Your pup's respiratory system functions the same way yours does. Her windpipe, or trachea, connects her nose, mouth and throat to her lungs. Ideally, the trachea is a strong tube, made of muscle and cartilage, that splits into two primary bronchi. The bronchi split further into smaller bronchioles, delivering air into her lungs.
The trachea and bronchi of a dog are vulnerable to a variety of conditions. If the dog’s tracheal cavity narrows when she breathes, she’s experiencing tracheal collapse. In the condition bronchiectasis, the muscular and elastic parts of the bronchi walls breakdown, causing the airways to become permanently dilated. Since the walls aren't able to contract and expand as normal, the lung's secretions can accumulate, causing a lung infection. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD or chronic bronchitis, is characterized by inflamed mucus membranes in a dog's bronchi. In the case of tracheobronchitis, the bronchial airways and trachea are inflamed.
The different conditions affecting a dog's bronchi and trachea share similar symptoms. In all cases, a cough is usually the first sign something’s wrong. In the case of bronchiectasis, the cough will be a moist cough, as opposed to the dry, hacking cough the other conditions present. Other symptoms of trachea and bronchi illness include fast breathing or panting, difficulty performing routine exercise, unusual lung or breathing sounds, such as wheezing, gagging and retching. In extreme cases a dog’s mucus membranes or skin can take on a blue color or suddenly lose consciousness.
Regardless of your dog's condition, the vet will go through the same diagnostic process to determine what may be ailing your pup. A thorough medical history and routine lab work, to include blood tests and urinalysis, is the starting point. X-rays, bronchoscopies, tissue samples, flouroscopies and echocardiograms can also provide the vet information to help define the problem.
Treating the condition varies according to what’s causing it. In the case of tracheal collapse, sometimes the cause is genetic and other times develops over time due to obesity or illness. Infections or exposure to environmental triggers, such as smoke or chemical fumes, and can trigger other conditions, such as bronchiectasis and tracheobronchitis. Ideally the cause is determined and addressed, however, sometimes a cause isn’t determined. Generally, a dog suffering from problems with her bronchi or trachea will receive medication, such as anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids and antibiotics, which will help her breathe easier and clear up any associated infections. If she’s overweight, she’ll need to lose weight to minimize stress on her respiratory system. Sometimes oxygen therapy is necessary, and occasionally supportive care at the vet is required. A dog with bronchi and trachea problems should be monitored regularly by the vet, eat a healthy diet to maintain a proper weight, and exercise cautiously.
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