After all our talk here about kennel cough, you may jump directly to that conclusion when your dog coughs. It must be kennel cough. 

Well, hold on a minute.There are several reasons why your dog could be coughing.

Today we will explore one of the top reasons for coughing in dogs besides kennel cough, tracheal collapse.

What Is A Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

What is a Collapsed Trachea in Dogs
Collapsed trachea is a progressive respiratory condition affecting the cartilage in the throat. The trachea is the tube connecting the windpipe to the lungs.

You see, the trachea is made up of two basic components:

  • Muscle and connective tissue
  • Cartilage rings

Muscle and connective tissue make up the tube of the windpipe. This tissue surrounds the C-shaped cartilage rings that hold the windpipe open. Humans have them too. Go ahead, touch your own throat. You can feel the hard cartilage of your trachea. If you press too hard, you might even feel the need to cough.

Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

Collapsed trachea happens when the C-shaped cartilage rings weaken and don’t hold the windpipe open as well as they once did. When the windpipe begins to close in on itself, breathing becomes difficult for the dog.

Who is Likely to Suffer From Tracheal Collapse?

  1. Small dog breeds
  2. Older dogs

Small Dog Breeds

Tracheal collapse is more common in small dogs less than fifteen pounds. Because of this predisposition to tracheal collapse, it is assumed to be congenital or hereditary.

Dog breeds that are predisposed to tracheal collapse are:

  • Maltese
  • Pomeranians
  • Mini and toy poodles
  • Pugs
  • Yorkies
  • Chihuahuas
  • Shih Tzus

Older Dogs

Collapsed trachea in dogs usually occurs between the ages of 4 and 14 years. That’s a big window, we know. Since tracheal collapse is a progressive disease, it doesn’t typically affect very young dogs.

Just like us, as dog’s age, some things may not work as well as they once had. Similarly, tracheal collapse is the weakening of the cartilage of the trachea over time. However, some diseases are correlated with tracheal collapse, and there are known sources of worsening conditions.

What Causes Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

Causes of Collapsed Trachea
As we mentioned above, tracheal collapse is most often a predisposed condition depending on the dog breed. Of course, other factors exist, making tracheal collapse progress faster or more uncomfortable for the dog.

Causes of Collapsed Trachea

  1. Congenital Disorders
  2. Obesity
  3. Infectious Tracheobronchitis “kennel cough.”
  4. Periodontal Disease

Congenital

Congenital disorders are malformations that happen while developing in the mother’s belly. An example may be a dog born without the usual amount of cartilage rings.

Tracheal hypoplasia is a congenital disease in puppies born with cartilage rings fused, causing the trachea and windpipe’s narrowing.

These conditions form prenatally, but not all of them present themselves until later in life. This is the case with tracheal collapse.

The onset of tracheal collapse in dogs is between 4 and 14 years of age, but there are varying “grades” of tracheal collapse. A dog could start at a grade one at the age of 6 and slowly progress to a grade four by 15.

Obesity

Extra weight can be detrimental for several reasons, especially when dealing with tracheal collapse.

Excess fat in the abdomen means less room for proper organ function. Fat in the gut can squish the diaphragm, making it challenging for the oxygen to get to the lungs. Obesity can also cause the narrowing of the windpipe due to a lack of space.

Infectious Tracheobronchitis or “Kennel Cough.”

You had to know Kennel cough would come up somewhere. After all, this is kennelcoughhelp.com.

There are many causes of dog cough, two of the most common being kennel cough and tracheal collapse. Though kennel cough is an entirely different illness, kennel cough symptoms have been known to mask tracheal collapse symptoms.

We will learn more about the signs and symptoms of tracheal collapse in a moment but for now, take a look at this table comparing the symptoms of kennel cough and tracheal collapse in dogs. Can you see how the two may be confused if going strictly by symptoms?

Collapsed Trachea Vs. Kennel Cough

Signs & SymptomsSign or Symptom of Tracheal Collapse?Signs or Symptoms of Kennel Cough?
Honking coughYesYes
Difficulty breathingYesYes
Coughing when picked upNoNo
WheezingYesSometimes
Loss of appetiteNoYes
Gagging & retchingYesYes
FeverNoYes
Syncope – coughing so hard the dog loses its breath or turns blue.Yes. See vet immediatelyOnly in very severe cases

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is a progressive disease where the supporting gums of the teeth become inflamed. It is the most common disease responsible for early tooth loss and dental disease in dogs and cats.

