What Can I Feed My Dog With A Collapsed Trachea?

What is a collapsed trachea in dogs?

A collapsed trachea is a progressive respiratory condition that affects the trachea, or windpipe, in dogs. It occurs when the C-shaped rings of cartilage in the trachea weaken and flatten, causing the trachea to collapse and obstruct airflow (1).

This condition often results from genetic abnormalities like a narrow trachea or weakened cartilage. Factors like obesity, chronic coughing, and airway inflammation can also contribute to tracheal collapse (2). It mainly affects toy and small breed dogs like Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles, and Chihuahuas.

Common symptoms of a collapsed trachea include a dry, honking cough and noisy breathing. Coughing episodes are often triggered by excitement, exercise, pulling on the leash, or hot weather. Other signs include gagging, choking, blue-tinged gums, and difficulty breathing (3).

Tracheal collapse usually develops slowly over time. Mild cases may only cause occasional coughing, while severe collapse can seriously obstruct airflow and make breathing very difficult.


(1) https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tracheal-collapse-in-dogs

(2) https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/tracheal-collapse-dogs

(3) https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/health-info/tracheal-collapse

How does a collapsed trachea affect eating?

A collapsed trachea can make eating difficult for dogs in several ways. As the trachea weakens and collapses, it obstructs the airway during inhalation. This causes dogs to start coughing and gagging when eating or drinking, as particles of food or liquid can end up going down the wrong pipe. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, affected dogs may regurgitate their food shortly after eating due to this irritation.

Tracheal collapse also inhibits the normal swallowing motion. The trachea usually widens during swallowing to allow food to pass to the esophagus. With a collapsed trachea, this widening is restricted, making it harder for the dog to comfortably swallow kibble or even liquify foods. Dogs may cough and retch when trying to get food down. This can lead to gagging, vomiting, regurgitation of undigested food, aspiration pneumonia, and weight loss.

Making dietary adjustments is important for ensuring dogs with tracheal collapse can eat comfortably. According to Wag Walking, it’s critical to feed soft, moist foods that are easy to swallow. The food consistency may need to be like a gruel or liquid. Owners should also avoid putting pressure on the trachea by using a harness instead of a collar.

Recommended Diet Adjustments

There are some diet adjustments you can make to help a dog with a collapsed trachea eat more comfortably. Smaller, more frequent meals are easier for a dog to swallow than one large meal. Feeding from an elevated feeder can also make swallowing easier by allowing gravity to help move the food down. Adding some warm water or no-salt broth to kibble can soften it to make it easier to swallow. You may also need to transition to a completely liquefied diet if your dog is having a very difficult time with solid foods.

Some specific tips include:

  • Break meals up into 3-4 small meals throughout the day rather than 1-2 large meals
  • Raise food and water bowls using a stand, steps, or blocks to reach an elevated height
  • Add warm water, broth or olive oil to kibble to soften it
  • Puree kibble with warm water in a blender to create a gruel-like consistency
  • Switch to canned food or prepare homemade cooked or raw meat blended with vegetables and broth into a soup-like consistency

Consult with your veterinarian on the best diet adjustments for your individual dog’s needs. With some modifications, you can hopefully make mealtimes easier for a dog with a collapsing trachea.

Foods to avoid

One of the key dietary adjustments for dogs with a collapsed trachea is avoiding dry kibble, treats or bones that require excessive chewing. The repetitive motion of chewing can irritate the already sensitive trachea. Hard foods also require more effort to swallow. Some specific foods to avoid include:

  • Dry dog kibble, especially large crunchy pieces
  • Dental chews or hard treats that require extensive chewing
  • Rawhide or other chew bones
  • Crunchy human foods like chips, crackers, or popcorn

Veterinarians typically recommend switching to a wet food diet for dogs with tracheal collapse, at least temporarily while symptoms are most severe. Wet or canned foods are easier to consume and don’t require as much chewing. Other soft food options include adding warm water to kibble to soften it or switching to a pre-made fresh food diet. It’s best to avoid any foods that could aggravate the trachea until it has a chance to heal and strengthen.

Recommended Soft or Liquid Foods

Dogs with collapsed tracheas often do better with soft or liquid foods that are easier to swallow. Some good options include:

Wet or canned food: Canned dog food has a soft, moist texture that does not require much chewing. Look for pâtés or stews without large chunks. Some good brands are Hill’s Science Diet a/d, Royal Canin Convalescence Support, and Purina Pro Plan EN Gastroenteric.

Bone broth: This nutritious broth is made by simmering bones and contains gelatin which is soothing. Make it yourself or buy pre-made brands. Give a few spoonfuls on its own or mix into food. Source

Rice: Well-cooked white rice is very soft and bland. Mix with broth or canned food to create a porridge. Brown rice has more texture so white rice is preferable.

Eggs: Scrambled eggs are an excellent source of protein and easy to swallow. Cook thoroughly without adding salt or oil.

Cottage cheese: The curds in cottage cheese are soft and the mild flavor appeals to many dogs. Choose low or reduced fat versions.

