Collapsed Trachea in Dogs: The Ultimate Guide

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / May 21, 2018
collapsed Trachea

What is Tracheal Collapse in Dogs?

tracheal collapse in dogs

Tracheal collapse in dogs is a chronic, progressive condition that involves the trachea. The disease is a common cause of airway obstruction which leads to coughing and difficulty breathing.

Also referred to as the “windpipe,” the trachea is made up of sturdy rings of cartilage that allow the tube to maintain its shape. These rings are a C shape and cover approximately 5/6 of the circumference. The other 1/6 of the ring is made up of a thin membrane of tissue.

If the thin membrane or the cartilage loses its turgidity, the tracheal rings can flatten making it difficult for air to get to the lungs.

The airway obstruction in a pup is called a tracheal collapse or a collapsed trachea in dogs.

Define Trachea

The trachea is a membranous tube that connects the throat to the lungs. It is the principal passage for air to travel to and from the lungs.

Collapse Definition

The definition of collapse is to fall down or fall in.

Symptoms of a Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

dog dry coughing

One of the first clinical signs of tracheal collapse is a sudden attack of dry coughing. The coughing will be persistent and harsh. Pet owners often describe the cough as sounding like a goose honk.

The cough may worsen in the following circumstances:

  • At night time
  • With excitement
  • When pressure is placed on the trachea (from a collar/leash)
  • In hot or humid weather conditions
  • Immediately after eating or drinking
  • Tracheal irritants such as dust or smoke

Pet owners have also reported that blue-tinged gums and fainting accompanied their dog’s honking cough.

As the condition progresses, tracheal collapse can lead to exercise intolerance and continuous respiratory distress.

Furthermore, in severe cases, secondary heart disease becomes possible due to the relentless difficulty and struggle to breathe.

Small Breed Dogs: Dispositioned for Tracheal Collapse

While the exact cause of a collapsing trachea is unknown, there are certain dogs with a higher predisposition of having the condition. Studies show that tracheal collapse is more likely to occur in small breed dogs and toy breeds.

Specific breeds include:

  • Yorkshire terriers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pomeranians
  • Shih tzu’s
  • Lhasa apsos
  • Toy poodles

A collapsing trachea can occur in any dog, regardless of the breed. However, because of the higher volume of the condition in small breeds, researchers believe there is a genetic factor involved.

What Age Does Tracheal Collapse Occur

A collapsing trachea can occur at any age. However, most diagnoses are in middle-aged to elderly dogs (between the ages of 5-14).

Diagnosing a Collapsed Windpipe

dog's lungs

If your dog has been showing any of the clinical signs mentioned, a vet visit is in order. With a couple of tests, your vet will be able to give you a proper diagnosis.

Pressure on the Trachea

First, your vet may put a very light amount of pressure on the trachea. If this causes the dog to cough or show signs of respiratory distress, your vet will most likely order additional tests.

Radiograph (X-Ray)

A tracheal collapse can often be seen on a regular x-ray. The x-ray will often show a narrowing of the tracheal lumen (opening).


A fluoroscopy is a moving x-ray. It has the ability to show the vet your dog’s trachea as the dog breathes in and out.


An endoscopy test involves a tiny camera that allows the vet to see the inside of the dog’s airway. Many experts believe that an endoscopy is the best and most accurate way to diagnose a collapsing trachea in dogs.

Additionally, during an endoscopy, the vet is also able to take cultures of the trachea for additional testing if necessary.


Your veterinarian may also perform an echocardiogram to evaluate heart function and make sure that the respiratory distress has not caused any secondary issues.

The Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis of Tracheal Collapse

We don’t have to tell you how important it is to receive an accurate diagnosis for any ailment that your dog may have. However, it should be mentioned that there are a number of conditions that mimic the symptoms of a collapsing trachea. Without a proper diagnosis, it is nearly impossible for your dog to get better and in the majority cases, your dog could quickly get worse.

Any disease that affects the upper or lower airway has the potential of being mistaken for a collapsing trachea.

These conditions include:

  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • An elongated soft palate
  • A foreign object in the airway
  • Infection of a trachea
  • Infection in the lungs
  • Heart failure
  • Tumors
  • Polyps

Just because you notice a honking cough or difficulty in breathing does not necessarily mean it is a collapsing trachea. It is imperative that a veterinarian makes a proper diagnosis.

