Is A Collapsed Trachea In Dogs Fatal?

What is a collapsed trachea in dogs?

A collapsed trachea in dogs is a condition where the cartilage rings that normally keep the trachea (windpipe) open and rigid become weakened, causing the trachea to flatten and narrow (VC Animal Hospitals). Thismakes it more difficult for the dog to breathe.

Tracheal collapse is caused when the C-shaped rings of cartilage in a dog’s trachea weaken and flatten, narrowing the inside diameter of the trachea (Cornell University Veterinary Specialists). This can be caused by factors like chronic coughing, respiratory infections, obesity, or congenital cartilage defects.

The most common symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs include a dry honking cough, noisy breathing, exercise intolerance, and difficulty breathing. As the condition progresses, dogs may gag, choke or cough when eating or drinking as well (WebMD). Tracheal collapse can range from mild to severe based on the amount of cartilage damage and narrowing present.

While not inherently fatal, a collapsed trachea can seriously impact a dog’s quality of life. Proper management and treatment is important for dogs diagnosed with this condition.

How common is a collapsed trachea in dogs?

A collapsed trachea is a relatively common issue in small and toy breed dogs. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, it is most prevalent in middle-aged and older toy breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, and Toy Poodles[1].

VCA Animal Hospitals reports that collapsed trachea affects approximately 1% of small breed dogs under 15 pounds. Certain breeds are more susceptible, including Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Toy Poodles, and Yorkshire Terriers[2].

Overall, collapsed trachea is estimated to occur in approximately 4% of toy and miniature breed dogs. It is considered one of the most common respiratory disorders in small dogs[3].

The condition worsens progressively over time. Dogs typically develop symptoms between 4-14 years old, with the average age of diagnosis around 9 years old.


What are the stages of a collapsed trachea?

Tracheal collapse is typically categorized into four stages, based on the severity of the condition:

Stage 1: Mild tracheal collapse where less than 25% of the trachea is affected. Dogs may show occasional coughing but do not usually have significant breathing issues.

Stage 2: Moderate tracheal collapse affecting 25-50% of the trachea. A chronic, dry “goose-honk” cough and occasional wheezing may occur.

Stage 3: Severe collapse affecting 50-75% of the trachea. Harsh, frequent coughing spells, wheezing, and difficulty breathing are common. Severe episodes may occur with excitement.

Stage 4: Complete collapse affecting 75-100% of the trachea. Marked respiratory distress is present with an inability to clear the airway. Dogs are at high risk of respiratory failure.

As tracheal collapse advances through these stages, symptoms worsen. Coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulties become more frequent and severe. Prompt veterinary attention is crucial.

Is a collapsed trachea fatal?

While a collapsed trachea or tracheal collapse is a progressive disease in dogs, it is not always a fatal condition depending on the stage and severity. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, collapsing trachea is a progressive disease, as the tracheal cartilage can continue to deteriorate over time despite treatment. Even pets who have surgery for tracheal collapse may eventually relapse years later. However, many dogs can live comfortably with a collapsed trachea for years with proper management.

According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the prognosis for tracheal collapse depends on the severity of the disease and the dog’s response to medical management. In mild cases of tracheal collapse, dogs may live comfortably under medical management for years. Moderate to severe cases often require surgery, and post-operative prognosis is generally good with over 80% of dogs showing improvement with surgery. However, only an estimated 5% of dogs with collapsed tracheas die of respiratory failure. With proper treatment and management, collapsed tracheas are rarely immediately fatal.

In general, the mortality rate for tracheal collapse is low, with most dogs living happy lives for years following diagnosis. However, it is a progressive disease that requires dedicated management. With appropriate treatment tailored to the stage and severity of collapse, dogs can often live comfortably without their tracheal collapse being fatal.

How is a collapsed trachea diagnosed?

A veterinarian will typically diagnose a collapsed trachea through a combination of a physical exam, medical history, and diagnostic tests. The most common diagnostic tests used are radiographs (x-rays) and bronchoscopy.

On x-rays, the trachea may appear narrower than normal or even closed off completely in severe cases. Radiographs can also be useful for assessing the stage of the collapse and to check for other possible respiratory issues. Bronchoscopy involves inserting a small camera scope down the airway to directly visualize the trachea. This allows the vet to see the collapsed cartilage rings and assess their condition.

Other diagnostic tests like an ultrasound or CT scan may also be used to evaluate the trachea. Vets will also listen to the characteristic goose-honking cough with a stethoscope. In mild cases, the cough may be the main clue pointing to a collapsed trachea diagnosis. Once diagnosed, dogs are often assigned a stage of collapse (grade 1-4) based on the severity seen in imaging tests.

How is a collapsed trachea treated?

The main goals of treating a collapsed trachea in dogs are to open up the airway, reduce inflammation, control coughing, and prevent secondary issues. Treatment typically involves a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgery.

