THE BLOG

Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

09/21/2012 04:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 21, 2012

Tracheal collapse is a chronic, progressive disease involving the windpipe, or trachea.

The trachea is somewhat like a vacuum cleaner hose that contains small rings, in this case cartilage, that keep the airways open. The rings are C-shaped, with the open part of the "C" facing upward.

Running along the top opening of the C-rings is a band of tissue called the dorsal membrane. In certain dogs, the rings of cartilage are either not formed correctly at birth, or they weaken and begin to change from a C-shape to more of a U-shape.

As the dorsal membrane stretches, the cartilage rings get progressively flatter until eventually the trachea collapses, leaving the dog trying to pull air through what is essentially a closed straw.

Tracheal collapse can be congenital or acquired. When the condition is congenital, it appears to be a result of a deficiency in certain components of the cartilage rings, like calcium, chondroitin, glycoproteins and glycosaminoglycans.

Acquired tracheal collapse is often caused by chronic respiratory disease, Cushing's disease and heart disease. Collapse of the trachea in the neck occurs when the dog breathes in. Collapse of the trachea in the chest occurs when the dog breathes out. The collapse can involve the bronchi that feed air to the lungs, which results in serious airway obstruction in the dog.

Symptoms

Tracheal collapse is most common in small breed dogs like the Chihuahua, Lhasa apso, Maltese, Pomeranian, Pug, Shih Tzu, Toy poodle and the Yorkie.

One of the first signs of tracheal collapse can be a sudden attack of dry coughing that sounds like a goose honk. It progresses to a more consistent cough and often occurs when there's pressure placed on the trachea. This can happen when the dog is picked up or if the collar is pulled. As the disease worsens, the dog can develop exercise intolerance, obvious respiratory distress, and gagging while eating or drinking.

Some dogs with tracheal collapse turn blue when they are excited or stressed. Secondary heart disease can result from the consistent straining to breathe. Some dogs have both laryngeal paralysis and tracheal collapse. These dogs usually make a wheezing sound when they breathe in.

Diagnosis of Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse can sometimes be seen on a regular X-ray. Fluoroscopy, which is a moving X-ray, allows the vet to visualize the dog's trachea as he breathes in and out.

An endoscopy allows a view of the inside of trachea. It provides the best way of viewing the inside of the airway. During this procedure, the veterinarian can also take samples of the trachea for culture and sensitivity tests or additional analysis. Sometimes an echocardiogram is recommended to evaluate heart function.

Any disease of the upper or lower airway can be mistaken for tracheal collapse, including a foreign object in the airway, laryngeal paralysis, an elongated soft palate, infection of the trachea, lungs, or heart failure, as well as tumors or polyps. So it's pretty important that you get a definitive diagnosis and not just a guess.

Treatment Options

Conventional medical management of mild to moderate cases of tracheal collapse involve the use of cough suppressants, antispasmodics, bronchodilators, and sedatives to help reduce coughing spasms and anxiety. It's important to break the coughing cycle, because coughing irritates the airway and leads to more coughing.

If infection is present it must be addressed as well. And if the dog is overweight, it's really important that he lose weight. I also recommend you evaluate your dog's environment. It should be smoke-free and free of other environmental pollutants.

Any dog with a collapsing trachea should be walked using a harness only. I don't recommend anything around the neck, as reducing all pressure at the throat is really important for these dogs.

Medical management works for many dogs with a mild form of this condition. Holistic veterinarians usually recommend cartilage builders to help maintain the integrity of the tracheal cartilage. These supplements can include glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, eggshell membrane, and cetyl myristoleate (CMO). Chiropractic and acupuncture can also be used to reduce the intensity and duration of coughing episodes.

In more severe cases or for dogs who don't respond to medical management, sometimes surgery is recommended. Repair of a tracheal collapse is a very specialized surgical procedure. Don't let your veterinarian tell you that it's no big thing. These particular procedures have significant potential for complications. They should only be performed by a veterinary surgeon that has really extensive knowledge and a well-equipped hospital with a staff able to help your dog recover from this significant procedure in an appropriate manner.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

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