How To Manage Collapsed Trachea In Dogs

collapsed trachea in dogs

A collapsed trachea is the enemy of many miniature dogs. Several small breeds are prone to this condition. If you have a small breed, here’s what you should know.

What Is Collapsed Trachea?


The trachea is your dog’s windpipe that carries air from your dog’s nose and mouth to his lungs. It’s made of cartilage that forms a tube. When those rings of cartilage get weak, heavy panting or breathing causes them to fold together (collapse). And that blocks the air from getting in. It can collapse at either end but it’s usually where the trachea enters the chest. 

A bout of coughing can last several minutes until your dog calms and breathing returns to normal. 

What Causes Collapsed Trachea?

This is usually a congenital condition. That means most dogs with weak cartilage in the trachea are born this way. But there are other risk factors that can lead to a collapse trachea:

  • Obesity
  • Cigarette smoke exposure
  • Respiratory disease that becomes chronic
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Heart disease

Sadly, many dogs with tracheal collapse also suffer from other disorders … obesity, heart disease, liver enlargement, dental problems, an elongated soft palate, and conditions affecting the larynx. Some are from a lifetime of poor health and that makes this affliction even worse. 

Which Dogs are Prone To Collapsed Trachea?

It usually affects small, toy and miniature dog breeds. They include:

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

The condition usually appears at 6 to 8 years of age. The situation doesn’t improve, and symptoms grow worse over time. 

Signs Of Collapsed Trachea In Dogs

The first sign that your dog has a collapsed trachea is a cough. Your dog will have bouts of coughing that get worse with exercise, excitement, eating or drinking. Dusty areas, fragrances, smoking around your dog, humid and hot weather can also lead to a coughing attack. 

Here are other signs:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing 
  • Difficulty breathing or catching breath
  • Gagging or retching
  • Honking cough
  • Abnormal breathing 
  • Low energy 
  • Bluish tinge to the gums from lack of oxygen
  • Possible fainting from lack of oxygen
  • Coughing when you pick up your dog
Is Collapsed Trachea Serious?


A collapsed trachea is an irreversible condition. With severe tracheal collapse, the condition can become a serious, life-threatening problem. Ongoing bouts of severe coughing, respiratory distress and panic can cause further damage. There isn’t a cure but you can manage it and maintain your dog’s quality of life.
 
If you have a small breed dog, you can start making improvements to his health and lifestyle right now.. 

8 Ways to Prevent Collapsed Trachea In Dogs

If you have a small breed prone to developing collapsed trachea, there are things you can do throughout his life to keep him strong and healthy. When you address these areas right from puppyhood, you’ll be setting up your dog for a lifetime of vitality.

1. Maintain Healthy Weight

Manage your dog’s weight. You want to avoid an overweight dog as this puts stress on his respiratory system. And added weight adds stress to his heart and lungs. Start by feeding your dog a whole food, raw meat diet that avoids carbs and starches. These foods can lead to weight gain and digestive issues.

In cases of collapsed trachea, oxygen deprivation can lead to liver damage. Be proactive with a whole food diet that’ll support his liver health. This is the best way to maintain your dog’s weight and manage his long-term health.

RELATED: How to start your dog on a raw diet …

2. Keep The Air Clean 

Clear your home of artificial scents, fragrances, candles and air fresheners. These things can lead to bouts of coughing and choking. Use air filters and purifiers and change filters often.

3. Don’t Smoke Around Your Dog

Don’t smoke around your dog … or even better, quit smoking (for your dog’s health and your own). It’ll reduce the stress on your dog’s respiratory system … and his trachea.

4. Detox Your Dog

Every day your dog faces toxins — in the air, on the ground, in his water and in his food. Even in his home. It’s impossible to live in a sterile environment. But what you can do is an annual or semi-annual detox of your dog and his diet. This makes it easier for his organs to function. The organs and systems that get stressed the most from toxins and poor diet are the liver, kidney, skin and gastrointestinal tract. A detox gives these systems a chance to rest and replenish for daily life and any health situation that arises … like tracheal collapse.

RELATED: How to detox your dog … 

5. Use Safe Cleaning Products

Use environmentally friendly, non-toxic and unscented cleaning products

6. Stick To Pesticide-Free Outdoor Areas

It’s best to keep your dog away from public areas where pesticides or herbicides are used. And avoid using them on your own yard. As well as being toxic to your dog, he’ll breathe them in and could have a coughing fit. And you want to minimize any stress to your dog’s throat throughout his life.

7. Avoid Neck Strain

You can easily damage the trachea in a small breed so learn to pick up your dog without straining his neck. Instead of a collar, use a harness to avoid pressure on your dog’s neck and windpipe. Also, avoid bandanas that can get caught and strain your dog’s throat.

