What Aggravates A Collapsed Trachea In Dogs?

What is a collapsed trachea?

A collapsed trachea in dogs is a condition in which the cartilage rings that normally hold the trachea (windpipe) open become weak, causing the trachea to flatten and narrow (American College of Veterinary Surgeons, 2022). This prevents normal airflow and makes breathing more difficult.

The trachea is the tube that carries air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. It is normally held open by C-shaped rings of cartilage. In dogs with collapsed trachea, these cartilage rings weaken and flatten, causing the trachea to narrow. This limits the amount of air that can pass to the lungs (VCAAnimal Hospitals, 2022).

The narrowed windpipe obstructs airflow in and out of the lungs. Affected dogs have to work harder to breathe and get adequate oxygen (Lanz, 2022). Mild cases may result in noisy breathing sounds, while severe cases can lead to life-threatening respiratory distress.


There are several factors that can lead to tracheal collapse in dogs:

Genetic predisposition – Certain breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Poodles are more prone to weakened tracheal cartilage and thus tracheal collapse. This is likely due to genetics.

Weakened cartilage – The trachea relies on strong cartilage rings to keep it open. In dogs with tracheal collapse, this cartilage is weakened, causing the trachea to flatten and making it difficult for air to pass through.

Obesity – Carrying excess weight puts increased pressure on the trachea, which can contribute to cartilage weakness and collapse over time.

Chronic coughing/pulling on leash – Chronic irritation like coughing or forceful pulling on the leash can damage the trachea. This is especially problematic for dogs prone to collapse.

Breeds Affected

Tracheal collapse is most common in toy and miniature dog breeds. The breeds most susceptible to this condition include Chihuahuas, Poodles, and Yorkshire Terriers. The trachea in these small dog breeds is more delicate and prone to weakness and collapse.

Other toy or miniature dog breeds at risk include Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Toy Poodles, Maltese, and Pekingese. Their tiny tracheas struggle to withstand pressure changes and trauma.

Larger breeds rarely suffer from tracheal collapse. The condition predominantly affects diminutive breeds under 20 pounds. Their small, narrow windpipes are inherently vulnerable to this disorder.


The most common symptom of a collapsed trachea in dogs is a persistent, harsh, dry, honking cough. This cough is often triggered by excitement, exercise, pulling on the leash, or pressure on the trachea. Dogs with a collapsed trachea may also experience difficulty breathing, gagging, and choking spells.

According to WebMD, the classic symptom of tracheal collapse is a dry, honking cough that can sound similar to a goose honk. This cough may worsen with exercise, excitement, pressure on the trachea, or hot weather. Dogs with a collapsed trachea can also have difficulty breathing and may gag, wheeze, or show signs of choking.

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine also notes that affected dogs commonly have a dry, harsh cough triggered by excitement, exercise, pulling against the collar, or pressure placed on the trachea. Coughing episodes can escalate until the dog has extreme difficulty breathing. Dogs may also experience gagging, trouble breathing, exercise intolerance, and fainting spells.


There are several diagnostic tests veterinarians use to diagnose tracheal collapse in dogs, including a physical exam, radiographs, and bronchoscopy. During the physical exam, applying light pressure on the trachea that causes coughing or breathing difficulty can indicate tracheal collapse (VCA). Radiographs, also known as X-rays, allow veterinarians to visually assess the trachea. Flattening of the trachea rings is visible in radiographs of dogs with collapsed tracheas (Cornell). Bronchoscopy involves inserting a small camera into the airways, allowing veterinarians to directly observe the trachea. This test confirms the diagnosis and helps assess the severity of the collapse.


There are several treatments that can help manage a collapsed trachea in dogs, including weight loss, using a harness instead of a collar, cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and surgery.

Weight loss is often recommended for overweight dogs with a collapsed trachea, as excess weight puts more pressure on the trachea. Even losing a few pounds can help reduce symptoms (VCA Hospitals).

