Tracheal Collapse and Coughing
By Audrey Guida, DVM
Tracheal collapse is a disease that concerns a dog’s windpipe or airway that causes them to have a loud, dry hacking cough. The trachea consists of C-shaped rings of cartilage that hold open the trachea. Over time or with age, those rings can soften (called tracheomalacia), and cause the C-shaped rings to widen and flatten. When this happens, the membrane over the top of the rings stretches out, and becomes loose. With breathing in and out, the membrane collapses, tickles the trachea, and causes the dog to cough. Sometimes it can even sound like the dog is trying to cough something up.
More often than not, toy breed dogs like Poodles, Yorkshire terriers, and Pomeranians are affected by tracheal collapse. Usually, the disease manifests around middle age, but it can occur at any age.
A lot of dogs with collapsed tracheas do not show symptoms, but there are factors that can exacerbate them. Most commonly these factors include obesity, anesthesia with an endotracheal tube, or heart enlargement (the heart pushes the trachea upwards). We can sometimes diagnose tracheal collapse with neck and chest x-rays, but not always.
The good news is, tracheal collapse is manageable! It is important to make sure the pet is wearing a harness and not a neck lead, as pulling on a leash around the neck can worsen coughing. If the pet is overweight, weight loss will be helpful. Cough suppressants or steroids are very useful in controlling coughing too.
Sometimes tracheal collapse can become an emergency. If a dog becomes too distressed, the trachea can collapse enough to prevent proper oxygenation. Tranquilization can help alleviate the stress and reduce the heavy breathing and coughing. Sometimes stress can be too much where the trachea will fully collapse, and if the pet's gums are turning purple or blue, this is an emergency and the dog needs to be seen right away by the closest emergency veterinarian.
Does your dog show signs of tracheal collapse? Talk to your veterinarian today to come up with the best plan for your beloved pet.