Dog coughing

A coughing dog can mean a lot of things. When a pet comes in to see one of our veterinarians at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital with this symptom, a lot of possibilities are on the list. Canine coughs can be infectious such as the ones we see with canine influenza, secondary to heart disease, or even just allergic.

One other possibility for cough in dogs, though, is tracheal collapse. Not as commonly understood by pet owners, tracheal collapse in dogs is quite common and is often implicated in coughing canines. 

Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

The trachea, or windpipe, is basically a flexible tube that leads from the throat to the lungs. It transports air that is breathed in so that oxygen may be exchanged.

The trachea is made up of rings of cartilage that help to keep it open. Rather than these being full rings, though, they are “c”-shaped, with their opening facing upwards.

Tracheal collapse in dogs is a chronic and progressive condition in which these rings start to flatten, allowing the roof of the trachea to sag. This can lead to obstruction of the opening within the trachea, which is irritating and can even lead to respiratory distress.

Collapsing tracheas are most often diagnosed in middle aged-to-older small breed dogs such as Yorkshire terriers, pomeranians, and toy poodles. Tracheal collapse may be exacerbated by extra body weight and inhaled irritants such as cigarette smoke. 

Symptoms of tracheal collapse in dogs can mimic other disease processes but often include:

  • A dry, harsh cough
  • A cough that is worsened by pressure on chest or neck
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • A cough that worsens with excitement
  • Blue or purple tongue when excited
  • Fainting episodes
  • Difficulty breathing

Symptoms of a collapsing trachea may be mild or severe and often worsen over time. 

Several diagnostic tests may be required to diagnose tracheal collapse. Blood work, chest x-rays, and heart testing may be recommended. Tracheal collapse is not always visible on radiographs, and other advanced diagnostics may be recommended to achieve a diagnosis. 

Management Options

If your pet has been diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, there are definitely some things that we can do to improve quality of life. While tracheal collapse in dogs is not reversible, taking some actions can help tremendously:

Medications—Medication is helpful for many dogs diagnosed with tracheal collapse. Different medications to reduce airway inflammation, stop spasming, suppress coughing, and manage anxiety can help up to 70% of affected pets, especially in milder cases. 

Weight management—Helping your pet to maintain a healthy body weight is key in management of tracheal collapse. Ask us if you need help formulating a weight loss plan for your pet. 

Management of complicating factors—Eliminating respiratory irritants such as smoke, perfume, and air fresheners from your home can be helpful. It is also important to manage concurrent medical conditions such as congestive heart failure. 

Surgery—In more extreme cases of tracheal collapse, surgery may be recommended. Strategic placement of rigid stents within the trachea can help to prevent collapse.

Any time a pet is having respiratory distress, it is a pet emergency. Please call us right away if your pet is having trouble breathing. 

Tracheal collapse in dogs is a common condition that can range from very mild to very serious. While it is often impossible to implicate it as a cause of a cough without more information, there are definitely things that we can do to help.