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  • Writer's pictureVetMed Team

Collapsed Trachea (Windpipe) in Dogs: 10 Symptoms to Look For

Collapsed trachea is a serious medical condition affecting dogs that can severely compromise their quality of life and, in extreme cases, be fatal. This article aims to provide comprehensive information on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for this condition, based on the latest veterinary medical research.

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What is a Collapsed Trachea (Windpipe) in Dogs?

The trachea, commonly known as the windpipe, is a tube-like structure that connects the nose and mouth to the lungs, allowing for the passage of air during breathing. A collapsed trachea in dogs is a condition where the tracheal rings that hold the shape of the windpipe weaken, resulting in the flattening of the tube. This can make breathing difficult and often leads to a range of respiratory problems and other complications.

In most cases, the collapsed trachea is a chronic condition that progressively worsens over time. It's often seen in older, small breed dogs like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers, although it can affect dogs of any breed and age. The condition can be congenital (present from birth) or acquired later in life.

What Causes a Collapsed Trachea?

There are multiple factors that can contribute to the development of a collapsed trachea in dogs, and it is often the result of a combination of these factors.

  • Genetic Factors: Some dogs are genetically predisposed to have weaker cartilage in the trachea, making them more susceptible to collapse. This is often a congenital condition that is present from birth.

  • Age: Older dogs are at a higher risk of developing a collapsed trachea as the cartilage in their windpipe becomes weaker and less elastic over time.

  • Weight: Overweight and obese dogs are more likely to suffer from a collapsed trachea. The excess weight puts additional pressure on the trachea, exacerbating the condition.

  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to irritants like smoke, dust, or harsh cleaning chemicals can aggravate the condition and speed up the progression of the collapse.

  • Underlying Respiratory Conditions: Chronic respiratory conditions like bronchitis can weaken the tracheal cartilage, leading to a collapsed trachea.

Understanding the root cause of a collapsed trachea is crucial for effective treatment. It's often a combination of preventive and therapeutic measures, tailored to the individual dog's condition, that offers the best outcomes.

Can You Prevent Collapsed Tracheas?

While it may not be entirely possible to prevent a collapsed trachea, especially if it's due to genetic predisposition, there are some measures that can reduce the risk or slow the progression of the condition:

  • Maintain Healthy Weight: Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can significantly reduce the pressure on the trachea, reducing the risk of collapse.

  • Avoid Collars: Use a harness instead of a collar while walking your dog to minimize the pressure on the neck and trachea.

  • Eliminate Irritants: Limit your dog's exposure to respiratory irritants like smoke, strong chemicals, and excessive dust.

  • Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Regular exams can help identify the early signs of tracheal weakness, allowing for preventive care.

  • High-Quality Diet: Providing a diet rich in essential nutrients can help maintain the integrity of your dog's cartilage and other tissues.

  • Exercise Caution: Avoid situations where your dog could exert excessive force on their trachea, such as pulling against their leash or rough play.

10 Symptoms of a Collapsed Tracheas in Dogs

A collapsed trachea can present a variety of symptoms that are often progressive in nature. Here's a detailed list of symptoms to watch for:

  1. Honking Cough: One of the most distinctive signs is a dry, honking cough. This is often more noticeable after excitement or exercise.

  2. Difficulty Breathing: Breathing may become increasingly difficult, accompanied by wheezing or gasping for air.

  3. Exercise Intolerance: Affected dogs may become less tolerant of physical activity, often tiring out easily during walks or play.

  4. Blue Gums: In severe cases, a lack of sufficient oxygen can lead to cyanosis, a bluish discoloration of the gums and tongue.

  5. Loss of Appetite: Dogs may become less interested in food due to the discomfort associated with eating.

  6. Lethargy: Reduced energy levels and an increasing unwillingness to engage in physical activity can be observed.

  7. Increased Respiratory Rate: A higher rate of shallow, rapid breathing is commonly seen in advanced cases.

  8. Noisy Breathing: A high-pitched wheezing or raspy sound may accompany breathing in affected dogs.

  9. Gagging or Choking: Episodes of gagging or even temporary choking can occur, particularly after drinking water or eating.

