Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

icon May 23, 2024

A collapsed trachea is a common respiratory condition in dogs, particularly affecting small breeds. This condition can significantly impact a dog's quality of life, requiring careful management and treatment. This article provides a comprehensive guide on soothing and treating dogs with collapsed trachea, recognizing its symptoms and stages, and making informed decisions about their care.

Anatomy of a Dog's Throat

To understand tracheal collapse, it's essential to know the basic anatomy of a dog's throat. The trachea, or windpipe, is a tube made of cartilage rings and muscle, connecting the larynx to the lungs. These cartilage rings provide structural support, keeping the airway open for breathing.

What Causes Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

Collapsed trachea in dogs is primarily caused by the weakening of the cartilage rings that support the trachea, leading to its collapse.

This condition can be congenital, meaning some dogs are born with weaker cartilage. It is especially common in small breeds including:

  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Pomeranians
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzus
  • Toy Poodles
  • Maltese

Chronic Disease:
Other contributing factors include chronic respiratory diseases, obesity, and environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke and air pollution. Additionally, excessive pulling on the leash when a dog is walked with a collar can contribute to tracheal damage over time. 

Age also plays a role, as the cartilage can degenerate with age, making older dogs more susceptible. Genetic predisposition is another factor, with some breeds being more prone to the condition due to inherited structural weaknesses in their trachea. 

Overall, a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contribute to the development of a collapsed trachea in dogs.

Symptoms of Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

Common symptoms include:

♦  A honking, dry cough, especially during excitement or exercise

♦  Difficulty breathing

♦  Gagging or retching, particularly after eating or drinking

♦  Exercise intolerance

♦  Cyanosis (bluish gums) in severe cases

Are Dogs with Collapsed Trachea Suffering?

Dogs with a collapsed trachea can experience discomfort and difficulty breathing, leading to coughing and stress. However, with appropriate treatment and management, their discomfort can be minimized, significantly improving their quality of life.

Stages of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

Tracheal collapse progresses through four stages:

Grade I:
Mild flattening of the trachea, often with intermittent symptoms.

Grade II:
More significant narrowing, with frequent coughing and some difficulty breathing.

Grade III:
Marked collapse, leading to noticeable respiratory distress.

Grade IV:
Severe collapse, causing persistent breathing problems and potential cyanosis.

How to Test for Collapsed Trachea in Dogs?

A collapsed trachea in dogs is diagnosed through a combination of clinical signs, physical examination, and diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, fluoroscopy, or endoscopy, which visualize the trachea and confirm the extent of the collapse.

Treatment for Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

Treatment varies depending on the severity:

♦  Medications: Anti-inflammatories, bronchodilators, and cough suppressants can alleviate symptoms.

♦  Weight management: Keeping the dog at a healthy weight reduces pressure on the trachea.

♦  Harness instead of collar: Using a harness prevents pressure on the neck and trachea.

♦  Environmental modifications: Avoiding irritants like smoke or strong perfumes.

In severe cases, surgical options such as tracheal stenting or external tracheal splints may be necessary.

How Long Can A Dog Live with A Collapsed Trachea?

With proper management and treatment, a dog with a collapsed trachea can live a normal lifespan. The condition is chronic but manageable with medications, lifestyle changes, and, in severe cases, surgery. Regular veterinary care is essential.

How to Soothe a Dog with Collapsed Trachea

1. Calm Environment:
Keep your dog in a stress-free environment to avoid triggering coughing fits.

2. Humidifiers:
Use a humidifier to keep the air moist, easing breathing.

3. Proper Hydration:
Ensure your dog drinks plenty of water to keep their airways moist.


How Much Water Do Dogs Need To Drink

How To Get  A Dog to Drink Water

Best Sleeping Position for Dog with Collapsed Trachea

A comfortable sleeping position can alleviate breathing difficulties. Elevate your dog’s head using a small pillow or allow them to sleep on a sloped surface. Ensure they lie on their side rather than their back.

How to Carry a Dog with Tracheal Collapse

Support the dog's chest and abdomen when lifting, avoiding any pressure on the neck area. Use both hands to provide a secure hold, keeping the dog calm and comfortable.

How to Carry a Dog with Tracheal Collapse

What to Feed a Dog with Collapsed Trachea

A balanced, easy-to-digest diet is crucial. Opt for moist foods or soften dry kibble with water. Smaller, more frequent meals can prevent overeating and reduce respiratory effort during digestion.

What Prevents the Trachea from Collapsing

Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding respiratory irritants, and using a harness instead of a collar can prevent the trachea from collapsing. Regular veterinary check-ups ensure early detection and management of potential respiratory issues.

When to Euthanize a Dog with Tracheal Collapse

Deciding to euthanize a dog with tracheal collapse is heart-wrenching. Factors to consider include the dog's quality of life, response to treatments, and severity of symptoms. Consult with your veterinarian to make an informed decision based on your dog’s well-being.


A collapsed trachea in dogs requires diligent care and management to ensure a good quality of life. Understanding the symptoms, stages, and treatments can help dog owners provide the best possible care for their furry companions. With appropriate measures, many dogs can continue to live comfortably despite this condition.

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