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  • Writer's pictureVetMed Team

Collapse of the Trachea (Windpipe) in Cats: 7 Symptoms to Look For

Tracheal collapse is a significant but under-recognized medical condition in cats. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for this issue can go a long way in managing it effectively. This article aims to educate pet owners on what tracheal collapse is, what causes it, and what can be done to prevent and treat it.

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What is a Collapsed Trachea (Windpipe) in Cats?

The trachea, commonly referred to as the windpipe, is a tube-like structure that serves as a passage for air between the larynx and the lungs. In cats, a collapsed trachea is a condition in which the tracheal cartilage rings are weakened, causing the trachea to flatten or collapse. This can lead to respiratory distress, creating a health risk that should be addressed promptly. Tracheal collapse is not as common in cats as it is in certain dog breeds, but when it occurs, it can result in symptoms ranging from mild coughing to severe difficulty in breathing.

What Causes a Collapsed Trachea?

The causes of tracheal collapse in cats can be both congenital and acquired. Congenital causes are typically the result of genetic factors that weaken the cartilaginous rings of the trachea from birth. Acquired causes can result from external factors such as injury, obesity, or chronic respiratory conditions. In older cats, the cartilage of the trachea naturally loses its rigidity, which can make it more susceptible to collapsing. Other contributing factors could include:

  • Allergies

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Irritants like smoke or dust

  • Endocrine disorders like hyperthyroidism

Can You Prevent Collapsed Tracheas?

Preventing a collapsed trachea may not always be feasible, especially in cases where the condition is congenital or due to aging. However, several precautionary measures can reduce the risk or delay the onset of a collapsed trachea in cats:

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity puts extra pressure on the trachea.

  • Avoid Exposure to Respiratory Irritants: Keep your cat away from smoke, heavy dust, or harsh cleaning chemicals.

  • Regular Vet Checks: Regular check-ups can help in early detection and management.

  • Anti-inflammatory Medications: In some cases, medications can help control inflammation and reduce stress on the trachea, although this should be done under veterinary supervision.

By being proactive and consultative with your veterinarian, you can take steps to manage and possibly prevent the onset or progression of a collapsed trachea in your cat.

What Are the Symptoms of a Collapsed Trachea in Cats?

Recognizing the symptoms of a collapsed trachea in your feline friend is crucial for early diagnosis and effective treatment. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent of the collapse and the cat's overall health. Here is a detailed list of symptoms to watch out for:

Coughing or Gagging

A persistent cough or gagging sound, especially when the cat is excited or after eating/drinking, could indicate a weakened or collapsing trachea. The cough may have a "goose-honk" quality to it.

Labored Breathing

If your cat seems to be struggling for breath, especially after physical exertion or periods of excitement, this could be a sign of tracheal issues. Labored breathing is often accompanied by an extension of the neck and head, as the cat tries to open its airway.

Exercise Intolerance

Limited tolerance to exercise and fatigue after minimal physical activity can signal a problem with the trachea. Cats with a collapsed trachea may not be able to play or run as they usually would without displaying signs of fatigue or distress.

Blue Gums or Tongue

Also known as "cyanosis," a bluish discoloration of the gums or tongue can be a sign of severe oxygen deprivation. This is a critical symptom and demands immediate veterinary attention.

Wheezing or Whistling Noises

A collapsed trachea can cause wheezing or whistling noises, particularly during inhalation. These noises often occur when the cat is at rest but can be aggravated by exercise or excitement.

Reduced Appetite or Difficulty Eating

Trouble swallowing or a noticeable decline in appetite may accompany a collapsed trachea. This could be due to the discomfort or difficulty in breathing while eating.

Anxiety or Restlessness

Anxious behavior, restlessness, or frequent changes in body position may be seen in cats with tracheal collapse. This is often due to the discomfort or difficulty in breathing, which makes it hard for them to settle down or sleep.

Observing any of these symptoms warrants immediate veterinary attention. While some symptoms may seem benign or mimic other conditions, it's better to be cautious and seek a professional diagnosis to rule out a serious issue like a collapsed trachea.

How a Collapsed Trachea is Diagnosed in Cats

Diagnosing a collapsed trachea in cats requires a thorough evaluation by a qualified veterinarian. A comprehensive approach often involves multiple diagnostic techniques to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. Here's a look at the primary methods used:

1. Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing a collapsed trachea typically involves a thorough physical examination. During this exam, the veterinarian listens to your cat's lungs and respiratory tract with a stethoscope. They may also palpate the neck area gently to assess for any abnormal structures or to induce coughing, which can be a telltale sign of tracheal issues. While a physical exam can give a preliminary indication, additional tests are usually needed for confirmation.

2. Radiography (X-Rays)

X-rays are an essential tool in diagnosing tracheal collapse. Your cat will likely be placed in different positions for a series of X-ray images. These images can reveal the diameter of the trachea, allowing the vet to assess the severity of the collapse. In some cases, a special dye may be used to get a clearer picture, known as a "contrast radiograph."

3. Endoscopy

An endoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the cat's trachea. This allows for direct visual inspection of the internal structures and can provide definitive evidence of a collapse. Endoscopy is generally considered the gold standard for diagnosing tracheal collapse but is typically done under general anesthesia, so it may not be suitable for all patients.

4. Blood Tests

Blood tests are often conducted to evaluate the cat's overall health and to rule out any underlying conditions that could be contributing to respiratory symptoms. Specifically, tests like complete blood count (CBC) and blood gas analysis may be done to check for signs of infection or oxygen deprivation.