Medications commonly used include corticosteroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation, antitussives to control coughing, bronchodilators to open up the airways, and antibiotics if there is a secondary infection. Lifestyle changes involve using a harness instead of a collar for walks, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding overexertion, and using ramps to avoid strain on the trachea.

In severe cases, surgery may be done to place rings around the trachea to prop it open. There are multiple surgical techniques that can be used. The prognosis depends on the severity of the collapse and response to treatment. While not curable, dogs can often live comfortably for years with proper management.

Overall, treatment is aimed at managing symptoms, avoiding anything that aggravates the collapsed trachea, and preserving quality of life. By working closely with their veterinarian, most owners can find an effective treatment plan for their dog’s collapsed trachea.

What is the prognosis for dogs with a collapsed trachea?

The prognosis for dogs with a collapsed trachea varies depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases may only cause occasional coughing, while severe collapse can be life threatening. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the prognosis depends on the severity of disease and the dog’s response to medical management (source).

With proper treatment and management, dogs with a collapsed trachea can often live comfortably for years after diagnosis. However, tracheal collapse is a progressive disease, meaning it will likely worsen over time. Severe cases or dogs that do not respond well to treatment may only live months after diagnosis.

In terms of quality of life, keeping weight down, using a harness instead of a collar, and administering cough suppressants can help reduce airway irritation and coughing episodes. Avoiding stress, excitement, heat, and vigorous exercise may also improve a dog’s comfort. However, collapsed tracheas often continue to degrade and treatment becomes less effective. Dogs with advanced collapse may experience severe coughing, difficulty breathing, or collapse. At this stage, euthanasia may be the most humane option.

While there is no cure, early intervention and diligent at-home care provide dogs with collapsed tracheas the best chance at good quality of life and normal longevity. However, owners should monitor their dog’s symptoms and regularly follow up with their veterinarian to provide the best care as the disease progresses.

How can I manage my dog’s collapsed trachea?

There are several things you can do at home to help manage your dog’s collapsed trachea and improve their quality of life:

Make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight. Extra weight puts more pressure on the trachea, so keeping your dog lean is important. Your vet can help you determine an ideal weight for your dog 1.

Use a harness instead of a collar for walks and tags. A harness disperses pressure over the chest rather than putting direct pressure on the trachea.

Avoid activities that cause excitement, stress or overexertion. Things like barking, pulling on leash, or strenuous exercise can aggravate the condition.

Keep your home humidified and avoid exposing your dog to irritants like smoke or dust. Moist air and reduced irritants can help soothe the airways.

Elevate food and water bowls to make eating and drinking more comfortable.

Ask your vet about cough suppressants, bronchodilators, or anti-inflammatories to help manage symptoms.

Make sure your dog rests in a calm environment and partial upright position to aid breathing.

Consult your vet about possible surgical treatments if symptoms worsen despite conservative care.

What are the risks of anesthesia with a collapsed trachea?

Anesthesia can pose additional risks for dogs with a collapsed trachea. The endotracheal tube inserted during anesthesia can further irritate the already sensitive tracheal walls and lead to increased coughing or tracheal spasms after the procedure (1).

One study found that dogs with tracheal collapse were 2.5 times more likely to develop complications under anesthesia compared to healthy dogs (2). Common complications include increased coughing, wheezing, respiratory distress, and problems with oxygenation.

Veterinarians may take extra precautions when anesthetizing dogs with collapsed tracheas, such as:

  • Using a smaller endotracheal tube
  • Pre-treating with sedatives, anti-inflammatories, and bronchodilators
  • Carefully monitoring oxygen levels and lung sounds
  • Minimizing anesthesia time

With proper precautions, anesthesia risks can be managed in dogs with tracheal collapse. But owners should be aware their pet may experience increased coughing or respiratory difficulties in the days following anesthesia.



How can I prevent tracheal collapse in dogs?

There are several preventative measures that can help reduce the risk of tracheal collapse in dogs:

Use a harness instead of a collar for walking and restraint. Collars put pressure on the trachea and can worsen collapse. A harness disperses pressure over the chest instead. Be sure to get a properly fitted harness to avoid rubbing or chafing (1).

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts extra pressure on the trachea, so keeping your dog lean can help prevent collapse. Feed an appropriate diet and avoid excessive treats (2).

Avoid overexcitement and vigorous exercise. High activity levels increase respiratory effort and pressure on the trachea. Keep your dog calm and use a leash when outdoors (3).

Protect from irritants. Things like smoke, dust, and air pollution can worsen collapse. Avoid exposure when possible.

Consider supplements. Some supplements may help strengthen tracheal cartilage. Talk to your vet before starting any regimen.

Get prompt treatment for respiratory infections. Repeated bouts of kennel cough can weaken tracheal cartilage over time.

Avoid collars that apply constant pressure, like slip collars or choke chains. Use a harness or quick-release collar instead.

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