapse:

  • Weight loss is necessary if your dog is overweight to reduce stress on the air passages.
  • Reduce activity and/or excitement.
  • A vaporizer is useful to help soothe and moisten the trachea’s lining.
  • Give any medications prescribed by your dog's veterinarian as directed.
  • It is important to minimize respiratory infections to prevent recurrent episodes.
  • It is important to keep vaccinations current to help prevent some of the more common causes of bronchitis in dogs.
  • Please understand that tracheal collapse is controllable (coughing can be decreased by as much as 75-90% in many cases), but it is not curable.

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