Periodontal disease is a condition already prevalent in small dogs. Since tracheal collapse is also familiar in small dog breeds, it is crucial to stay on top of dental care to avoid extra bacterial and viral infections.

The Grades of Tracheal Collapse Classification in Dogs

The grades of tracheal collapse are based on the amount of lumen that is compromised.

What is a lumen?

Lumen is basically the channel that travels through the trachea. The percentage of the lumen’s collapse is how the grades of tracheal collapse are classified.

We have made a table to display the grades of tracheal collapse.

Classification of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

Classification GradePercentage of LumensWhat Does That Look Like?
Grade One25%Lumens are reduced but the trachea still holds its shape.
Grade Two50%The trachea is partially flattened
Grade Three75%The trachea is close to flat
Grade Four100%The trachea is totally collapsed.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

Symptoms of Collapsed Trachea in Dogs
There are many signs and symptoms of tracheal collapse, but only a few are unique enough to differentiate from other dog cough causes. Many signs of kennel cough in dogs are also signs of tracheal collapse, so it is essential to keep a close eye on your pup when suffering from any respiratory illness.

Your attention to detail and awareness of your dog’s signs and symptoms may be what keeps your dog from a long term misdiagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

  1. Difficulty breathing
  2. Dog coughs with light pressure to the neck
  3. Gagging, retching, and vomiting
  4. Wheezing
  5. Syncope
  6. Paralysis of Larynx

Difficulty breathing

A dog will experience an increasingly difficult time breathing if it is experiencing tracheal collapse. As the cartilage holding the windpipe open degenerates, it flattens more and more, making it hard for the dog to breathe normally.

Dog coughs when light pressure is applied to the neck

A light touch to a dog’s throat with any amount of pressure will emit a cough if tracheal collapse is the reason. You or your vet may try to apply light pressure to see if they are, in fact suffering from a tracheal collapse.

Remember, use a very, very light tough to gently rub the front of your dog’s throat. If they cough or gag, they could have tracheal collapse.

Gagging, retching, and vomiting

These three unsavoury bodily functions are lumped together because one usually comes after the other.

First comes the gagging from irritation of the airways. Next, the retching when they are unable to breathe well enough to catch their breath between coughs. Finally, the vomiting, when a dog gags and retches so hard that they vomit. Poor babies.

Wheezing

Wheezing is the sound you hear when someone is suffering from severe congestion in the lungs, sinuses, or in this case, because the trachea is flattened or somewhat flattened. Wheezing impedes the flow of air into the trachea and occurs for many reasons. Wheezing sounds like a whistling coming up through the windpipe.

Syncope

Syncope is a loss of consciousness or fainting due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Syncope may arise because a dog’s cough is so severe a dog cannot breathe between fits.

Syncope can cause the dog to faint or turn a bit blue because the oxygen cannot reach their lungs. If your dog experiences this condition, it needs to be addressed immediately.

Paralysis of Larynx

The larynx or “voice box” is made up of cartilage, just like the trachea. When the cartilage weakens, it can fall in itself, resulting in paralysis of the larynx or laryngeal paralysis.

Violent and persistent coughing fits can be detrimental to the trachea and the larynx, sometimes causing permanent damage to the voice box.

What Triggers Coughing From Tracheal Collapse?

It is worth it to note the things that can trigger your dog’s cough. If your dog is suffering from tracheal collapse, they may be more sensitive to or cough when:

  • Drinking
  • Exercising
  • They get excited!
  • Exposed to extreme temperatures

How Does a Vet Diagnose Tracheal Collapse?

How to Diagnose Collapsed Trachea

  • Patient history
  • Chest x-ray
  • Tracheoscopy or Bronchoscopy
  • Fluoroscopy

Patient history

Your pet’s health history and any information you have about your dog’s cough will help determine the best solution for tracheal collapse. The patient’s history alone is not substantial evidence to diagnose, but it is necessary for the process of diagnosis.

Chest x-ray

A chest x-ray will allow a veterinarian to see where the collapse is in the trachea.

One or multiple sections of a dog’s trachea may be weakening or collapsed. The collapse may be:

  • Intrathoracic, meaning the collapse, is at a section of the trachea that is inside the ribs.
  • Extrathoracic, meaning the collapse, is at a section of the trachea that is outside of the ribs.

A chest x-ray can also rule out other conditions.

Tracheoscopy or Bronchoscopy

A tracheoscopy is an instrument with a tiny camera on its end. It is inserted into the trachea to view the collapse. Tracheoscopies and bronchoscopies require anaesthesia and must be done in a clinic.