8. Add Glucosamine-Rich Foods

Chondroitin and glucosamine supplements are great additives to your dog’s diet to support his cartilage. Or, even better, feed beef trachea to support your dog’s own trachea. The cartilage in beef trachea is loaded with chondroitin and glucosamine. Dogs need about 500 mg of glucosamine per day per 25 lbs of body weight. Beef trachea is mostly cartilage, and it’s about 5% glucosamine. A 1 oz piece of trachea gives your dog over 1400 mg of glucosamine. Chicken, duck or turkey feet are other great options. One chicken foot contains about 400 mg of glucosamine.  

RELATED: Find the best sources of glucosamine for your dog … 

If your dog already has collapsed trachea, here are things you can do.

Ways To Manage Collapsed Trachea In Your Dog

If your dog has a diagnosis of collapsed trachea, here are some natural approaches. These solutions won’t stress your dog’s health, and may even improve it.

Holistic Therapies For Tracheal Collapse

TCVM (acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Tui Na, food therapy) and homeopathy are the most promising therapies to correct an anatomical problem like tracheal collapse. Western herbs, Reiki, flower essences, aromatherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy and herbal supplements are all useful to manage this condition. You can use them to resolve or decrease cough frequency, provide calming solutions and build health over time.

Homeopathy can be especially helpful. Many small dogs with mild collapsing trachea have become asymptomatic with homeopathic treatments along with general health and diet improvements. Some homeopathic remedies used successfully include Aconite, Belladonna, Stramonium, Calcarea fluorica and Drosera. You’ll need to ask a professional homeopath to analyze your dog’s symptom picture and choose the best remedy for your dog.

Monitor Your Dog’s Liver

Research shows a high percentage of dogs with tracheal collapse develop liver problems. Ask your vet to monitor your dog’s liver function with regular blood work. 

Manage Inflammation

When you add natural sources to your dog’s diet, it’s the safest and best way to reduce inflammation from a collapsed trachea. Here are some foods to include:

Antioxidants
Antioxidants slow your dog’s aging process, boost his immune system and fight free radical damage … as well as inflammation. Add these antioxidants to your dog’s diet: blueberries, leafy greens, astaxanthin, colostrum, green-lipped mussels and green tea.

Omega Fats
Balanced omega fatty acids are an important part of your dog’s cell membranes and are vital in managing his immune, hormonal and inflammatory responses.

RELATED: Important omega oils for your dog …

Herbs
Boswellia, licorice, devil’s claw, ginger, alfalfa and turmeric are among many herbs that can address inflammation. It’s a good idea to work with a canine herbalist to create a combination that works for your dog.

Probiotics
Support your dog’s gut health with probiotics. Probiotics maintain a constant supply of beneficial bacteria to balance the bad bacteria in your dog’s gut that lead to inflammation. 

RELATED: How to control chronic inflammation in your dog. … 

Minimize Coughing

Give your dog these natural remedies to soothe coughing and minimize irritation.

Plantain 
Plantain eases coughing and throat inflammation. Put some leaves through the blender with some bone broth. The mucilage it creates coats his throat and respiratory tract to relieve discomfort and irritation. Collect leaves during the spring, summer and fall and freeze them for the colder months. 

Manuka Honey 
Manuka honey contains methylglyoxal (MGO), dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and leptosperin so it’s antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral. In addition, manuka honey soothes your dog’s throat and eases coughs. In one study, researchers compared honey to common cough suppressing drugs, including dextromethorphan. Honey was more effective than these drugs.

You can give your dog Manuka honey mixed with a little warm water in a bowl. Give this up to three times a day depending on how often your dog is coughing. Honey, or honey with lemon juice or MCT oil can be soothing as needed. Give 1 tsp per 20 pounds.  

CBD Oil
In mild cases of tracheal collapse, CBD can help to soothe your dog’s cough and keep him from getting too excited. 

Marshmallow Root 
Marshmallow root loosens mucus, inhibits bacteria and eases dry coughs. It also creates its own mucilage to coat irritated throats. You can dissolve 1 tsp in 8 ounces of warm bone broth and allow your dog to lap it up.  

RELATED: Try these cough remedies for dogs …

Fight Infection

Your dog might be prone to respiratory infections. Rather than using system suppressing antibiotics, try natural alternatives that are even more effective and easy on your dog. 

They include:

  • Oil of oregano
  • Olive leaf
  • Manuka honey
  • Garlic
  • Plantain
  • Goldenseal
  • Calendula
  • Turmeric

RELATED: Use these natural antibiotics for your dog …

You’ll notice many natural solutions have multiple benefits. You might use Manuka honey or plantain as cough suppressants but your dog will get their antimicrobial benefits too.

Conventional Treatments To Avoid

Worry or panic is common among dog owners when they see their dog coughing and gagging of with collapsed trachea. This often leads to a trip to the vet. She’ll confirm the diagnosis through a physical exam or x-rays. And she’ll want to prescribe medications … and you’ll want to give your dog relief. But here’s what you need to know about the conventional approach. 

