What is Collapsing Trachea?
The trachea, or windpipe, serves to bring air into the lungs when animals breathe. The trachea is composed of cartilaginous rings in a C-shape with a soft membrane on top. Tracheal collapse occurs when the rings around the trachea weaken. When this happens, the membrane becomes floppy and blocks air flow. Tracheal collapse can occur at any part of the trachea; signs can range from mild to severe. The classic sign of collapsing trachea is a honking-like cough. The cough is caused by irritation from the membrane touching the tracheal rings. Collapsing trachea can be diagnosed with radiographs (x-rays).
What are the Risk Factors?
Collapsing trachea most commonly occurs in small or toy breed dogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles, and Pomeranians. The disease is degenerative and is typically diagnosed in middle or older age.
Dogs with mild tracheal collapse may never show any signs of the disease. More pronounced clinical signs can be seen in dogs that have collapsing trachea as well as other diseases, such as kennel cough, allergies due to inhaled irritants such as cigarette smoke or dust, heart disease, and/or obesity.
What is the Treatment?
Collapsing trachea cannot be cured. However, most patients can be managed reasonably well with medications such as bronchodilators, cough suppressants, and anti-inflammatories. If a secondary infectious process is diagnosed or suspected, a course of antibiotics may also be used.
If medical management is not helping, surgery with a specialist can be pursued to place a rigid stent in the trachea. Surgery is typically reserved for severe cases that do not respond to medical management, as complications are not uncommon.
Managing risk factors can also greatly improve outcomes. If your dog is overweight, a weight loss regimen is very important. Reducing inhaled irritants such as cigarette smoke can also improve symptoms. Annual or biannual examinations are important to assess heart and lung sounds, as well as overall health.
Your veterinarian may recommend regular blood testing to assess organ function, as some organs including the liver may be affected by collapsing trachea due to poor oxygen perfusion.