  10. Elevated Heart Rate: An increased heart rate could be a compensatory response to the decreased oxygen levels in the bloodstream.

If you notice one or more of these symptoms, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian for a comprehensive diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

How Collapsed Tracheas Are Diagnosed in Dogs

Diagnosing a collapsed trachea involves multiple steps to rule out other possible respiratory issues and to determine the severity of the tracheal collapse. Here are some of the diagnostic techniques often employed:

Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing a collapsed trachea is usually a thorough physical examination. The veterinarian may gently palpate the trachea to induce coughing or listen for specific coughing sounds that are indicative of a tracheal issue.


Radiography can help visualize the trachea and assess the degree of collapse. However, it may not always provide a definitive diagnosis, as some dogs may not show signs of collapse while at rest during the X-ray procedure.


This is a type of dynamic X-ray that allows veterinarians to see the trachea in real-time as the dog breathes. It's particularly helpful in assessing how the trachea changes during both inhalation and exhalation.


A tracheal endoscopy involves inserting a small camera into the trachea to examine its inner surfaces. This procedure is usually done under anesthesia and provides a very detailed view of the trachea.

Blood Tests

While not directly diagnosing a collapsed trachea, blood tests can rule out other conditions that might mimic the symptoms of tracheal collapse, such as infection or other systemic diseases.

Treatment Options For Collapsed Tracheas in Dogs

When it comes to treating a collapsed trachea in dogs, several options are available, ranging from medical management to surgical interventions. The choice of treatment often depends on the severity of the condition, the overall health of the dog, and other factors that your veterinarian will consider. Here's a more in-depth look at the various treatment avenues:

Medical Management

In cases of mild to moderate tracheal collapse, medical management is often the first line of treatment. This usually involves administering medications like corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, bronchodilators to open up the airways, and cough suppressants to alleviate discomfort. It is essential for pet owners to work closely with their veterinarians to monitor the efficacy of the medications and make any necessary adjustments.

Weight Management

Obesity can exacerbate the symptoms of a collapsed trachea. As part of the treatment regimen, a weight management plan may be recommended. This usually involves a balanced diet and a monitored exercise program designed to reduce stress on the trachea while improving overall health.

Oxygen Therapy

For more severe cases that present with acute respiratory distress, oxygen therapy may be required. This entails placing the dog in an oxygen chamber or administering oxygen through a nasal cannula to ensure that adequate oxygen reaches the lungs and other vital organs.

Stent Placement

In situations where the collapse is localized to a particular section of the trachea, stents may be used to keep the airway open. This procedure is generally minimally invasive and is done using fluoroscopic guidance to accurately place the stent. While highly effective, stent placement may come with risks such as migration of the stent or potential infection, requiring vigilant post-operative care. VetMed specializes in tracheal stent placement. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

Surgical Options

For severe or complex cases where other treatments have failed, surgical intervention may be considered. One common surgery is the placement of prosthetic rings around the trachea, effectively providing support and keeping the airway open. These surgeries are intricate and require specialized surgical expertise.

Treatment for a collapsed trachea in dogs is not one-size-fits-all. It requires a multi-faceted approach, customized to the individual needs of your pet. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the most effective treatment plan for your dog.

VetMed Treats Collapsed Tracheas in Dogs

When it comes to the complex issue of tracheal collapse in dogs, VetMed stands apart from the rest. Our team of highly qualified veterinarians, equipped with the latest diagnostic tools and treatment technologies, offers a comprehensive approach to managing this condition. We have successfully treated numerous cases by employing a range of treatment modalities, from medical management to advanced surgical procedures. What sets VetMed apart is our focus on minimally invasive techniques that not only provide quick relief but also ensure a faster recovery process.


Questions You've Asked Us About Collapsed Tracheas in Dogs

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

How long do dogs live with collapsing trachea?

The life expectancy of a dog with a collapsing trachea varies depending on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of the treatment plan. Many dogs live relatively normal lives with proper medical management, although severe cases may require surgical intervention for a better quality of life.

What triggers a collapsed trachea in dogs?

Are dogs with collapsed trachea suffering?

How do you treat a dog with a collapsing trachea?

Can a dog bark with a collapsed trachea?


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