Vets will create a treatment protocol of prescription food, cough suppressants, bronchodilators, antispasmodics, corticosteroid, sedatives and antibiotics. Let’s look at why you should avoid these conventional approaches.

Prescription Diets For Weight Reduction

Overweight dogs with a collapsed trachea may also be put on a prescription diet but this isn’t any better than a typical commercial diet. These foods contain starches, legumes, grains and synthetic vitamins and minerals. A whole food, raw meat diet is better for reducing weight and maintaining long-term health and digestion.

Sedatives

With a collapsed trachea, when your dog is excited or agitated it leads to a coughing episode. Your vet may prescribe a sedative like acepromazine. This is a common tranquilizer that decreases anxiety, causes central nervous system depression, and a drop in blood pressure and heart rate. But … it can trigger seizures and can heighten the sensitivities you want to calm. It can also cause deep sedation in a tiny breed when such a low dose is required. Sedatives can also lead to low blood pressure, and in severe cases, can cause heart failure.

Cough Suppressants

The best way to manage a collapsed trachea is to minimize coughing and inflammation. But unfortunately, a cough suppressant with hydrocodone, butorphanol or other harmful medications may be prescribed. Hydrocodone is an opiate used as a painkiller but it’s not approved by the FDA for use in animals. It will stop the cough temporarily. But side effects include lethargy, constipation, vomiting and digestive issues.

Antibiotics

Veterinarians will often prescribe a course of antibiotics when an infection is diagnosed or even just suspected. A case of a collapsed trachea is no exception. So even if there is no apparent infection, your dog could be getting antibiotics which will also deplete beneficial bacteria in his gut that balances out bad bacteria that causes infections. Other side effects of antibiotics include vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to coughing from straining

Steroids And NSAIDs

Prednisone, a steroid, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) like Rimadyl (carprofen), Metacam, Deramaxx, and Previcox get prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation of the throat. Side effects include vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy. That means there could be further irritation and coughing from acids vomited through an already weakened trachea … leading to more coughing and inflammation …

And dogs at an advanced age, such as those suffering a collapsed trachea, are prone to kidney and liver damage. NSAIDS can worsen these conditions.

Several studies show that NSAIDs actually damage the joints. They do the very thing you most want to avoid in a dog with chronic joint issues or issues of degenerating cartilage. So it doesn’t seem logical that a dog with a long term condition of weakened cartilage should be given NSAIDs that … weaken cartilage.

Sometimes a condition is so dire that your vet might recommend surgery.

Is There Surgery For Collapsed Trachea?

Tracheal reconstruction is available for dogs who have suffered tracheal collapse. But the dog’s condition must be very severe to warrant surgery. So that, in itself, limits its success.

With surgery, the vet inserts rings or a stent or a mesh sleeve to expand the trachea to improve breathing. But this is a risky surgery: Dr Dale Bjorling said in a 2011 WSAVA talk: “Both procedures have a relatively high rate of complications, and the owner should be made aware of these prior to performing either procedure.”  One study of dogs getting these surgeries found that 47% suffered major complications. 

Recovery is usually 4-8 weeks, while avoiding excitement, exercise and extreme changes in temperature. There’s also the possibility of further tracheal collapse around the surgical areas. Instead, less invasive, non-toxic methods, as already described, can bring comfort to your dog.

Living with a dog who suffers with or has the potential for a serious health problem is never easy. When you can prepare in advance with a regimen of health and natural solutions, it makes the battle a little easier to fight.

References

Ross A Hauser. The Acceleration of Articular Cartilage Degeneration in Osteoarthritis by Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs. J Prolotherapy, 2010;(2)1:305-322.

Reijman M et al. Is there an association between the use of different types of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and radiologic progression of osteoarthritis?: The rotterdam study. Arthritis & Rheumatology, September 2005.

Carter DA, Blair SE, Cokcetin NN, Bouzo D, Brooks P, Schothauer R, Harry EJ. Therapeutic manuka honey: No longer so alternative. Frontiers Microbiology. 2016 Apr 20;7:569.

Bauer NB, Schneider MA, Neiger R, Moritz A. Liver disease in dogs with tracheal collapse. J Vet Intern Med. 2006 Jul-Aug;20(4):845-9. 

Dale E. Bjorling, DVM, MS, DACVS. Update on Laryngeal Paralysis and Collapsing Trachea, World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011

 Della Maggiore A. An Update on Tracheal and Airway Collapse in Dogs. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2020 Mar;50(2):419-430. 

Beal MW. Tracheal stent placement for the emergency management of tracheal collapse in dogs. Top Companion Anim Med. 2013 Aug;28(3):106-11. 

Weisse C, Berent A, Violette N, McDougall R, Lamb K. Short-, intermediate-, and long-term results for endoluminal stent placement in dogs with tracheal collapse. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019 Feb 1;254(3):380-392. 

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