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When Should You Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse?

If you’ve got a dog that’s been diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, then you’re understandably worried and not sure what to do about it.

You’re likely concerned about your dog’s lief expectancy with this diagnosis and how you can treat it.

You may even be considering euthanasia, or just wondering if putting down your dog is something that your should do for him.

We’re familiar with this diagnosis, so let us help you come to terms with what it means for your doggo.

What is Dog Tracheal Collapse?

Tracheal collapse is a progressive, fatal, and irreversible condition of the windpipe and the lower airways that cause the mainstem bronchi’s collapse.

Tracheal collapse mostly affects the small breed dogs such as the Chihuahuas, Poodles, Shih Tzu’s Lhasa Apsos, Pomeranians, and the Yorkshire terriers.

The severity of tracheal collapse in dogs can differ, as it is a significant source of airway obstruction.

Dogs with minor collapses show less to none clinical signs, while those with more severe collapses have severe coughs and experience breathing problems.

Most small dogs are born with cartilage strong enough to keep the windpipe open, but with advancing in age, the cartilage weakens.

As age takes its toll on a dog’s cartilage, tracheal collapse symptoms start to show in this older dog.

What Causes Dog Tracheal Collapse?

Dog tracheal collapse is caused by a collapsing trachea or windpipe, which makes it hard for air to get to the animal’s lungs.

Tracheal collapse results from the flattening of the tracheal rings during inspiration when the wind is drawn into the airway.

This happens when the cartilage rings lose some rigidity and strength or when the membrane gets slack and saggy.

Often this happens as the result of a dog pulling or yanking on a leash that’s around his neck.

Tracheal collapse in dogs usually happens in the middle-aged to senior dogs, between 4 to 14 years of age, but younger dogs can be affected as well.

Dogs that are most susceptible to tracheal collapse are middle-aged and older, as well as dogs that are overweight. This, however, does not mean that younger dogs are not prone to tracheal collapse.

There may be a genetic factor involved, so all dogs are susceptible to tracheal collapse regardless of breed, size, or age.

The reason why tracheal collapse occurs in dogs is, however, unknown, although there are suspicions of a congenital abnormality being a trigger.

During congenital anomalies, the trachea rings’ cartilage weakens, as they are less cellular, which results in breathing difficulties.

Some factors bring out the symptoms of tracheal collapse in dogs, but they are not necessarily causes of the condition.

Dogs that are obese and those that have undergone anesthesia that involved the placement of an endotracheal tube are more prone.

If there is an increase of respiratory irritants such as dust, cigarette, or smoke in the air, or heart enlargement, it increases the chances of tracheal collapse.

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Signs and Symptoms of a Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

Coughing is the first warning sign that your dog might have a tracheal collapse. This is because the trachea’s narrowing during breathing causes a tickle in the dog’s throat, hence, coughing.

The severity of tracheal collapse symptoms in dogs is increased when there is a fast airflow, which makes the forces responsible for the tracheal collapse even stronger. The harder the dog breathes or coughs, the more pronounced the tracheal collapse symptoms are likely to be.

When a dog with tracheal collapse coughs, the cough is usually dry and can come in solitary or in clusters depending on the trachea’s pressure. This pressure acts as a stimulant for the trachea, which helps vets diagnose the condition in dogs.

In addition to the dry cough, other signs and symptoms of tracheal collapse in dogs include difficulties in breathing, exercise intolerance, fainting, wheezing noise when breathing in, and turning blue when excited.

However, the goose honk or the dry, harsh, and persistent cough is the most common clinical sign of tracheal collapse. Dogs that have tracheal collapse also have a bluish tinge on their gums.

Other symptoms can be invoked by excitements, obesity, hot and humid weather, eating and drinking, exercise, and certain tracheal irritants.

Diagnosis of Dog Tracheal Collapse

A honking cough might seem enough to diagnose your dog with tracheal collapse, but a definitive diagnosis is crucial for affirmation. When diagnosing a dog with tracheal collapse, it is vital to take radiographs as a start.

They are an excellent and non-invasive modality to aid in identifying a collapsing trachea. The collapsing trachea can be diagnosed during a physical examination of the dog by placing very light pressure on the trachea.

This stimulates coughing or difficulties in breathing, which are red flags of tracheal collapse.

Diagnosis of tracheal collapse requires such tests as radiography or use of bronchoscope or endoscope to affirm the diagnosis.

Bronchoscopy allows visual identification of any irritation or inflammation present in the dog’s airways linked with chronic coughing or infectious diseases.

Fluoroscopy can also be done, as it allows the visualization of the dog’s windpipe during inspiration and expiration. You can also have an ultrasound of the heart done to evaluate the dog’s cardiac function.