Treatment for a Collapsing Trachea

Your vet will diagnose your dog’s collapsing trachea and develop a treatment plan according to the severity of the condition.

However, there are a few rules that pet owners to adhere to regardless of the degree of tracheal collapse.

First, the environment of a dog with a collapsing trachea is very important. The dog’s day-to-day environment should be smoke-free and free from any potential irritants. The worst thing for a dog experiencing tracheal collapse is being subjected to additional factors that can cause a coughing episode to happen.

Additionally, dogs with tracheal collapse should only be walked on a harness, never with a collar around their necks. Additional pressure on the trachea will lead to coughing and more irritation, thus ultimately leading to more health issues.

Furthermore, if your dog is overweight, you’ll want to speak with your vet about an appropriate diet and exercise plan in order to get the dog a healthy body mass index (BMI). Being overweight will only cause additional respiratory distress which can cause other conditions to develop.

Treating Mild to Moderate Cases of Tracheal Collapse

cough suppressants

In mild to moderate cases of a collapsing trachea, treatment focuses on breaking the coughing cycle. Coughing irritates the dog’s airways and therefore leads to more coughing. It’s a vicious cycle and the dog won’t be able to recover unless the coughing improves.

Your veterinarian may prescribe the following treatment options in order to reduce the amount of coughing:

  • Cough suppressants
  • Antispasmodics
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Bronchodilators

Additionally, your vet may prescribe sedatives to treat associated anxiety and keep your dog calm.

If there is any infection present, that will need appropriate treatment as well.

Surgery in Severe Cases of Tracheal Collapse

In severe cases of tracheal collapse or in cases where the condition does not improve with medical management, surgery may be necessary.

The type of surgery will depend on where in the collapse is occurring.

In cases of tracheal collapse in the neck or the thoracic inlet, the surgery will require placing plastic rings around the inside of the trachea. The plastic rings will help support the tracheal cartilage.

When the tracheal collapse occurs deeper in the chest, a surgeon may place a stent in the trachea. A tracheal stent is often compared to a tiny spring. Its job is to hold the trachea open.

Surgery to repair a collapsed trachea in dogs is an intense procedure that often comes with a slew of potential complications.

The surgery should only be performed by an experienced veterinary surgeon who knows the ins and outs of the collapsed trachea in dogs. Depending on how many stints are needed, surgery will cost $3,500 up to $6,500.

Dog Tracheal Collapse Home Treatment

If you speak with a holistic veterinarian regarding tracheal collapse, they may suggest implementing cartilage builders into your dog’s diet. The cartilage builders will help support the overall health and stability of the tracheal cartilage.

Supplements that fall under the category of “cartilage builders” include the following:

  • Glucosamine
  • chondroitin
  • MSM
  • Eggshell membrane
  • Cetyl myristoleate (CMO)

Additionally, some holistic veterinarians recommend acupuncture to lessen the severity of a coughing episode.

Collapsed Trachea in Dogs: A Final Thought

healthy dog

It’s always worrisome to find out that your dog is suffering from a condition that affects their breathing. We all know that the ability to breathe easily is essential for living a healthy, happy life.

Furthermore, the inability to predict or prevent a condition such tracheal collapse can present an uneasy feeling in owners. Since experts do not know a specific underlying cause, it is challenging to know what to avoid.

However, there are a few things that we all can do in order to keep Fido happy. Changes such as having a smoke-free home, reducing the amount of irritants in the air, avoiding environmental toxins, and keeping your dog at a healthy weight can all prove to be extremely beneficial for their well-being.

Additionally, perhaps the most important thing that pet owners can do is make sure they are implicitly aware of the symptoms of tracheal collapse and know when something doesn’t seem “normal” with their fur baby’s health.

Having a complete understanding of your dog’s typical behavior will allow for pet owners to quickly recognize when something changes, whether it be a reluctance to take a walk or a coughing fit after drinking a small amount of water.

By recognizing these changes and knowing when to seek medical attention, pet owners can ensure that they are doing everything they can for their dog.


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About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for