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Living With A Dog With A Collapsed Trachea

A few years ago, one of my dogs, Tommy was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea, and recently, one of my other dogs, Nacho has been diagnosed with it too. Although it isn’t a nice condition for them to have, there are things you can do to make their life easier.

What is a collapsed trachea?

The trachea is the tube used to carry oxygen and it runs from the nose to the lungs. A collapsed trachea is when the rings of cartilage in your dog’s throat wears away and collapse over time, or the dog may have had this condition from birth. Eventually, these rings of cartilage will become completely collapsed or flattened, and essentially your dog will be trying to breathe through a flattened straw. This can happen at any point of the trachea, and your vet will need to find out where the collapse is. It is common in toy breeds, such as pugs, Maltese, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Poodles.

Symptoms

The first symptom of a collapsed trachea is a dry coughing sound, that sounds very much like a goose honk. From this, the cough can become more persistent, especially after the dog has been playing, running or has anything placed around its trachea, such as if the collar is pulled. It usually progresses further, and the dog can gag whilst eating or drinking. In severe cases, dogs can turn blue and pass out if they become excitable. Due to the strain on trying to breathe, dogs can develop secondary heart disease.

How is it diagnosed?

If you feel your dog has any of the above symptoms, you need to take them to see your vet. An x-ray is usually taken to locate the tracheal collapse, however, further diagnostics may be necessary. A fluoroscopy is usually preformed which is a procedure where moving body structures can be studied. It is usually done whilst a contrast dye moves along the part of the body being examined. A continual X-Ray is passed through the body and is sent to a video monitor to be looked at in more detail.

An endoscopy can also be used, and this is a tiny camera which allows viewing on the internal airways. Sometimes, cultures of the trachea are taken to be tested or analysed further. As a collapsed trachea can affect the heart, an echocardiogram is usually carried out to evaluate heart function.

Treatment options

There are a variety of options depending on the severity of the condition, and the medication given can change over time, as I have found out with Tommy. For mild cases, cough suppressants, bronchial dilators and sedatives can be used to reduce to coughing. It is important to break the coughing cycles, as the continual coughing aggravates the airway and subsequently leads to more coughing. Sometimes, dogs with a tracheal collapse can get chest infections which will need treatment with antibiotics.

Steroids are usually used to help break the cough cycle, but the problem with using steroids is there can be many side effects. Tommy became very unwell after being on steroids for a while and they affected his liver badly. He needed extra medication to support his liver, but then I found out about steroidal inhalers that have fewer side effects than the pill form.

He has a child’s spacer that attaches to the inhaler and we put food in the mask to keep him interested whilst we spray the inhaler and give him time to breathe in the medication. He is doing so well on the inhaler that his last blood test showed that his liver was functioning normally and he has now stopped the medication for his liver.

There are inhalers designed for dogs too. I have not had any experience using them as Tommy is small and a child’s spacer works well for us, but they may be beneficial if you have a larger dog or a dog with a longer nose.

dog-using-an-inhaler

You need to make sure your dog is a healthy weight, as this will make it easier for your dog to breathe. Your home needs to be as dust-free as possible – I invested in a really good vacuum cleaner to make sure there is as little dust as possible because dust irritates the respiratory system, leading to coughing. I invested in the Miele Pet vacuum, and honestly, its the best vacuum I have ever had!

We don’t use aerosols at all, or any cleaning products with a strong odour as this affects him too. Collars should be removed at all times, and your dog should wear a lightweight harness when going on walks as anything around the neck causes pressure.

dog-collapsed-trachea-harness

Keeping your dog calm will help to keep their cough under control as over-excitement will exacerbate their cough. You can use holistic products to help to maintain the cartilage, such as glucosamine, but this won’t have an effect on all dogs – Just make sure you check with your vet before giving any supplements to make sure it’s safe for your little one.

I was told by a few people steam can help clear the lungs if the dog is having trouble to stop coughing. The advice is to have a hot shower and to take your dog into the room and close the door. Although this does help, it wasn’t really practical for me as my bathroom is really small and Tommy got agitated sitting in there. I then made a brilliant investment in a steam humidifier. This is the same principle as the steam shower but is just easier. It meant Tommy could sit in his bed and I could put it on and off as needed. I was initially worried he would be afraid of it, but the sound of it actually calms him down and has made a big difference. I put it on every day, or if he’s really coughing and I find it really useful.

dog-using-vaporizer

Surgery

For dogs who have a severe case of a collapsed trachea, surgery may be the only option. For collapses high in the throat, plastic rings are inserted around the trachea, and if the collapse is deeper, a stent is placed in the trachea and is used to hold the trachea open. These surgeries are risky and can have severe complications so require a lot of thought and discussion with your veterinarian. The surgery will need to be performed by a specialist vet.