Fluoroscopy

A fluoroscopy is a video x-ray that creates a moving image of the dog breathing in real-time!

Fluoroscopy may not be available at every veterinarian’s office, but they will probably know where to find the nearest one if they deem it necessary.

We know this all sounds very nerve-racking, but don’t worry. Next up, treatments and remedies for tracheal collapse.

Treatment of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

Treatment of a Collapsed Trachea
Treatment options for collapsed trachea in dogs are not “fix it and forget it” treatment options. Tracheal collapse is irreversible and sometimes unavoidable, though there are things to be done in even the worst cases.

Many times tracheal collapse is managed medicinally though in severe cases, surgery may be an option.

Treatment Options for Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

  1. Antibiotics
  2. Cough medicine
  3. Steroids
  4. Bronchodilators
  5. Sedatives
  6. Surgery

Antibiotics

Antibiotics do not directly affect tracheal collapse. However, they can clear up secondary infections that may be irritating the tracheal collapse more than normal.

The Bordetella Bronchiseptica bacteria loves an underlying condition and can easily sneak in to make tracheal collapse more painful and irritating for a dog.

Cough Medicine for Dogs with Collapsed Trachea

Cough medicine may be prescribed or recommended by your vet to suppress coughing. Persistent coughing can damage the trachea and larynx, causing more issues down the road.

A lot of kennel cough medicine can double as a tracheal collapse remedy as well. One such medication is dextromethorphan.

Dextromethorphan

Dextromethorphan is an antitussive that can be used in cats and dogs. There is anecdotal evidence on dextromethorphan’s efficacy, but some pet owners swear it works for them.

Dextromethorphan is one of Robitussin-DM’s active ingredients; an over-the-counter cough medicine sometimes used to suppress cough in dogs.

Steroids

Steroids like prednisone may be prescribed to decrease inflammation of the airways. Inflammation of the trachea causes difficulty breathing which then causes more coughing. Do you see the vicious cycle?

Your vet can help you come up with the perfect cocktail to maintain your dog’s lifestyle as long as possible.

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators come in pill, or liquid form and, in some cases, can be administered via injection by your vet. Bronchodilators are used to treat coughing caused by bronchoconstriction. A common bronchodilator is a theophylline.

Theophylline

Theophylline is a bronchodilator that offers relief from coughing by opening up the trachea and bronchi. Theophylline can be given with or without food and can be prescribed and administered in tablet or liquid form. If you prefer an injection, the vet has the means to do so.

Theophylline can take up to two days to take full effect. Soon after, you should begin to see improvement.

Side effects of theophylline

Let’s be honest; all medications have possible side effects. These are the most common ones for theophylline:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sleeplessness
  • Thirst
  • Increased drinking and eating
  • Increased urination

Sedatives

Tracheal collapse is often treated with antitussives. Dextromethorphan is an antitussive mentioned in the section about cough suppressants. Dextromethorphan doesn’t have the same sedative characteristics as the antitussives commonly used for tracheal collapse.

Commonly Used Antitussives for Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

Common antitussives from the most potent to least potent:

  1. Butorphanol
  2. Hydrocodone
  3. Codeine

Butorphanol

Butorphanol is the most potent antitussive used to alleviate coughing in dogs. Butorphanol is 100 times more powerful than codeine; butorphanol is an opioid that has commonly been used for dogs with caution.

Butorphanol is not typically well absorbed orally in dogs, so they may require ten times the average dose to see results. This is where extreme caution and attention to dosing instructions are vital.

Dogs can experience some side effects, including:

  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Mydriasis (pupil dilation)
  • Sedation

Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is still more potent than codeine and is a commonly prescribed antitussive to relieve cough in dogs with tracheal collapse. Hydrocodone is helpful in relieving pain from coughing as well.

Common side effects of hydrocodone in dogs are:

  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

Codeine

Codeine is absorbed more efficiently and effectively in the oral tissues making it a commonly used antitussive to treat collapsed trachea in dogs.

Codeine and all antitussives are strong drugs and require utmost caution and care when administering to your fur baby. Codeine can cause toxicity in dogs and other animals if they are given too much.

Signs of toxicity include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Excitement
  • Convulsions
  • Sedation
  • Excitement
  • Sedation

Surgery for Collapsed Trachea

Surgery is not to be taken lightly, but if a dog is experiencing a grade 3 (75%) or grade 4 (90%+) collapsed trachea, surgery may be an option.

