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. A collapsed trachea in dogs 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.
The first symptom of a collapsed trachea in dogs 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 for collapsed trachea in dogs
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.
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.
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.
For more severe instances of a collapsed trachea in dogs, 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.
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