What You Need to Know About Collapsing Tracheas in Dogs

How Do You Treat Tracheal Collapse?

There is no cure for the disease, but certain treatments can be successful at controlling the symptoms.

For dogs suffering from tracheal collapse, there are some proactive things that pet owners can do:

  • Reduce a dog's exposure to smoke, pollen, dust and other allergens by installing HEPA-style air filters and vacuuming regularly.
  • Treat obesity by devising a weight-loss plan that's supervised by your veterinarian.
  • Avoid overexcitement and limit intense exercise and activity.
  • Only use a harness. Affected dogs should never wear collars or neck leads.
  • Provide adequate air conditioning and humidity control during warm months.
  • Address other health conditions, such as heart disease and Cushing’s disease.

Medical treatment may involve the following:

  • Cough suppressants — every cough creates inflammation within the trachea, so keeping them under control is a must!
  • Inflammation within the trachea causes more coughing and more inflammation, and steroids can help break this vicious cycle. Traditionally, anti-inflammatory oral steroids were the only option, but now many affected dogs are successfully managed with inhaled steroids that produce fewer side effects.
  • Bronchodilators can dilate the lower airways, making breathing easier in many afflicted dogs.
  • Antibiotics — affected dogs often have low-grade infections within the trachea or lower airways because of excess secretions and an inability to clear bacteria normally.

Are There Other Treatments for the Condition?

If the above treatments do not provide relief from the symptoms of tracheal collapse, surgery and stenting may be other options to consider.

Surgery tends to be most successful when the collapse is located within the throat (cervical) portion of the trachea. Basically, a rigid prosthesis is permanently placed around the trachea, effectively creating a noncollapsible tube. But surgery is an invasive procedure, which can be associated with significant complications.

A newer, noninvasive technique for treating tracheal collapse is the placement of an expandable metal stent inside the trachea with the aid of fluoroscopy or bronchoscopy. This is an especially useful technique if the collapse is located within the chest (intra-thoracic) portion of the trachea — an area that's commonly affected and difficult to treat surgically.

Stent placement is not without potential risks and side effects, and it is not a cure, so aggressive medical treatment must continue in these dogs. But the procedure has been very successful at controlling symptoms in many dogs suffering from this debilitating condition.

Dr. Donna Spector is a board-certified internal medicine specialist who practices in the northern Chicago area. She has special interests in canine and feline nutrition, gastrointestinal diseases, diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

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