When a dog is having massive difficulty breathing or is coughing until they faint, one may opt for a tracheal stent for their family friend. However, veterinarians stress the importance of contemplation and case selection for optimal success.

What is a tracheal stent?

A tracheal stent replaces the weakened cartilage due to tracheal collapse. Stents come in all different shapes, sizes and materials. Tracheal stents are used to stabilise the lumen or channel running through the trachea.

The steps to surgery for a tracheal collapse in dogs

  1. Initial assessment
  2. Tracheoscopy or Bronchoscopy
  3. Determine the length of the stent
  4. Surgery
  5. Post-procedure
  6. Aftercare

Initial assessment

During the initial assessment of a collapsed trachea, a dog may have to endure the following:

  • Blood work
  • Chest x-ray

Tracheoscopy or Bronchoscopy

Anaesthesia will be given for a Tracheoscopy or bronchoscopy. One of these will be performed to check for any infectious diseases and to see where the trachea is collapsed and the extent of the damage.

Determine the length of the stent

Once the veterinarian makes the prognosis to recommend surgery, they will order a stent. The veterinarian will determine the appropriate len=gth and diameter of the stent during the bronchoscopy.

Surgery

The dog will have to be put under anaesthesia a second time for the surgery itself. Surgery is minimally invasive and offers quite a bit of relief.

Surgery always comes with risks, especially in tracheal collapse and should be a last resort and for dogs with end-stage tracheal collapse.

Post-procedure

After surgery, the dog will be hospitalised to ensure that there are no post-op complications. Dogs will be given more x-rays and aided in their recovery.

Aftercare

Dog and their owners are sent home with:

  • Heavy sedatives to offer healing time before activities resume
  • Antibiotics to keep infection at bay
  • Cough suppressants allow for healing and recovery before proceeding with regular daily activities.

Cost of Surgery for Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

As you could imagine, the cost of surgery for collapsed trachea in dogs doesn’t come cheap. A doting owner may or may not conclude that surgery is the best way to go depending on the situation, the history, the age of the dog and the severity of the collapse.

If you opt for surgery, the bill, including hospitalisation, x-rays, a bronchoscopy and procedures; the whole thing could run anywhere from $3500-$6500 USD.

Of course, our canine best friend is worth whatever the price, but is it the best option for them? Only you and your vet know the answer to that.

What Can I Do to Promote Collapsed Trachea Relief?

Collapsed Trachea Relief in Dogs
Dogs suffering from tracheal collapse may find home remedies for kennel cough in dogs useful for relieving dogs’ coughing.

One of our favourite remedies for kennel cough is the mix of honey, lemon and hot water. Honey’s magical healing powers can work wonders with no additives or processing to remove all the good stuff like antioxidants and antibacterial properties.

Here are few things you can do to make your dog suffering from tracheal collapse more comfortable. 

  • Weight loss
  • Switch to a harness, always a harness!
  • Avoid irritants like smoke, dust and pollen.
Remember, we want them to cough as little as possible. Taking some active steps to avoid further irritation and damage can do more than one might imagine.

What Does Collapsed Trachea in Dogs Sound Like?

Earlier, we discussed the breeds in which tracheal collapse is prevalent. Now let’s listen to how some of these breeds sound with tracheal collapse.

Example # 1: Chihuahua Tracheal Collapse Video

Chihuahuas are one of the breeds most likely to be predisposed to tracheal collapse in dogs. The adorable chi-chi in this video illustrates the “honking” perfectly.

Example # 2: Pomeranian Collapsed Trachea

This sweet pomeranian is suffering from a collapsed trachea but has more of a gagging and retching thing going on than a honking cough. This dog may not have the same amount of cartilage degeneration as the chihuahua in example number one.

Example # 3: Pug Collapsed Trachea

Oh my goodness, this little pug has the cutest face, but unfortunately, he suffers from tracheal collapse. He illustrates a mix of gagging and retching along with a honk at the end of each hack.

Example # 4: Collapsed Trachea in Yorkies

Now, this guy has a cough! This Yorkshire terrier has a collapsing trachea and has quite a retching cough. This little cutie has a honking cough as well, but in this case, the goose-like honk sounds a little more like Donald Duck.

Conclusion

Collapsed trachea in dogs can be very intimidating and frightening for a pet and its owner. We know you want nothing but the best for your animal, but sometimes knowing what that is can sometimes be the most challenging part.

Whatever the scenario, we will be here bursting with information and eager to support you and your pet as much as possible. See you next time!