Switching from a collar to a harness is also advised, as pressure on the neck from collars can worsen a collapsed trachea. A harness disperses pressure over the chest instead (WebMD).

Cough suppressants may be prescribed to control coughing and make breathing easier. Bronchodilators like theophylline can also help open up the airways if the collapse is lower in the trachea (VCA Hospitals).

For severe cases, surgery may be done to implant cartilage or stents to help keep the trachea open. This can provide significant improvement in symptoms but carries risks of complications (Cornell University).


There are two main types of surgery for treating collapsed tracheas in dogs: tracheal rings and stents.

Tracheal rings involve placing plastic rings around the trachea to help keep it open. This surgery is invasive, requiring opening the neck to access the trachea. Recovery typically takes 4-6 weeks, with restrictions on activity during that time to allow proper healing. Success rates for tracheal ring surgery are around 70-80% in reducing symptoms long-term (ACVS).

Tracheal stents involve placing a small tube inside the trachea to keep it open. This surgery is minimally invasive, usually done through the mouth. Recovery is faster than with rings, around 7-10 days. However, stent placement has a higher rate of complications like stent migration or occlusion. Success rates are 50-60% for long-term symptom improvement (Missouri VHC).

When choosing between surgery options, factors like the dog’s age, health, severity of collapse, and personal preferences influence the decision. Consulting with a veterinary surgeon is important to determine if surgery is advisable and which technique may work best.

Home Care

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

Keep dog at ideal weight – Excess weight puts more pressure on the trachea, so keeping your dog at a healthy weight is crucial. Talk to your vet about an ideal target weight for your dog. Use measured portion control, feed prescription weight loss food if needed, and increase exercise.

Use harness for walks – Walk your dog using a harness rather than a collar. The pressure from pulling against a collar can exacerbate collapsed trachea. An H-style harness disperses pressure across the chest rather than the neck.

Control environment – Limit exposure to irritants like smoke, dust, pollution, and aerosol sprays which can trigger coughing. Use humidifiers and air filters. Avoid hot, humid weather. Keep stress low.

Monitor breathing – Learn the signs of respiratory distress like increased effort or change in breathing sounds. Contact your vet if problems worsen. Have emergency numbers on hand. Keep the dog calm if an episode occurs.

With attentive home care, many dogs can live comfortably with a collapsed trachea. Work closely with your vet to find the ideal management strategies for your dog’s individual needs.


The prognosis for a dog with a collapsed trachea can vary greatly depending on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, dogs may respond well to medical management and have a good long-term prognosis. However, in more severe cases, especially when the tracheal rings have collapsed completely, the prognosis is more guarded even with treatment. Overall, the prognosis depends on several factors:

  • Severity of the collapse – Dogs with a mild collapse have a better prognosis than those with a severe collapse where the trachea is flattened.

  • Response to treatment – Dogs that respond well to medications like cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and steroids tend to have a better outlook.

  • Age and health of the dog – Younger, healthy dogs have a better prognosis than older dogs or those with other health conditions.

  • Surgery – In severe cases, surgery can improve prognosis but it is a major procedure with risks.

With appropriate treatment and management, dogs with a collapsed trachea can often have a good quality of life. However, collapsed trachea does shorten average lifespan, especially when surgery is not an option. Consult with your veterinarian about your individual dog’s prognosis based on their specific condition.





There are several ways to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs:

Avoid obesity – Excess weight puts additional pressure on the trachea. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is important to take pressure off the trachea and reduce breathing difficulties (Cornell).

Gentle leash walking – Using a harness instead of a collar and avoiding pulling or tugging on the leash can help prevent extra pressure on the trachea. Walks should be kept relaxed.

Proper collar fitting – Do not use collars that are too tight. Allow two fingers space between the collar and your dog’s neck. Switching to a harness is best.

Monitoring breathing issues – Keep an eye out for any signs of labored breathing, coughing, or gagging. Early intervention for any breathing problems is key.

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