Collapsed Trachea in Dogs
Trachea, also known as the windpipe, is a tubular structure that connects the mouth, nose, and throat to the lungs. This tube is made up of tracheal rings, which are C-shaped cartilages that give the trachea its rigidity. When these rings weaken, a collapsed trachea in dogs occurs, causing airway obstruction.
Understanding Collapsed Trachea in Dogs
To provide an unobstructed yet flexible airway, C-shaped cartilages give the trachea its structure, similar to that of a vacuum cleaner hose. The opening of the C-shaped cartilage faces upward, toward the dog’s back. There’s also the tracheal membrane that serves as a tight muscular cover that connects the edges of the C-shaped rings.
When the C-shaped cartilages weaken, in a condition commonly referred to as tracheomalacia, the trachea loses its rigid structure and the tracheal membrane becomes flimsy and floppy. So when air is discharged out of the lungs, the membrane sags down, causing occlusion in the C-shaped rings. And when air is sucked in, the membrane balloons out.
The sagging membrane may touch the tracheal lining, which could cause severe coughing. In worse instances, the sagging membrane could impede the flow of air when the dog breathes, which would lead to further distress to the animal. In severe cases, the weakening of the C-shaped rings could extend even in the bronchial tube.
Causes of Tracheal Collapse
Collapsed trachea in dogs is predominantly a hereditary condition. Breeds that are usually predisposed to this defect are mostly small dogs like Pomeranians, Chihuahua, Toy Poodles, and Yorkshire Terrier. Aside from genetics, other factors that could increase the dog’s risk for this condition are:
- Exposure to respiratory irritants like cigarette smoke and dust.
- An enlarged heart could press into the trachea.
- Anesthesia administered during tracheal intubation.
- Other health problems like kennel cough and respiratory infection.
- Obese dogs are also more likely to exhibit clinical signs of tracheal collapse.
Signs and Symptoms
Collapsed trachea in dogs will cause a slew of respiratory symptoms in the animal. Chronic and intermittent coughing is one of the most prominent signs of this condition especially during exercise or when the dog’s collar is pulled. In some cases, the dog may become intolerant to exercise or may exhibit rapid and shallow or labored breathing. The dog could also have fainting episodes and have bluish gums.
The symptoms, however, are not unique to tracheal collapse and that’s why the veterinarian will have to examine the dog further. Aside from the routine blood work, health history, and x-ray, there are other tests that the vet may request to diagnose the problem.
Fluoroscopy. This test involves taking continuous x-ray images of the dog’s chest as it breathes in and out. This is vital since the size of the trachea changes as the dog inhales and exhales and these can be monitored properly on the screen with this imaging technique.
Endoscopy. A fiber-optic camera is inserted for the vet to gain good visual of the airway passage. A fluid sample from the trachea can also be collected using this technique for further study and analysis. When performing this procedure, the dog will have to be sedated using general anesthesia so the small tube can be inserted properly without any resistance.
Echocardiogram. Sometimes, an echocardiogram may also be needed to check cardiac function.
Treatment consists of medical or surgical management.
Medical treatment includes addressing factors that could exacerbate the problem. Thus, pet owners must see to it that their dog is not exposed to cigarette smoke or dust. Furthermore, obese dogs will have to go on a weight loss program to mitigate respiratory symptoms.
Additionally, different types of medication will also be used to treat or relieve the symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs.
- The veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics since dogs with a collapsed trachea have a higher risk of infection. This is due to the airway’s compromised ability to clear out harmful organisms from the respiratory system.
- The dog may also have to take prednisone or other corticosteroids to help reduce mucus secretion in the respiratory tract. Corticosteroids provide short-term relief, however, since long-term use of this drug may weaken the cartilage further and it may have other adverse side effects on the dog’s health.
- Other medications like dilators (terbutaline and theophylline), as well as cough suppressants (butorphanol and hydrocodone), helps manage or relieve the symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs.
In an emergency, like when dogs’ mucous membranes turn bluish due to lack of oxygen in the blood, the vet may decide to administer tranquilizers. Anxiety could worsen respiratory distress in dogs and that’s why it’s vital to calm the pet down to help stabilize its breathing. Additionally, the vet may prescribe oxygen therapy for the dog.
Approximately 70% of dogs that received medical treatment alone showed improvements.
If the dog shows no improvement or does not respond well to medical management, the vet may recommend surgery to improve the dog’s quality of life. Generally, there are two surgical procedures considered: placing ring prostheses to help strengthen the C-shaped cartilages or inserting a cylindrical self-expanding stent to keep the trachea open. Recently, more surgeons favor placing a tracheal stent instead of the rigid ring prostheses.
The ring prosthesis is non-collapsible so this option is considered only when the affected part of the trachea is located near the neck. If the intrathoracic trachea is affected, the surgery success rate is lower.
A tracheal stent is a cylindrical, spring-like, stainless steel mesh inserted into the airway to keep it patent. Although 96% of dogs that underwent this procedure showed improvements, this surgery is not a good option for pets with an uncontrollable respiratory infection and severe bronchial tube collapse.
Cost to Treat: $4,000 to $7,000
Care Management for Dogs with Tracheal Collapse
Even if a pet has gone through surgery, medication will still be needed to control infection, coughing, swelling, as well as to relieve pain. Most of the time, it is up to the pet owner to administer these medications. Additionally, the owner has to ensure to take the dog back to the vet for a follow-up check-up, periodic x-rays, and the removal of sutures.
Complications may also arise following surgery and they usually stem from improper placement of the stent or the proliferation of inflammatory tissues around the stent, narrowing the airways even further. Possible complications to look out for include:
- Laryngeal paralysis and the dog may need a tracheostomy to breathe.
- Stent migration
- Respiratory infection (lungs or airways)
- Bronchial collapse
- Constant coughing due to irritation of the trachea
- Rapture of the trachea
- Breaking of the stent due to constant movement in the thoracic area
Outlook after surgery depends on the age and the presence of other health problems in dogs. Dogs that are more than six years of age and those with a bronchial disease have a poorer outlook since they have increased risk for complications.
There is no known prevention of a collapsed trachea in dogs at this time. But with the right treatment and care, dogs with a collapsed trachea can still enjoy a good quality of life. And since there’s no permanent cure to this disease, pet owners need to be in constant communication with the vet especially when they notice symptoms recur or get worse.