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My Dog Has Tracheal What?!

By Dr. Rochelle Campbell

You are sitting in your living room playing with your 9 year old Chihuahua, "Chi Chi", and suddenly you notice a honking cough.  You continue to notice this cough intermittently, especially during periods of activity or excitement.  You decide to take "Chi Chi" to your family veterinarian and after taking a thorough history from you, doing a good physical exam (including eliciting a cough when she gently rubs the underside of "Chi Chi"'s neck) and doing some chest x-rays, she diagnoses him with a collapsing trachea.  A collapsing trachea occurs when the trachea, or "windpipe", cartilages soften.  The tracheal rings (the cartilage rings) then collapse and this blocks air from coming into or exiting out of the trachea and lungs during respiration.

Treatment of tracheal collapse can be difficult.  The primary treatment will usually include drugs aimed at decreasing swelling and tissue irritation, along with drugs that may cause sedation or relaxation.  Antibiotics may be dispensed to your pet if there is an infection present.  Additional types of medications used in treatment may include drugs to help relieve airway constriction and anti-cough (anti-tussive) drugs.

Some dogs can be on cough suppressants long-term depending on the severity of clinical signs they experience related to collapsing trachea.  Occassionally, a dog can undergo surgical correction of a collapsing trachea. However, a pet that is a surgical candidate usually has a tracheal collapse at a specific location in the neck and is usually young.

Your veterinarian may want to check bloodwork and abdominal x-rays to ensure there are no other underlying medical issues contributing to the cough.  Obese dogs tend to have an increased risk for collapsing trachea.  The outlook for most pets with collapsing trachea is favorable in the early stages.  Severe bouts of coughing may potentially lead to respiratory distress.  Monitor your pet closely and take him or her to your veterinarian if you notice an increase in the severity of the cough. If your pet is diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, it is important to remember that there are options for treatment, despite the frustration of knowing the cough will most likely be chronic, intermittent, or both.