Although there is no cure, your dog can live a happy life. Getting them on the right treatment as soon as possible is the best course of action, and whilst it can be scary to watch your dog coughing, I hope this article has helped.

Please share this post to help others. I have a newer updated blog on collapsed tracheas. Click here to read it. 

33 Comments

  1. Cecil T. Compton

    THIS WAS VERY EDUCATIONAL,AND HELPED ME TO FIND THE COURSE OF TREATMENT FOR MY LITTLE GUY. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  2. Gina

    Thank you so much for this article. My little yorkie Teddy has a collapsed trachea and I’ve been very worried thinking about how I’m going to keep him comfortable and happy. I’m happy to hear Tommy is doing well and I feel hopeful I will find the right treatment for my little guy. Thanks again!

  3. Tammy

    my dog just passed away last night from collapsing trachea. We took her in to the ER 24 hours prior to her passing away. They put her in a hyperbaric oxygen tank and sedated her to calm her down because the heat and humidity in los angeles took a very big toll on her breathing. They had said that she stabilized the next morning and was doing okay. Later that evening I get an emergency call that unfortunately she passed away because the collapse was deeper in the throat and they couldn’t get the tube down far enough for her to get oxygen, she then went into cardiac arrest and passed away 🙁 We had her for 14 years and her brother passed away 7 months ago at 13 years and 9 months old. They were both pomeranians and they were both the biggest blessings I have ever had my entire life.

    • Michael

      I am so sorry for your loss, I am sitting here typing with my baby girl in an oxygen tent. Not sure if she can pull through this episode and I know that I don’t want her to suffer. The struggle of knowing her strength and my selfishness to want her to pull through is so difficult.

  4. Bec

    My dog just got diagnosed with tracheal collapse his 13 years old and his coughing fits are so frightening. Your page is so helpful. Thank you x

  5. Shells

    Hi there! My dog jack is having a lot of issues with his collapsed trachea, though we are very hesitant to put him on steroid pills as he suffers from seizures. I was wondering which steroid inhaler you were using medicine wise and also which children’s inhaler? Jack is five pounds. Both of these things would be so helpful as he has such bad reactions to medicines but is honking so much id really like to try him on an inhaler with less bodily side effects. Thank you so so much for this article and taking the time to read this-I look forward to your advice! Xoxo

  6. Gina

    Hello,
    I so appreciate the information that posted. My puppy pom has been coughing and has been on 2 antibiotics. The vet told me that her lungs are clear (stethascope listening, and x-ray). I am afraid that she may have a collasping trachea (she is only 6 months old but has had this when I bought her at 4 months old). I live in California. Do you know anything about a Lemon Law regarding the health guarrantee of a puppy and cogential issues? We love our dog; I don’t know what else it could be but collaspible trachea. She makes a honking cough noise (sometimes dry, sometimes wet) on a daily basis multiple times a day.

    We just had our beloved pug die recently from dogs attack. We are still getting over that.

    Any feed back is appreciated.
    Thank you,
    Gina

    • Ceecee

      Hi, I know this is an old thread but did you ever resolve or get an answer for this? I just bought a teacup poodle (4 months) and I’m afraid she may have the same? I can’t find anything online regarding this. Thanks

      • Anna Garbutt

        Hi Gina

        I am sorry your little one ha CT and at such a young age too. Unless you go for the surgery route, the only options are to manage the symptoms and that’s all I do for my boys. I have written a second article about CT that may offer you more pointers if nothing in this blog is helping you. Here is a link;

        http://www.thehouseofanimals.com/2019/09/27/hints-and-tips-for-collapsed-tracheas/

        Work with your vet and if you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere with your vet, you have every right to try another. I hope that you find a way to help your poodle.

  7. Himani Verma

    My pug Mr Pedro is 11 and makes awful sounds at night like he is choking. The doctor says it’s congestion and a collapsing trachea. I was wanting to use an inhaler but could not find any articles that mentioned how it is used and the benefits.
    Thank you for your article.
    To all other people who have written in about their animals, hope your get fine. Please pray for my Mr Pedro

    • Mike

      Bless from new York city

  8. Leigh

    Do you give albuterol/Ventolin or flovent in the inhaler? Or both?

  9. Jen

    Hi
    Could you share what vacuum you bought?

  10. peggy stump

    My rat terrier has been diagnosed with a collapsed trachea she has been on medicine for several months I think her cough is returning it is scaring me to death will she get to where she can not breath is this the way she will die??? Please tell me what to look for at the last I do not live close to a emergercy hospital and my vet is close but is not open at nite I am a senior and live by myself and have no one to help me if she ge ts sick at nite

    • Anna Garbutt

      I’m so sorry your little one has been diagnosed with this. Warning signs for Tommy are coughing up phlegm and any sign of this, we go straight to the vets. We also have an oxygen mask to hand if he has a bad flare up. If your little one is coughing badly, try and keep her calm (it helps Tommy to sit on my lap) and he eventually calms down and can breathe. I would advise frequent vet checks (we go at least monthly) to have his chest listened to.