The diagnosis of a collapsed trachea in dogs can be a dynamic phenomenon, mainly because the trachea can appear normal if the image is taken when there is no moving air.

Treatment Options and Outlook for Dogs with Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse in dogs can be treated either surgically, medically, or by a combination of both, depending on the options advised by the veterinarian.

This condition is not easy to get over, and even with good control, some dogs keep coughing throughout their lives. Most of the tracheal collapse cases in dogs are treated using tough suppressants, corticosteroids, bronchodilators, or antibiotics, which help control inflammation.

Dogs with tracheal collapse resulting from obesity can use weight loss to help minimize respiratory effort, which has an excellent long-term response.

If there is no response after using medical management procedures after two weeks, or if specific symptoms affect your dog’s functionality, then consider surgery.

There are various surgical techniques used, but the outcomes vary depending on the age of the dog. Dogs older than six years have a more unsatisfactory result and a less than 75 percent success rate.

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Medical Management for Dogs Tracheal Collapse

Medical management is centered on the minimization of coughs and controlling the inflammation of the airway. It is also vital for environmental modification to be done to help reduce stress on the respiratory system.

Medical management includes weight loss techniques, medications to minimize inflammation and spasms, and sedation for minimal anxiety and coughing. You can do certain things to help decrease the frequency and severity of tracheal collapse symptoms.

Such is the reduction of daily stress and excitement, the use of a body harness in place of a neck collar, and improved air quality at home by getting rid of specific triggers.

Medical management works for about 70 percent of the dogs with tracheal collapse, especially those with very mild collapses.

Depending on how severe and how progressive the disease is, the veterinarian uses anti-inflammatory medications, sedatives, or cough suppressants to treat certain complicating infections like chronic bronchitis.

Antibiotics can also be used to treat these complicating infections, but the disease is very progressive and irreversible. It can advance or progress to a point where medical management is ineffective.

If this happens, use a tracheal stent as an alternative life-saving therapy option.

Surgical management for Dogs Tracheal Collapse

As tracheal collapse advances, some dogs stop responding to medical management, which necessitates the need for interventional or surgical treatment.

There are two procedures currently used for surgical management of tracheal collision in dogs; placing steel tracheal rings for shoring up the weakened cartilage and using tracheal stents. Both treatment options have the potential for complications.

The surgical treatment option is considered a salvage one because, although it helps in saving lives and improving the dog’s quality of life, it doesn’t fix the primary problem permanently.

It is also vital to know that stents may eventually fail, and metal stents are not as flexible as a normal trachea, so they won’t be as effective.

They can result in irritations of the airway, tracheal rupture, collapse of the main stem bronchi, stent fractures, laryngeal paralysis, and even death in some rare cases.

Some veterinary surgeons perform surgeries on dogs with tracheal collapse using a tracheal stent. A tracheal stent is a spring-like device of plastic rings that are placed around the outside of the windpipe to hold it open.

Stents enable the treatment of tracheal collapses without the dog necessarily undergoing a surgical incision.

However, surgical procedures are not for mild cases of tracheal collapse but for the cases that cannot be controlled using such non-surgical procedures as weight loss and medication.

When Does it Become an Emergency? Euthanasia for Dogs with Tracheal Collapse

In very severe cases, the patient experiences a lot of distress that causes the mucus membranes that are usually pink bluish, which makes them collapse as a result.

If this happens, you are required to tranquilize to help perpetuate the heavy coughing and breathing through the reduction of anxiety.

You can also use oxygen therapy or cough suppressants but if the patient’s distress becomes too much or if there is a collapse, consider getting emergency veterinary care.

When to Say Goodbye; Euthanizing a Dog with Tracheal Collapse

Severe cases of tracheal collapse in dogs have fatal consequences most of the time because the disease is very progressive and irreversible. The condition can become so intense that there is no sufficient airflow to the lungs, which causes death as a result of respiratory distresses.

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As there is no cure for collapsed trachea in dogs, sometimes it is possible to consider euthanasia to help your dog have a quality life at the end.

Euthanizing your dog is a sad part of dog ownership, but you have to make a choice because the end stage of tracheal collapse can come as early as two years, forcing you to make the call to euthanize.

Although dogs’ life expectancy with tracheal collapse is two years, most dogs live for more than four years with the disease.

However, critical trachea collapse can be life-threatening, especially if complicated by episodes of severe shortness of breath.

If your dog is fighting to stay alive, then help it survive, but if the dog just lays down, unable to move, euthanasia is the best form of human comfort to get it off its misery.

