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About Eric Barchas, D.V.M.

Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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Collapsing Trachea in Dogs

Animals Affected

Dogs

Overview

Collapsing trachea is a common syndrome in middle-aged and elderly small dogs.  In the syndrome, the structures that support the wind pipe, or trachea, weaken.  This causes the trachea to narrow during the course of respiration, leading to irritation of the wind pipe and coughing.

Collapsing trachea is a chronic, progressive, and non-curable syndrome.  However, it rarely causes severe compromise to quality of life, and very rarely contributes to premature death.

Symptoms

  • Coughing is the most frequent symptom of collapsing trachea.  The coughing usually occurs in episodes.  Dogs may produce a honking sound when they cough. Coughing may be triggered by rapid breathing from exercise or excitement.   Stimulation of the windpipe, such as occurs when a dog wearing a collar pulls on its leash, also may lead to coughing.
  • Rarely, gagging or vomiting may occur as a result of severe coughing.
  • Inability to exercise or inability to withstand heat occurs in some dogs with collapsing trachea.
  • Very rarely, dogs with collapsing trachea may develop respiratory distress (difficulty breathing).  Dogs displaying this serious symptom should receive immediate veterinary attention.

Risk Factors and Prevention

  • Small dogs and toy breed dogs are most commonly diagnosed with collapsing trachea.
  • Older dogs develop the symptoms of collapsing trachea more often than younger dogs.
  • Overweight dogs generally experience more pronounced symptoms of collapsing trachea than dogs that are not overweight.

Complications

Collapsing trachea may impact quality of life and lifespan.  Persistent coughing can be a nuisance and may interfere with exercise and other activities.  However, most dogs with collapsing trachea have good prognoses.

Although rare, severe cases of collapsing trachea can be debilitating, and may lead to episodes of respiratory distress that can be life-threatening.

Collapsing trachea can exacerbate the symptoms of heart failure and other diseases that impair the function of the respiratory system.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis usually is made through a combination of physical examination and X-rays of the throat and chest.  Dogs with collapsing trachea may cough when their wind pipes are stimulated manually by a veterinarian.  Although narrowing of the trachea may be visible in X-rays, some dogs with collapsing trachea will have X-rays that appear normal.

Treatment

The most commonly employed treatments attempt to remove the stimuli that lead to coughing.

  • Dogs with collapsing trachea may benefit from wearing a harness instead of a collar.  This reduces stimulation of the wind pipe when dogs are walking on leash.
  • Dogs with collapsing trachea should avoid activities and situations that trigger coughing.  These may include vigorous exercise or extreme heat.  Physical activities that do not trigger coughing are healthy and should be encouraged.

Other treatment methods help to reduce the frequency and severity of coughing.

  • Weight loss may lead to reduced coughing in overweight dogs with collapsing trachea.
  • Concurrent diseases, such as heart failure, should be treated if present.
  • Cough suppressants are prescribed in some cases to provide temporary relief from coughing.
  • The use of steroids such as predinsone to treat collapsing trachea is controversial. This class of medications often reduces coughing.  However, steroids may lead to an increase in bronchitis and respiratory infections, as well as other side effects.
  • Surgical procedures to stabilize the trachea are sometimes employed.  These procedures have high rates of complications.

Follow-up

The goal of treatment is to reduce coughing so that quality of life is not compromised.

Miscellaneous

The symptoms of collapsing trachea generally are most severe when the syndrome is present in conjunction with other diseases, such as heart failure or bronchitis, that lead to coughing.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.