5. CT Scans

Computed Tomography (CT) scans offer a three-dimensional image and can provide more detailed information than regular X-rays. CT scans are particularly useful for complex cases where other structures like tumors could be influencing the tracheal collapse. However, this method is usually reserved for more severe or complicated cases due to its higher cost and the need for anesthesia.

Each of these diagnostic techniques has its pros and cons, and the most effective approach often involves a combination of methods. Consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation to determine the best diagnostic pathway for your cat's condition.

Treatment Options For a Collapsed Trachea in Cats

The management of a collapsed trachea in cats varies depending on the severity of the condition, the overall health of the cat, and any underlying factors that may have contributed to the tracheal collapse. Here are the primary treatment options commonly considered:

Medical Management

In less severe cases, or as a preliminary measure in more serious cases, medication may be used to manage the symptoms associated with a collapsed trachea. Antitussive drugs (cough suppressants) like butorphanol can be administered to minimize discomfort caused by coughing. Additionally, corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation, and antibiotics may be necessary if a secondary bacterial infection is present. It's crucial to administer all medications as directed by your veterinarian.

Oxygen Therapy

For cats experiencing difficulty breathing, oxygen therapy may be employed to alleviate immediate symptoms. This typically involves the use of an oxygen cage or mask to assist in easier breathing while the underlying condition is being addressed. Oxygen therapy is often a short-term measure but can be lifesaving in acute situations.

Stent Placement

In more severe cases, surgical interventions may be necessary. One option is the placement of a tracheal stent. This procedure involves inserting a cylindrical device into the trachea to help it remain open. Stent placement is a highly specialized procedure that can have good outcomes but also carries risks, such as migration of the stent or potential for infection.

Surgical Repair

Surgical repair, such as tracheal resection and anastomosis, is generally reserved for extreme cases or when other treatment options have failed. This procedure involves removing the collapsed section of the trachea and then suturing the healthy ends back together. This is a high-risk operation that requires a skilled surgeon and extensive aftercare.

Holistic Treatments

Some pet owners opt for complementary therapies like acupuncture and herbal remedies to manage symptoms. While these approaches are generally not a substitute for medical treatment, they can sometimes provide additional relief in conjunction with standard treatments.

Long-term Management

Regardless of the treatment route taken, long-term management often includes lifestyle changes, such as weight management and reducing exposure to irritants like tobacco smoke, which can exacerbate symptoms.

It's crucial to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate and effective treatment for your cat's specific condition. Monitoring and regular check-ups will be essential in managing the disease and making any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

Recovery and Management After Treatment

The recovery and long-term management of a cat with a collapsed trachea will largely depend on the severity of the condition, the type of treatment administered, and the cat's overall health. Here is a general overview of what you can expect:

Post-Surgical Care

If your cat has undergone surgical repair or stent placement, postoperative care is crucial. You'll need to keep an eye out for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or discharge at the surgical site. Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics and may require your pet to wear an Elizabethan collar (also known as the "cone of shame") to prevent licking or scratching at the site. Follow-up appointments for suture removal and to assess healing will also be necessary.

Medication Management

For cats on medical management, ensuring that all medications are administered on time and in the correct dosage is critical. Monitoring for side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset or allergic reactions, is also essential. Regular check-ups will help your veterinarian make any necessary adjustments to the medication regimen.

Lifestyle Modifications

Making lifestyle changes can often help in the long-term management of a cat with a collapsed trachea. Keeping your pet's weight within a healthy range, avoiding exposure to respiratory irritants like tobacco smoke, and maintaining a stress-free environment can all contribute to better breathing and reduced symptoms.


Regular veterinary check-ups will be essential for monitoring your cat’s progress and making any necessary adjustments in treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend periodic imaging studies, like X-rays or CT scans, to evaluate the condition of the trachea and assess the effectiveness of treatment.

Quality of Life

Ultimately, the goal of treatment and long-term management is to improve your cat's quality of life. This means not only treating the symptoms but also making sure your cat can eat, breathe, and engage in typical cat behaviors comfortably. If the treatment is successful and well-managed, many cats can continue to lead fulfilling lives.

Ongoing Communication with Your Vet

Keeping an open line of communication with your vet is key for the successful management of a collapsed trachea in your cat. Don't hesitate to ask questions or express concerns. The more informed and involved you are, the better you'll be able to provide your cat with the best possible care.

Remember that each cat is unique, and therefore, recovery and management can vary from one individual to another. Following your veterinarian’s advice closely will give your cat the best chance for a successful recovery and a good quality of life.

VetMed Treats Collapsed Tracheas in Cats

VetMed specializes in minimally invasive procedures that not only treat a collapsed trachea effectively but also significantly reduce recovery time and postoperative complications.

From diagnostic imaging to surgical intervention and postoperative care, VetMed offers a comprehensive suite of services to address the unique challenges of managing collapsed tracheas in cats. We work closely with referring veterinarians to ensure a seamless and collaborative approach to your cat’s healthcare, keeping you informed every step of the way. Our focus is not just on treating the immediate symptoms but on long-term management strategies designed to give your cat a fulfilling and comfortable life.


Questions You've Asked Us About Collapsed Tracheas in Cats

Still have questions? Contact us here - we promise we'll answer them.

How do you treat a collapsed trachea in a cat?

Treatment for a collapsed trachea in a cat depends on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. Options range from medication for inflammation and cough suppression to more invasive options like stent placement or surgical intervention. VetMed specializes in minimally invasive treatment options designed for quick recovery and effective management of the condition.

Can a cat survive a collapsed trachea?

What are the symptoms of a cat with a tracheal collapse?

What causes a collapsed trachea in cats?

What is the life expectancy of tracheal collapse?


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