Tracheal Collapse

What is a collapsed trachea?
The trachea, or windpipe, is essentially a flexible tube leading from the mouth to the lungs. It is supported by a collection of cartilage rings which keep the tubes open, allowing air to enter the lungs on inspiration. Sometimes these rings are abnormal and collapse and therefore the trachea is obstructed making breathing difficult.

What are the signs?
The usual symptoms are paroxysmal coughing particularly on exercise.

Is the condition sudden in onset?
Signs may be sudden in onset although the tracheal abnormality may have been present for some time.

There are two main forms of tracheal collapse:

  1. Congenital tracheal collapse. This is due to a deformity of the tracheal rings from birth and usually affects puppies under six months of age.
  2. Acquired tracheal collapse. This is due to an innate weakness in the cartilage rings so they tend to collapse as the dog gets older. This is usually seen in dogs over seven years of age.


Are some breeds more prone than others?
Yes. Collapsed trachea is a condition seen mainly in the toy breeds. For example Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Pomeranians and Lhasa Apsos are high on the list.
Are there any other signs apart from a cough?
The cough is very characteristic. It is often described as a honking sound. Often there is a marked exercise intolerance but this is often thought by owners to be due to increasing age and/or obesity.
How is the condition diagnosed?

  1. From the history. Lack of inclination to exercise and chronic paroxysmal coughing
  2. Veterinary examination. This usually leads to coughing as soon as the windpipe is touched
  3. Radiography. This, together with other techniques will lead to a definitive diagnosis.

What is involved with treatment?
It is most important that any obesity is corrected.
It may be necessary for you to diet your pet.
Medical treatment in preference to surgery is often effective.
Antibiotics, cough suppressants and special drugs to dilate the airway are all used and are very successful.
In really severe cases surgical techniques are available but this may involve referring your dog to a specialist.
Is treatment curative?
Medical treatment is palliative rather than curative.
Once stabilised dogs will frequently cope very well for years.
It is important however to ensure that chest infections are prevented as far as possible.
If there is any increase in coughing it is important that you contact us without delay.