What is Collapse of the Windpipe?
A collapsed windpipe can cause severe discomfort in cats. Owners who suspect that their cat may be suffering from this condition should seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
The windpipe, or trachea, is a stiff tube-like structure in the neck that transports air from the mouth and nose to the small airways and lungs. Windpipe collapse occurs when the trachea loses its structure or narrows, making breathing difficult for the animal. The condition is rare in cats and may not arise until they reach six or seven years of age.
Symptoms of Collapse of the Windpipe in Cats
Symptoms are commonly aggravated by outside forces including excitement, exercise, obesity, exposure to heat, and the inhalation of irritants such as smoke or dust. Affected animals often display one or more of the following symptoms:
- Hacking cough that sounds like honking
- Difficulty breathing
- Exercise intolerance
- Retching or dry-heaving
- Rapid breathing
- Wheezing when inhaling
- Blue-colored membranes
- Loss of consciousness
Causes of Collapse of the Windpipe in Cats
Males and females are equally likely to be affected by collapsed windpipe. The condition is most commonly caused by an inherited congenital defect. Other causes include:
- Sudden change in nutrition
- Chronic disease of the airway
- Respiratory infection
- Airway obstruction
Diagnosis of Collapse of the Windpipe in Cats
A thorough review of the cat’s medical history and discussion of past symptoms is the first step in the diagnostic process. Lab tests will likely be ordered including a complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile. Chest x-rays will help to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms and will allow the vet to examine the condition of the heart. A fluoroscopy or “moving x-ray” can help the vet to better observe the trachea. An echocardiogram may also be ordered to check for an enlargement of the right side of the heart.
Although it is a more invasive procedure, a bronchoscopy can give the vet a detailed view of the airway. He or she will examine the trachea for bleeding and inflammation and will check for obstructions like foreign objects or tumors. The procedure can also be used to extract a tissue sample from deeper within the trachea to be used for lab testing.
Treatment of Collapse of the Windpipe in Cats
The treatment recommended will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and the level of discomfort that the animal is presenting.
In severe cases, cats may need to be hospitalized to address immediate symptoms. Oxygen is often administered to aid in breathing. The cat is usually heavily sedated to reduce discomfort and assist in the administration of necessary treatments.
Symptoms can be greatly reduced by addressing the common triggers that cause them. Pets with the condition should be kept calm whenever possible. An air conditioner can be used in the summer months to keep cats cool, and a humidifier is recommended in the winter to combat dry heat. Smoking near affected cats should be avoided. A regimented weight loss program can be helpful for obese cats.
The veterinarian may prescribe a cough suppressant and bronchodilators to open up the airway. Corticosteroids like Prednisone may be used for the reduction of mucus and inflammation. This should only be used for a short period of time as long-term use has actually been shown to worsen the condition. If a secondary infection is present, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed.
In some cases, surgery will be recommended. The most common surgical procedure is the placement of prosthetic rings on the outside of the trachea. It should only be performed by an experienced surgical specialist. The surgery has a fairly high success rate, particularly in animals that are under six years old. It’s possible that coughing will continue after surgery, but it is likely to be less severe. When the rings are placed in the lower area near the chest, there is a chance that regular movement can cause them to break.
Recovery of Collapse of the Windpipe in Cats
When surgery is performed, it is likely that the cat will need to remain at the veterinary hospital for one to two days after. Medication will be prescribed to control pain and reduce swelling and coughing. The cat should be kept calm and activity should be minimized for at least two weeks. A sedative may be prescribed to avoid over-exercise. The cat will need to return to the vet to have staples or sutures removed, and follow-up visits are recommended to ensure proper healing.
Once the cat has fully recovered, gentle exercise and a healthy diet may be recommended to reduce weight problems. Cats should be kept indoors as much as possible to avoid overstimulation. With proper treatment and weight management, prognosis is generally positive. Affected cats will need regular veterinary follow-up visits to monitor their health.