      • Jenna

        Hi when you have the chest listened to, What is the reason for this with collapsed trachea? I don’t take my pup that often but looking for the best questions to ask when we do. Thank you

        • Anna Garbutt

          Tommy picked up several chest infection and was more at risk to getting them in the first place. The vet can listen to the chest and hear any rattling, which can be an early sign of infection.

  11. Kathleen Ronholt

    is laying on side better for a collapsed trachea?

    what are the breathing devices for a collapsed trachea?

    Thank you

  12. Kathleen Ronholt

    My little dog is 15 and has a severely collapsed trachea.

    What is the best way to sleep not to further put pressure on trachea?
    Best bed or pillow to sleep on?
    Best breathing devices to help her breath?

    Thank you

    • Anna Garbutt

      I am sorry to hear about your little one. I got Tommy a memory foam bed with raised sides. He puts his head on the sides to sleep, like a pillow and i believe this helps him breathe at night. I’m going to write another blog with more advice on collapsed trachea, so hopefully it’ll help more.

      • Kathleen Ronholt

        Thank you for answering me. Could you tell me where I can get a dog memory foam pillow? It sounds like it would help.

  13. Anna Garbutt

    Thanks for all the comments. I have written another blog which will hopefully answer all these questions. It will be released soon, so keep checking back.

  14. Camila

    My dogs has tracheal collapse fourth degree, meaning her trachea is more than 75% closed. She’s taking lots of medicines and also hormones, but her throat can close at anytime. I’m struggling with the decision of a surgery and trying to find sources online about post recovery. The surgery seems to have several complications and is also very risky. If you have any information about tracheal collapse surgery, please tell me… I really don’t know what is best for my dog!

  15. Christa

    Thank you so much for posting this. My dog has a collapsed trachea and I cannot find any vets who know how to treat it. In November of last year my dog got explosive diarrhea and it lasted quite some time. The vet had him on prednisone for a long time but recently took him off because his liver was becoming enlarged. Finally his stool is firming up but I read the diarrhea can be from the stress and anxiety of coughing with the trachea. He has been coughing on and off for thr last week again and I worry that we will end up in the same predicament again which I want to avoid. Did Tommy experience this? You said Tommy is on 2 inhalers? Can you tell me what they are and do you administer them to him just when he has coughing fits or daily? Also, you mentioned other medication? I guess, since none of the vets are familiar with treating this, I am trying to find out how to know what medications my dog needs to be on. Are inhalers sufficient? Or are others needed? Also, does Tommy suffer from allergies? Has Tommy had acupuncture, and if so is it helpful? Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I have been in a panic since we are at a standstill with my vet and dont know what else to do.

    • Anna Garbutt

      One of the inhalers he had three times a day and the other just twice a day. He now isn’t on either as I have found managing the environment more beneficial. Tommy does not have allergies. Are there any other vets you can speak to? Or perhaps a specialist vet?

  16. Susan

    Thank you so much for the advise you have given. My Belle a 7 yr old Yorkie has stage 2 treacheal collapse. She is on Temiril-p. She takes 1/2 pill a day. I tried the Flovent dog inhaler but it didn’t seem to help. Do you feel the child’s inhaler is better. How does that work. In the photo it looked as if it wasn’t secure around the face and that most of the medicine would go out into the air but then again it looked as if the part in Tommy’s nose area was up tight to his nose. It’s hard to tell. Belle has started swallowing alot????? She sounds congested but my vet says no. It’s hard to keep her weight down on the current medication. That’s why I want to use the Flovent but it seems like she isn’t getting enough. Do I dare give her both the Flovent and the Temiril-p. Do you or have you ever given two steroids?

    • Anna Garbutt

      Tommy has a childs inhaler and also one we made from a mask from the vet and duct tape. You may have to try a few things to see what works best.

  17. Paula

    My pomchi has a collapsed trachea. He is on a opiate cough pill. I do not want to give him prednisone anymore and want to get an inhaler. The one inhaler costs $375. I cannot afford that, ( that is with a prescription discount card). Does anyone know of a steroid inhaler that does not cost that much?

    • Anna Garbutt

      We made ours from a mask from the vets and duct tape. Works just as well!

  18. Debbie'k Voss

    Question my pup has this I’m worried that his favorite sleeping position may not be helping. He sleeps in my armpit with his head flipped of my arm, the question being is the pressure of his tiny head sleeping on his trachea for hours at a time doing any harm?

    • Anna Garbutt

      Does he cough when he wakes up?

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