Learning about Tracheal Collapse. Make sure your dogs cough isn't something more serious.


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We love reading other dog lover blogs, and this month one of our friends at Dog Mom Day's wrote about a topic that hit close to home for me (one of The Pet's Tech staffers): Tracheal Collapse. We thought it would be helpful to spread the word about this ailment as it can go misdiagnosed for a long time - it definitely was for my pup. 

Thirteen years ago my family adopted a Portuguese Water Dog from a well known breeder in our area. He was perfect! He lived most of his life as a healthy dog. Going for long walks in the park, playing in the yard for hours at a time. It was the Summer of 2008 when things started to go south. One night, we noticed Cosmo was breathing very heavily. Almost as if he couldn't catch his breath. It was 11:30 PM on a Saturday night, so we did the only thing we could do - rush to the Vet Hospital. 

When we got to the Vet Hospital they took him in the back immediately - they could tell something was very wrong. He had X-rays done and got blood taken. The results came back and it appeared that Cosmo, our beloved baby, had a severe amount of liquid in his lungs. A severe case of Pneumonia it seemed. We were terribly upset, but knowing this was treatable helped lessen the craziness of the situation. So, we said our goodnight to Cosmo and left him in good hands. The next morning we came back and he was already doing a bit better! 

Fast forward 7 days, yes 7 days in the Vet Hospital ($$$$$$$$$$!) and we go to pick up our baby! He is wagging his tail and smiling immensely. We bring him home and all seems okay - yay time to move on! A short time later, Cosmo developed a very intense cough. At first we thought it was a cold, but then it didn't stop. We brought him to the Vet and they thought he had allergies so we gave him some medication. 

After weeks more of coughing fits, we brought him back to the Vet and they did another series of X-rays. This time they come out and tell us that Cosmo has a collapse in his Trachea! What did this mean? Well, the Vet explained it as a dip in his throat that collected mucus and fluids and could cause coughing. The Vet then continued to tell us that the condition was treatable to a certain level with medications, however surgery was not an option since Cosmo was older than 6 years old (and success rates drop dramatically after that).

We went home with the new information and let it settle in. Poor Cosmo was going to have a cough for the rest of his life, what could we do to make it better? We tried different medications, diets, even steam showers - nothing seemed to work that well except for an allergy medication from our Vet (most likely because it reduced mucus). 

Cosmo lived with this condition for 6 years. He wasn't in pain, and he wasn't uncomfortable. Every few hours he would go into a coughing fit, and eventually come out of it and mosey about. Cosmo lived until he was 14 years old! He got this diagnosis at 8 and between 8 and 14 dealt with losing a toe to cancer, too. Our Cosmo was a trooper, may he rest in peace. RIP Cosmo (9/29/2000 - 7/20/2014).

If your dog has coughing fits, make sure to get an x-ray taken (of course, after reasonable attempts to remedy)! You never know if it is allergies or something more sever. If you find our your dog has Tracheal Collapse, here are some things you can do to make him or her more comfortable:

  • Medication like cough suppressants or corticosteroids (if approved by your Vet only).
  • Daily humidifier sessions (you could also let your dog hang out in the bathroom during a long hot shower).
  • Keep your house clean and as free of dust and allergens as possible. An air purifier will help with this.
  • Our friend at dogmomdays.com suggests the use of essential oils in her post linked above, read up!


Stay Informed! Keep your dog safe! 

So, what is Tracheal Collapse? Let us explain it simply: It is when a section of your dog's trachea collapses, making it more difficult for your dog to breath and for fluids to drain.


In the left picture, we show the collapse of the dog's trachea. In the right picture, we show a stent put in to reopen the trachea.  


From our friends at the ASPCA

What are the signs of tracheal collapse?
In addition to a honking cough, other signs that may be seen include exercise intolerance, labored breathing and a bluish tinge to the gums. The cough and other signs may be provoked by excitement, eating, drinking, tracheal irritants (smoke or dust), obesity, exercise and hot and humid weather.

What breeds/ages are prone to tracheal collapse?
The condition, which is genetic, primarily affects toy breeds of both sexes, with Yorkies by far the most commonly affected. Collapsing trachea can manifest at any age, though the average age when clinical signs begin to appear is six to seven years.

How is tracheal collapse diagnosed?
A honking cough in a toy-breed dog is highly suggestive of collapsing trachea, but a definitive diagnosis may require additional tests. Radiographs may reveal an obviously collapsed trachea, although not always. Fluoroscopy, which allows visualization of the trachea as the dog inhales and exhales, may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Fluoroscopy is available only at universities and referral centers.

How is tracheal collapse treated?
Most cases of tracheal collapse are treated with cough suppressants, bronchodilators, corticosteroids (to control inflammation), and/or antibiotics. In obese patients, weight loss helps decrease respiratory effort. Although treatment is not curative, a study released in 1994 showed that 71 percent of dogs treated medically showed a good long-term response.

If medical management produces no response in two weeks, or if severe signs compromise the pet’s functionality, surgery is recommended. Various surgical techniques have been described, but the application of prosthetic polypropylene rings to the outside of the trachea is the current treatment of choice, with an overall success rate reported to be in the 75- to 85-percent range. In general, the outcome of surgery is poorer for dogs older than six years. It is a tricky, specialized surgery that is best performed by a skilled surgeon, usually at a referral center.

What else can pet guardians do if their dog has a collapsed trachea?
Whether medical or surgical treatment is chosen, pet owners can help relieve signs by keeping their pet’s weight down (even slightly under is ideal), switching from a collar to a chest harness, and avoiding respiratory irritants.


Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

3 Responses


March 29, 2017

My Pomeranian has trachea collapse. He is 12 years old. He takes 2 different medications daily. I use a Vicks humidifier as well at night. He has been dealing with this for probably 5 years now.


November 15, 2016

Thank you for your blog! Just wondering what allergy medication helped reduce coughing? I have a chihuahua just diagnosed with this. The coughing is getting worse and she’s on matacam.

Anne Marie A Brooks
Anne Marie A Brooks

November 06, 2016

My 11yo toy poodle has TC. She also has allergies. The vet told me which OTC human allergy meds to get and give her 1/2 or 1. It helps a lot. I have a natural cough syrup I make at home. It’s very simple honey, warm water and a little lemon juice. I also use homeopathics for cough and to calm her. The best thing I found is using a humidifier with aromatherapy. If you can find one that has warm mist that’s best but cool is ok. Use a 100% pure eucalyptus essential oil and make sure you can really smell it. I have a large one in the bedroom and a smaller one in the living room behind where she sits. I had two for a year and they both died at the same time. I quickly ordered 2 different large ones, cool and warm mist and one small one. All 3 of them didn’t work at all! 2 I returned immediately and wrote reviews on Amazon. All I expected was a refund but they wanted to send another for me to try again. The other is a Vicks and I kept trying to get it to work I tried too long I couldn’t get a refund. So until the new ones come in I’ll keep playing with the Vicks humidifier maybe I can get it to work. The humidifiers are the best way to reduce the coughing and make her breathing easier. Now I am trying to find out what the safest ways are to pick her up and hold her are?

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