Making Dry Kibble Easier to Swallow

One of the easiest ways to make dry kibble easier for dogs with a collapsed trachea to swallow is to soften it. Soaking the kibble in warm water or broth will allow it to absorb the liquid and become softer and easier to chew. Most experts recommend soaking kibble for at least 10-15 minutes to sufficiently soften it.

You can soak the kibble in plain warm water or use low-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable broth for added flavor and nutrients. Make sure the liquid is warm but not too hot to avoid cooking the kibble. Allow time for the kibble to cool to a safe temperature before feeding.

Blending dry kibble with some canned wet food is another effective method. The gravy or sauce from the wet food will moisten the dry food. Start with a 50/50 ratio of dry to wet food and adjust according to your dog’s preferences and needs. This allows your dog to still enjoy some crunchy texture while making eating easier.

It is generally recommended to introduce softened or blended food gradually over a few days. This helps avoid digestive upset from a sudden diet change. Monitor your dog’s eating and adjust the softening method as needed. Soaking or blending dry kibble can make mealtime easier for dogs with collapsed trachea.

Source: https://www.hypropremium.com.au/how-to-soften-kibble-for-dogs-with-dental-or-digestive-issues/

Supplements that may help

Certain supplements may help relieve symptoms and support overall health for dogs with a collapsed trachea. Some of the most beneficial include:

Glucosamine – This supplement helps rebuild cartilage and lubricate joints. It can help reduce inflammation and ease breathing difficulties caused by a collapsed trachea. Studies show glucosamine supplements support tracheal health in dogs. Source

Turmeric – Turmeric contains the active compound curcumin which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce swelling and discomfort associated with a collapsed trachea. Look for a turmeric supplement formulated for dogs. Source

Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3s help reduce inflammation and may ease breathing issues caused by a collapsed trachea. Fatty acids also support coat and skin health. Salmon oil or fish oil supplements are good omega-3 sources for dogs. Source

Always consult your veterinarian before giving any supplements to your dog. Proper dosage is important, especially for dogs with other health conditions.

When to see the vet

If your dog is showing signs of difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, weight loss, or lethargy, it’s important to schedule a veterinary visit as soon as possible. These can be signs that the collapsed trachea is progressing or that secondary conditions are developing.

Difficulty breathing is one of the most concerning signs with a collapsed trachea. If your dog seems to be struggling to breathe or has audible wheezing, they may need urgent medical intervention. The collapsed trachea can obstruct airflow and make it very difficult for the dog to get oxygen.

Loss of appetite and weight loss can indicate the dog is having a hard time eating due to the collapsed trachea. Food may get stuck or the dog may tire easily when eating. These problems can lead to malnutrition. It’s important to address any eating issues right away.

Lethargy or lack of energy can be another sign of tracheal collapse progression. Dogs with obstructed airways often become less active because physical exertion is more difficult. If your once active dog seems very tired all the time, schedule a vet visit.

Overall, any notable deterioration in your dog’s condition warrants an urgent vet visit. The vet can examine your dog, recommend medications, and discuss surgical options if needed. Don’t hesitate to call the vet if your dog seems to be getting worse.

Long term management

Dogs with collapsed trachea require ongoing management to minimize coughing, maintain a healthy weight, and prevent any other health complications. Here are some tips for long term care:

Monitoring weight is crucial, as excess weight puts more pressure on the trachea and can make coughing and breathing issues worse. Work closely with your vet to determine an optimal weight for your dog’s size and breed. Stick to the recommended daily calorie intake.

Continue making dietary adjustments as needed. Your vet may recommend prescription dog foods designed for respiratory health. Canned food or kibble soaked in warm water can also make eating easier if chewing causes coughing fits.

Restrict exercise to low-impact activities like short, relaxed walks. Don’t allow your dog to pull on a leash, which can trigger coughing. Avoid activities that overexcite your dog and lead to heavy breathing or panting.

Schedule regular check-ups with your vet to monitor your dog’s condition. Your vet may recommend medications like cough suppressants or bronchodilators as needed.

Be vigilant for any signs of worsening symptoms and contact your vet promptly if your dog seems to be having increased difficulty breathing or swallowing. With careful management at home and follow up care from your vet, dogs with collapsed trachea can still lead happy, comfortable lives.

Surgical Options

There are two main surgical options for treating collapsed tracheas in dogs: stenting and reconstruction surgery.

Stenting involves placing a small tube called a stent inside the trachea to help keep it open. This is a minimally invasive procedure done under anesthesia. A camera is used to guide the stent into place through the mouth and throat. Stents are often made of materials like stainless steel or nitinol. Studies show stenting can be an effective treatment option for tracheal collapse in dogs1.

Reconstruction surgery is more invasive but may provide a more permanent solution. It involves making an incision in the neck to access the trachea. The rigid cartilage rings of the trachea are then reconstructed and reinforced using sutures and mesh or graft materials. This helps provide structural support. Recovery time is longer with reconstruction surgery compared to stenting.

Your vet can help determine which surgical option may be most appropriate for your individual dog’s case of tracheal collapse.

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