Tracheal Collapse in dogs is very common among smaller dogs – especially Yorkies. While it’s determined to be the result of a genetic deficiency, it can be exacerbated with collars, when the dog pulls on it’s leash.
Tracheal collapse occurs most commonly in middle‐aged, small breed dogs, with the most common occurrences seen in Yorkies. Collapses range from mild airway irritation and coughing spasms to respiratory distress and difficult or labored breathing. Tracheal collapse in dogs is diagnosed with x-rays, scopes or fluoroscopy. Most dogs respond well to treatment. Surgery may be needed for worst-case scenarios.
A variety of techniques are available, although extraluminal ring prostheses or intraluminal stenting are the most common. Both techniques have numerous potential complications and require specialized training and experience, but are associated with good outcomes.
In addition to a honking cough, other signs that may be seen include exercise intolerance, labored breathing and a bluish tinge to the gums. Coughing and other signs may be provoked by excitement, eating, drinking, tracheal irritants (smoke or dust), obesity, exercise and hot and humid weather. The trachea or “windpipe,” is a tube made up of sturdy rings of cartilage, through which air is transported to and from the lungs. Sometimes, however, the tracheal rings begin to collapse, and as air is squeezed through, a characteristic honking cough results. Why tracheal collapse occurs is unknown, although a congenital abnormality, in which the cartilage of the tracheal rings is less cellular and therefore weaker than normal, is suspected.
The condition, which is genetic, primarily affects toy breeds of both sexes, with Yorkies by far the most commonly affected. Collapsing trachea can manifest at any age, though the average age when clinical signs begin to appear is six to seven years.
A honking cough in a is highly suggestive of a collapsing trachea, but an absolute diagnosis may require additional tests. X-rays may reveal an obvious collapse, although not always. Fluoroscopy (video x-ray), which allows visualization of the trachea as the dog inhales and exhales, may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Fluoroscopy is usually only available at universities and specialty hospitals.
Most cases of tracheal collapse are treated with cough suppressants, bronchodilators, corticosteroids (to control inflammation), and/or antibiotics. In obese patients, weight loss helps decrease respiratory effort. Although treatment is not curative, a study released in 1994 showed that 71 percent of dogs treated medically showed a good long-term response.
If medical management produces no response in two weeks, or if severe signs compromise the pet’s health, surgery is recommended. Various surgical techniques have been described, but the application of prosthetic polypropylene rings to the outside of the trachea is the current treatment of choice, with an overall success rate reported to be in the 75- to 85-percent range. In general, the outcome of surgery is poorer for dogs older than six years. It is a tricky, specialized surgery that is best performed by a skilled surgeon, usually at a referral center.