Collapsed Trachea

Collapsed Trachea is a chronic and progressive health condition where a dog’s trachea collapses, obstructing airflow to their lungs. The trachea or the windpipe is a flexible tube that connects the throat with the lungs. The trachea is lined with small circular cartilage that holds its shape. This cartilage is not fully circular because a part of the circle is made of thin tissue membranes.

Causes of of Collapsed Trachea

When the cartilage rings in their throat lose their strength, their trachea flattens when they breathe.

Chihuahuas, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire terriers, Toy Poodles and Pomeranians are more predisposed to having a collapsed trachea. The exact cause of collapsed trachea is not clear but it’s considered congenital because some breeds are more likely to have the condition. The condition can still affect any dog breed.

Symptoms of Collapsed Trachea

Collapsed trachea is usually seen in middle-aged dogs between 4 to 14 years of age. Common signs are:

  • Harsh dry cough – a cough that sounds like a goose honking
  • Coughing when your dog is picked up, their collar is pulled or pressure is applied to their neck
  • Breathing problems
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Wheezy noise while inhaling 
  • Turning blue episodes
  • Vomiting or gagging while coughing
  • Fainting

Their coughing or difficulty can become severe at night, when your dog gets excited, while eating or when drinking. 

Coughing can be caused by other diseases like heart failure or respiratory infections. Tests will need to be performed to rule out other diseases. Sometimes heart disease and collapsed trachea can occur simultaneously.

Depending on the severity of the condition, the collapsed trachea is graded from I to IV. Grade I is least severe and Grade IV is the most severe. Grade IV is where dogs experience more serious symptoms like severe cough and difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis of Collapsed Trachea

Radiographs or X-rays are non-invasive methods used to diagnose a collapsed trachea in animals. Sometimes X-ray images may fail to detect collapsed trachea because they only capture the structure of the trachea at the time of X-ray. The trachea may not be flattened or collapsed when the radiograph is taken. 

Vets can perform other tests like fluoroscopy to identify if a dog has collapsed trachea. In fluoroscopy real-time X-ray images of your dog are obtained to see how their trachea moves when they breathe or move. The imaging helps identify the exact location of the collapsed trachea. 

Another way to diagnose a collapsed trachea is by bronchoscopy or tracheoscopy. This is an invasive method where an endoscope (thin viewing instrument) is inserted through your dog’s mouth. The endoscope is inserted into the trachea and bronchi, showing a full internal view. Inflammation or irritation in the airway can also be detected. 

Dogs are usually given anesthesia when a tracheoscopy is performed.

Treatment of Collapsed Trachea

Treatment of collapsed trachea involves using a combination of medication, weight loss and environmental management methods. Environment and weight management are important to reduce the stress on your dog’s trachea. Keeping your dog on a harness and not a collar, improving air quality or not exposing your dog to irritants like smoke can help. Overweight dogs should be put under a weight loss program. These things can reduce the severity and frequency of collapsed trachea. 

Medication will depend on the condition of your dog. Some dogs have to be given medicine to control their coughing. Their cough needs to be controlled and reduced because coughing irritates their airway and causes more coughing. Dogs with infections will be given antibiotics. 

Medication can work for up to 70 percent of dogs, especially on dogs with mild cases. Because the disease is progressive, some animals may stop responding to medicines and will need to be treated with surgery.

One surgical method involves placing plastic rings around the outside part of their trachea. The other method requires adding a stent inside their airway. The stents are made from woven mesh that supports their trachea and prevents it from collapsing. 

While placing stents can be life-saving it still is not a full-proof treatment. Stents can fail because they are made from metal and are not flexible like the trachea. There is the possibility of complications like stent fracture, stent dislocation, the collapse of non-stented sections, respiratory infection, laryngeal paralysis or trachea rupture.

Stents should not be placed on animals with severe illnesses, uncontrolled respiratory infection or bronchi collapse . 

Because the disease is progressive, your dog should be monitored after their surgery. Sometimes your dog will need to be kept on medication for life.

Cost of Treating Collapsed Trachea 

The cost of treatment will depend upon factors like:

  • Type of trachea collapse
  • Length of time kept at the vet
  • Medications
  • Treatment method

Medication usually starts at $100 a week. Stent treatment can cost between $4,500 to $5,500, with a single stent costing $1,000.