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Collapsing trachea

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Collapsing trachea is seen mostly in small breeds of dogs, such as Toy Poodles, Yorkies, and Pomeranians. It often shows up in puppies or young dogs and tends to worsen with age because secondary inflammation narrows the trachea, making it even more difficult to breathe in air. The trachea is the windpipe that carries the air that your pet breathes from its nose (or mouth) through smaller and smaller airways to the lungs. It is made up of rings of cartilage connected by fibrous tissue. The cartilage rings give the trachea its round, tube shape. In some dogs, the cartilage rings are weaker than normal, so when air is breathed in and the pressure inside the trachea increases, the rings tend to collapse and the trachea flattens. This makes it more difficult to breathe, resulting in a honking cough, especially during excitement or exercise.

Mildly affected dogs have the characteristic honking cough, and they may tire more easily during play or exercise. Severely affected dogs can collapse and even pass out because of breathing problems, which is an emergency situation.

In most cases, diagnosis is based on physical examination and your description of the problem. However, your veterinarian may need to take an x-ray or to examine the inside of the trachea with an endoscope, which is a long, lighted flexible tube that can be passed inside the body for viewing internal structures.

All dogs with collapsing trachea should be kept fit and trim, because obesity makes it more difficult to breathe. Mildly affected dogs often do fine with very little therapy, so long as they are at a healthy weight. However, severely affected dogs may need specialized surgery to reinforce the cartilage rings. This procedure is technically difficult, so your vet may refer you to a specialist or veterinary teaching hospital.

 

Q&A

What is collapsing trachea?

A condition associated with weakened cartilage rings in the trachea (windpipe), which causes the trachea to flatten on inspiration. 

What dogs are most likely to be affected?
Collapsing trachea is seen mostly in small breeds of dogs, such as toy poodles, Yorkies, and Pomeranians.  It often shows up in puppies or young dogs and tends to worsen with age because secondary inflammation narrows the trachea, making it even more difficult to breathe in air. 

How is collapsing trachea treated?

Mild cases may need little therapy, but more severe cases require surgery to reinforce the cartilage rings.  All dogs should be kept fit and trim, because obesity makes it more difficult to breathe.
 

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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