What is Tracheal Collapse?
Tracheal collapse is typically mild at first and continues to get worse over time, producing coughing, wheezing, gasping for breath, and difficulty eating and drinking. This usually happens gradually and is graded as mild to severe in four stages. These stages are considered as preliminary and do not necessarily mean that your dog will need to have surgery if the veterinarian stages your pet at stage four. However, it is important to note that it can also be acute and come on suddenly, especially if there is a traumatic injury.
Tracheal collapse is a serious condition caused by the narrowing of the trachea that is mostly limited to toy and miniature breeds, such as Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, Pug, Maltese, Lhasa Apso, Pomeranian, Toy Poodle, and the Yorkshire Terrier. The trachea is part of the airway between the chest and the neck, made up of cartilage and is necessary for breathing. In small dogs, the trachea is not formed as well or as strong as in big dogs and over time, the trachea starts to lose its shape, gradually becoming flattened. This will eventually lead to a serious breathing disorder that can be fatal due to the stress put on the heart and other organs that have to work harder and do not get enough oxygen.
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Symptoms of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs
The symptoms may be sudden or gradual, and can be mild or severe, depending on the amount of damage to the trachea. These are the most common symptoms:
- Coughing (sounds like a honking goose)
- Lack of energy
- Fast breathing
- Getting worn out easily
- Trouble eating and drinking
- Abnormal breath sounds
- Breathing difficulty
- Blue tint to mucous membranes
There are four stages of tracheal collapse, which are:
- First stage is a mild condition probably found by chance during any other accident; there are probably no symptoms at this stage
- Second stage is a mild-to-moderate stage that includes some signs including wheezing and breathing heavy
- Third stage is a serious condition that needs to be found and treated right away
- Fourth stage is severe and may not be treatable
Causes of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs
The cause of tracheal collapse is not known at this time, although there are some risk factors, such as:
- Genetic in toy and miniature breeds (Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, Pug, Maltese, Lhasa Apso, Pomeranian, Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier)
- Age (most common in dogs over 5 years of age)
- Too much activity
- History of respiratory infections
Diagnosis of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs
A veterinary professional will suspect tracheal collapse right away if your dog is a toy or miniature breed and has these symptoms. However, it is important to rule out other illnesses or injuries. A complete and detailed physical examination has to be done, which will likely include body temperature, weight, height, reflexes, coat and skin condition, pupil reaction time, blood pressure, breath sounds, pulse, oxygen level, respirations, and abdominal palpations.
Diagnostic imaging, such as chest x-rays and ultrasound are important in determining tracheal collapse because the veterinarian should be able to see the tracheal damage. A tracheoscopy or endoscopy are great tools to determine the damage. These procedures are both performed by inserting a flexible tube with a camera into the airway or windpipe to look at the damage. A fluoroscopy may be done as well, which is a real-time moving x-ray, sort of like a live x-ray video. Your pet will be under anesthesia for this procedure so it is less stressful (to you and your dog). To be sure there is no underlying cardiac issue, the veterinarian may want to do an echocardiograph (ECHO) and electrocardiograph (EKG) as well.
The veterinarian will also need to do some laboratory testing, including a complete blood cell count, serum biochemistry analysis, glucose level check, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), packed cell volume (PCV), and liver enzyme panel.
Treatment of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs
There are different treatments for each stage and it also depends on age and overall health of your dog.
Cortisone, bronchodilators, cough suppressants, and anti-anxiety medications may all be used but should only be given as directed by your veterinarian.
If your dog is overweight, the veterinarian will suggest a low-calorie and low fat diet. It may be difficult but it is well worth it even if the tracheal collapse does not clear up right away.
If the above treatments do not work, or if the collapse is severe, surgery may be the best option. The veterinarian will insert either internal or external stents. Your best choice is the internal stents because the external ones include a very invasive and dangerous condition.
Recovery of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs
If your veterinarian is able to repair the damage with stents or if you are using one of the other treatments successfully, your dog’s recovery should be excellent. It may take a few months for the condition to dissipate in most of the treatments except for surgery.
Tracheal Collapse Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a chorkie and he's had a collasping trechea for several years. He is now 6yrs. It has only gotten worse. beneydryl worked for awhile. No passing out yet but he struggles to breath sometimes. We give him the cough meds and bronc meds and try to keep him calm when he gets worked up. We worry about his organs with the lack of oxygen. Our vet has never taken any x-rays just continue to give us different meds. He's had steroid shots, steroid pills. He has his good days but when he has a bad day, its bad. Not sure what to do or where to go. We just moved to Lakeland, FL.Thank You!
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Will wait loss and switching from a collar to a chest harness be enough to help with my dogs tracheal problem or will he need to go to the vet. I would say that he's at a mild stage as of right now.
Both weight loss and switching to a harness as opposed to a collar will help in the long term, they may not be enough to ensure that Gizmo is comfortable. A goose honk is an indicative sign of tracheal collapse and most Veterinarians will make a presumptive diagnosis just listening to the dog in the waiting room. An x-ray would be valuable to see the extent of the collapse as well as to have an image to compare in the future; also your Veterinarian may also prescribe some cough suppressants which may make Gizmo more comfortable. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
www.acvs.org/small-animal/tracheal-collapse (some nice images)
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Hi my daughter has adopted a darling Shih tzu mix and we recently found he has a collapsed trachea. He’s only one year old with lots of energy but of course we know he can’t withstand that much physical activity. So what do we do with this energy and need for training? He’s not good on a leash, pulls badly and starts honking if restrained: he’s also developing some antisocial behavior that needs addressing. Looking for support groups and info on how to best raise this little one.
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Our 13 year old Jack Russell has for sometime been coughing and looks like she is going to throw up. It is getting worse. It seems she gets little something up in throats but swallows it. She is eating but slit less and has list dome weight recently. Do you think this could be tracheal collapse. She has always like to jerk and play when she has leach on andceould gag .
Because she is 13, we would just like to know if there is anything that would help her not to cough as bad.
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