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What To Do If Your Dog Has a Collapsed Trachea

Small dogs are prone to a disorder called tracheal collapse. Learn how to tell if your dog has a collapsed windpipe and what to do to help your pet recover. Read more on Richmond pet sitter blog.

About a month ago, my dog Yoshi, a 7-year old, 8.5 pound Japanese Chin, started coughing. He just kept coughing and coughing. It was a Sunday morning and my regular vet’s office was closed. I had some Cough Tabs on hand which I gave him, but it made no difference. He just kept coughing and coughing.

The next day, we went to our regular vet who thought it might be an allergy. The vet prescribed Benadryl and increased the cough meds. We gave him the meds, but he just kept coughing constantly to the point he was totally exhausting himself. It was wearing us out as well — listening to him and feeling helpless to do anything that provided relief!

The vet wanted to see him again on Thursday, but by Tuesday night it was obvious that the little guy was in deep distress. We all bundled up and drove to the Veterinarian Referral and Critical Care Hospital just off Broad Street in the west end of Richmond, VA.

After tests and xrays, we learned that Yoshi had a collapsing trachea. As explained by the emergency vet on duty, the trachea or “windpipe” is a hollow tube from mouth to lungs. Its purpose is to transport air to and from the lungs. It is tissue made up of sturdy rings of cartilage that go around the windpipe in the form of the letter “C” and do not totally connect in the back of the trachea. It is this area that can become “floppy” and can partially or completely collapse.

This condition is very frightening to the pet as they cough and cough trying to open the airway and the more they cough the more inflamed the airways become. As veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker describes in this YouTube video explanation of trachael collapse, it is as if your dog is trying to take a breath and get oxygen in through a squashed straw. Yes, it’s terrifying.

So back to our dog, Yoshi

We were fortunate that the emergency vet who saw him had just read new studies about the use of Cerenia, a drug being used experimentally in the treatment of collapsing trachea. Typically, this drug is an anti-nausea and anti-vomiting drug for dogs and cats, but recently it has been discovered to be very helpful in stopping the cough related to a collapsed trachea.

The ER vet recommended we give Cerenia a try. Yoshi was also put on Theophylline, a bronchodilator similar to the medication that people with COPD take. That evening, he got doses of both prescriptions. Guess what? His coughing stopped as if we had pushed a magic button.

He took the Cerenia for four days, then was switched to a more traditional medication for cough reduction called Tussegon. That is because the Cerenia has not been tested for long term usage on the benefits for cough relief, but can be used as an “emergency” drug when the cough is severe. In Yoshi’s case, the combination of the Cerenia, Tussegon and Theophylline have kept him totally under control. Thank goodness!

What causes tracheal collapse?

It is really not known what causes a dog’s windpipe to collapse, although there seems to be a congenital abnormality and it tends to afflict small and toy breeds with greater frequency. The signs are hard to miss — a honking “goose” cough, labored breathing, exercise intolerance and a bluish tinge to tongue.

An attack can be brought on by exercise, obesity, cold and windy air outside, eating, excitement, drinking and/or environmental irritants such as smoke or wearing a collar instead of a harness for walks. It is always best to walk any dog with a harnessnot a collar around the neck. Using the harness means there is NO pulling or stress on the trachea area, which can exacerbate problems and cause more damage.

If you see any of these signs in your dog, get to your vet for proper diagnosis. Usually the vet will examine the pet and do xrays while pet is inhaling and exhaling to observe what is happening. If diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, your dog will probably be placed on a cough suppressant, a bronchodilator, antibiotics to combat any infection and possibly steroids to reduce inflammation.

Usually this protocol is very effective in treating collapsing trachea. In the rare instance that your dog does not respond to treatment or gets much worse, there are surgical procedures than can be performed to help take care of the problem. But this is significant surgery and should be performed by an expert with lots of experience doing this type of surgery.

Final thoughts … 

Hopefully, your small breed dog won’t ever have a collapsed windpipe. You can stack the deck in her favor by keeping your dog at a healthy weight, always use a walking harness when out and about and avoid exposing your dog to irritating inhalants (smoke from cigarettes and cigars is especially problematic). But if you hear that honking bark/cough, sometimes called a “goose honk,” get to your vet. With proper TLC and medications, your dog should be able to lead a long, healthy life.


Author: Carole

Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.

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