Any condition that makes it difficult for your dog to breathe is quite serious, and tracheal collapse is one condition. Telltale signs of trachea collapse include wheezing, gagging, and coughing that indicate your dog needs veterinary care. While serious, trachea collapse comes in stages, and treatments exist.
The trachea, often called the windpipe, is a tube between the larynx and bronchial tubes that lead to the lungs made from membrane rings and reinforced with cartilage. Its main job is to remain rigid and safely move air into your lungs. If the membrane or cartilage loses shape or rigidity, the trachea can flatten, obstructing the airway. A honking "goose cough" and wheezing are both signs of tracheal collapse; although, you may not notice symptoms in your dog unless it is playing or exercising.
Tracheal collapse in dogs is more common with small and toy breeds such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, or Poodles. Pomeranians, Shih Tzu's, Lhasa Apsos are also prone to tracheal collapse. However, dogs of other breeds can also develop this condition. Knowing the signs of a flattened windpipe ensures you can seek veterinary care promptly before other symptoms and damage occur.
While the trachea can collapse in dogs of any age, it's more common in older and middle-aged dogs. Dogs that have experienced a sudden increase in weight are also more likely to have a flattened trachea.
There are two types of tracheal collapse: partial the full. The former happens when a small piece of cartilage is missing. The more severe full tracheal collapse happens when the cartilage has crumbled and collapsed entirely. Wheezing, cough, gagging, panting, and head tilting are common signs of a collapsed trachea. Without treatment, a collapsed windpipe may cause facial and neck swelling, which further hinders breathing and eating and can prevent your dog from closing its mouth.
Tracheal collapse in dogs is uncomfortable and stressful, often leaving them with the sensation that something is caught in their throat. However, the real risk comes from impaired breathing, which can damage organs and tissue. When tracheal collapse prevents proper nutrition, dogs can experience heart failure. If a collapsed trachea lets food or water enter the windpipe, your dog might begin to choke. Unfortunately, tracheal collapse and its associated conditions can be fatal.
If you suspect your dog has a flattened trachea, you should immediately seek medical attention. Your veterinarian can perform a technique known as a tracheoscopy, which allows them to see inside your dog's trachea to confirm or rule out that it is flattening or has crumbled. X-rays and a physical exam are useful tools for diagnosing trachea collapse in dogs or conditions that cause similar symptoms.
There are multiple treatment options for a tracheal collapse in dogs, and the type of collapse will impact which is the best option. For a full collapse, surgical reconstruction is required to open up the airway and prevent future flattening. This surgery involves placing an implant or brace in the trachea to keep its shape. Medications that decrease inflammation and swelling suppress coughing, and dilate the bronchial tubes may also help. If your dog experiences heart failure or infections, your vet may prescribe medications for the secondary conditions.
Unfortunately, even with treatment, dogs with a collapsed trachea will likely cough for the rest of their lives. It's also possible for a trachea to flatten again after effective surgical or medical treatment, leading to increased symptoms and secondary conditions. Owners need to avoid collars and environmental irritations such as cigarette smoke to give the treatment the best chance of success.
Because obesity can trigger your dog's trachea to collapse, keeping your dog within a healthy weight range is important to avoid this condition. Your vet may also recommend weight loss after a tracheal collapse to prevent the likelihood of reoccurrence. However, tracheal collapse in dogs can't always be avoided. Some professionals recommend using a harness over a collar when running and playing to prevent strain that can contribute to a damaged trachea.
Tracheal collapse is rated by severity, starting with the first stage in which the trachea is only partially flattened. A dog enters the second stage of collapse when small bits of cartilage in the trachea have crumbled. In the third stage, significant amounts of cartilage have eroded, leading to swelling and breathing problems. The fourth and final stage occurs when little cartilage remains. Your dog will require surgery to reverse this stage of tracheal collapse.
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