A tracheal collapse occurs when the cartilage rings that compose a dog’s trachea or windpipe begin to collapse and obstruct breathing. Often a congenital disorder, the malady is most prevalent in small and toy breed dogs, primarily Yorkshire terriers. Typically, overweight dogs and pups older than 6 years of age have the highest incidence of this problem. With prompt medical treatment, up to 75 percent of dogs fully recover.
One of the first symptoms of tracheal collapse is a honking cough. The cough may become more persistent as the problem progresses and may be more noticeable if the dog strains against his collar or otherwise has pressure applied around his neck or throat. The coughing can turn to gagging while eating or drinking.
A dog with tracheal collapse may have a difficult time breathing while exercising and may make wheezing sounds when he inhales. He may also develop laryngeal paralysis, the inability to bark or vocalize. Left unchecked, these respiratory issues have the potential to lead to secondary heart disease.
Tracheal collapse can make a dog’s gums turn blue, particularly if he is excited or stressed. Hot or humid conditions can exacerbate the condition, as can breathing dust, smoke, chemicals or other environmental inhalants that have the potential to irritate the trachea.
A vet may be able to diagnose a tracheal collapse using X-ray technology, such as a radiograph or a fluoroscope. He may also examine the dog using an endoscopy, which allows him to see the trachea using a small endoscopic camera. Depending on the severity of the condition, your vet may also perform an echocardiogram to check your dog’s heart for damage.
Mild instances of tracheal collapse can be treated with cough suppressants and antispasmodics, corticosteroids, bronchodilators and, in some cases, antianxiety medications. If your dog has developed an infection, antibiotics will typically be part of the treatment. Your vet may prescribe supplements to help strengthen your pup’s tracheal cartilage. Severe cases of tracheal collapse may require surgery to internally strengthen and repair the trachea. Installing artificial cartilage rings or a stent may be necessary to ensure the airway remains open.
If you have a small-breed dog, ensure that he maintain a healthy weight. Consider switching from a collar and leash to a body harness to reduce pressure on the windpipe. Keep your dog away from smokers and decrease use of aerosol products in your home, which can irritate the pup’s respiratory system.