Unfortunately, the end stages of tracheal collapse in a dog’s can come quickly, forcing you to make the euthanasia call, especially if the dog starts having convulsions.

If the cough persists even after days of medication and treatment, consider outing down your dog before he chokes to death on his own.

Some state laws permit non-veterinarians to put a pet to sleep in such cases as severe tracheal collapses, as long as they undergo training.

There are also laws that allow veterinarians, animal control agents, and law enforcers to put down a sick, injured, or dangerous animal that can’t be saved.

It is possible for dogs to die from shortness of breath, which is caused by the trachea’s narrowing, resulting in insufficient airflow in the lungs.

The symptoms of tracheal collapse in dogs can be severe, but severe coughing is the main symptom. There are other signs such as shortness of breath and blue gums, which become more apparent when your pet drinks, eats or gets excited.

The decision to euthanize your dog should be taken heavily, and as a last result. It is also crucial to get your vet’s insight into any available options before deciding to put your pet down.

Final Word

When your dog is terminally ill and has tracheal collapse, it can be hard watching the dog’s slow, steady, and painful decline of health.

The dog stops doing happy jumps when you pull into the driveway, and even the slightest of movement becomes a source of discomfort.

If your dog has reached a point of producing hacking sounds and struggling to get in the air to the lungs, you have to consider calling your vet to put him down.

It is very heart-breaking, but it is better than watching your dog suffer through a completely collapsed trachea.

Euthanasia doesn’t have to be an immediate decision for dogs with tracheal collapse, but if the situation calls for it, take the necessary steps with your vet to give your dog a decent life quality to the end.

The decision to put your pet down is not easy, but when the situation demands it, you have to be brave enough to help your pet rest easy.

credit: Pexels

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6 thoughts on “When Should You Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse?”

  1. i have a small dog with a collapsing traçhia. i have been googling fór months trying to find some kind of straight foward answers to the questions i have about what to do and what not to do. this is the first time i have had any of my questions actually answered . thankyou for taking the time to explain it all in a way in which i can understand. excellent excellent info.

  2. Thank you for your insight explaining not only the progression of this disease, but also dealing with the painful decision process dog parents experience. We love our little pup and it’s painful to watch her struggle, gasping for air, getting worse everyday. She’s on medication but it only seemed to help for a couple of weeks. I’m still not sure what to do but this is the first article I’ve found dealing with the painful end of life decision making process.

  3. My eleven years of chihuahua was diagnosed with a collapsing trachea in April, but she was fully healthy throughout the summer, with no signs of a cough or gasping for air. I never even had to use her Hydrocodone until two weeks ago; I managed her with a hot eucalyptus steam bath and Hydrocodone that gave a short temporary relief, but she was getting worse. I suspected that she also got a cold.

    I brought her into the emergency on January 6 because of her ongoing tracheal cough that started on December 27 and still on January 10. She was put into the oxygen tank and had her x-ray done. She was diagnosed with bronchitis (suspect chronic) and a collapsing trachea.

    I’ve been treating her with Prednisone (anti-inflammatory), TheoLA (bronchodilator), Hydrocodone (cough suppressant), and Clavaseptin (antibiotic).

    Unfortunately, her cough hasn’t been improving at all. In the past two days, her afternoons were better, but she has coughing episodes every hour, mini ones that she can manage or I can help with or longer ones that last for a longer time no matter what we do.

    I called the Animal Hospital several times, and they suggested to bring her back for further testing. The truth is that I have researched every article that I could found on the Internet, and I know what we are facing. Fluoroscopy would be the next test, which is very expensive, and it would tell me what I already suspect. If money wouldn’t be a subject, I’d do it to determine which stage she exactly is. At that age, I wouldn’t do surgery. I researched that tracheal stent is a finicky surgery, requires an expert to do it, and has a 75% survival rate. In older dogs, perhaps less.

    That’s why this article is helpful. I agree with the other commentators; this is the only one I find clarifying the symptoms, and when to say goodbye. So thank you.

    The animal hospital also suggested waiting at least five days, which is tomorrow. If she is not getting better with all the meds she is having, bring her in, and I can decide.

    Since December 27th (today is January 10), we haven’t been sleeping, and I couldn’t work because I am a 24/7 nurse. I am happy to do that because my dog is precious to me, but I can only take so many days off my business.

    But mainly her suffering that is painful.

    The problem is, and it is confusing that my dog otherwise healthy. She is eating well, wants to play, even going for walks when she has a few hours of restful sleep.

      • Thank you. We’ll see how our fifth day goes. Right now, she is not eating and just resting. We are both exhausted. The more I read about this condition, the more I realize there will be no solution, and the collapsing trachea is only a timing bomb, unfortunately.


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