When To Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

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When To Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

As pet parents, we want to protect our beloved pups from any pain or suffering.

A diagnosis of tracheal collapse may have you wondering how uncomfortable your pup is each day, even questioning when it may be time to let them go.

Tracheal collapse in dogs can certainly be severe enough to impact their quality of life, but many dogs have found relief with long term management or surgery.

To help you better understand when your dog’s tracheal collapse can no longer be treated, let’s get into the details of this tracheal condition.

In discussing the topic we hope to educate you on what to expect after your pup’s diagnosis, as well as when it may be time to euthanize a dog with tracheal collapse.

When To Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

What Is Tracheal Collapse In Dogs?

Just like in humans, the trachea is a tube that connects the throat to the lungs, also known as the windpipe.

This tube allows air to move freely from the mouth and nose into the lungs, which helps our pups take a deep breath with ease.

The trachea is made up of multiple rings of cartilage that help the tube keep its shape, which ultimately allows the clear passage of air.

About 80% of the trachea relies on the structure from these rings of cartilage, so any weakness in this area is detrimental.

In dogs with mild to severe tracheal collapse, the rings of the trachea will begin to lose their rigidity.

This causes the trachea rings to weaken over time, causing the trachea to collapse in on itself as time goes by.

As the trachea becomes more and more lax, the dog will struggle to pass air to the lungs.

The weakened trachea will begin to flatten each time a dog takes a breath inward, making it near impossible for dogs to oxygenate properly.

This can vary from mild respiratory difficulties to acute respiratory distress, proving just how serious of a condition this can be.

How And Why Do Dogs Develop Tracheal Collapse

There is still no concrete cause of tracheal collapse in dogs, but there are a few contributing factors that have been linked to the disease.

There appears to be some form of genetic link to the condition, as a few breeds seem to be most prone to developing tracheal collapse.

The pups that are most often diagnosed with the condition include:

  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pomeranians
  • Toy Poodles
  • Other small breed dogs

Not only do breeds appear to play a role in the prevalence of this condition, but so do other medical conditions.

Obesity, respiratory disease and cardiac disease appear to be risk factors, with tracheal
collapse occurring more frequently in animals affected with these other conditions.

Signs And Symptoms Of Tracheal Collapse In Dogs

When a dog is diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, it is often because their owners noticed concerning symptoms at home.

These symptoms can range from a honking cough to difficulty breathing, and will often range based on the severity of their condition.

Some of the common symptoms of a collapsing trachea in dogs include:

  • Honking or harsh cough, often compared to a goose honk
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Coughing that gets worse during physical activity
  • Coughing that gets worse when wearing a collar or leash
  • Coughing that gets worse at night
  • Tiring out quickly with exercise
  • Labored breathing
  • Frequent panting
  • Turning blue when they are worked up
  • Collapsing during physical activity

Keep in mind that most dogs with a collapsing trachea will experience a worsening of their symptoms when they are exposed to triggers.

These could include:

  • Going on a walk
  • Pulling while on a lead
  • Playing fetch with their owners

If it seems like your dog has an obvious cough after activities, or they tire out faster than usual, we always suggest having them seen by a vet.

Even if these symptoms are always not persistent, it still warrants a vet visit.

How To Diagnose Tracheal Collapse In Dogs?

If your vet is suspicious of tracheal collapse in your furry friend, they will likely suggest diagnostic x-rays.

An x-ray can assess the shape of your dog’s trachea, and search for any narrowing of their passageway.

In addition to diagnosing a collapsing trachea, they can also rule out other complications that can mimic the symptoms of collapsing trachea.

This includes cardiac disease, lung disease, and even tracheal or esophageal foreign bodies.

If your dog’s x-rays are not conclusive, your vet can also refer your dog to a specialist to perform an endoscopy.

This involves sedating your dog and passing a tiny camera down their throat, allowing them to search for any abnormalities along the way.

What Treatments Are Available For Dogs With Collapsed Trachea?

If your dog has mild or moderate tracheal collapse, there are treatment or management options available to them.

Most cases can be well managed with one of the below options, along with a close relationship with your veterinary team.

To help you better understand how you can support your dog’s collapsing trachea, let’s detail the treatment options below.

Long Term Management With Medicine

When aiming to manage tracheal collapse in dogs long term, it’s typically a combination of controlling their symptoms and limiting inflammation.

This is often done with a combination of medications that work together to combat the effects of their tracheal condition.

Most medical management plans for tracheal collapse include steroids for inflammation, bronchodilators that decrease airflow resistance, and antitussives that relieve their cough.

Some of these medications can be given long term, while others will just be offered during a flare up.

This can be a great option for dogs with mild tracheal collapse, or those that are not a good candidate for surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

Due to the fact that tracheal collapse symptoms are often triggered by other sources, this means that lifestyle changes can typically cut back on complications.

This can include switching from collars to a harness, avoiding long walks in hot or humid climates, weight management to increase their stamina, and avoiding environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke.

Surgical Repair

If a dog has not found success with medical management, or their tracheal collapse is severe, your vet can recommend surgical repair.

This procedure involves placing stents inside the trachea that offer additional structure, holding the trachea open, or alternatively rings supporting the outside of the trachea.

This will not only prevent the trachea from collapsing inward, but it should also slow the deterioration of the trachea.

This will allow the pup to pass air freely to their lungs, and in turn prevents the respiratory complications they experienced before.

Can Tracheal Collapse Kill My Dog?

While most cases of tracheal collapse are not severe enough to be fatal, it can happen.

Due to the fact that a collapsing trachea makes it difficult for a dog to breathe, this means that severe cases of the condition can make it impossible to breathe.

Dogs with a severe form of tracheal collapse may experience so much inflammation in their trachea that they are unable to move air back and forth, leading to life-threatening respiratory distress.

If a dog does not receive medical attention immediately, it can certainly be fatal.

Thankfully, cases this severe are not as common, but it certainly can happen if your dog’s tracheal collapse is not managed or treated.

This is why we always suggest seeking veterinary care the moment their symptoms begin, and following any guidance that your vet suggests for long term management.

Complications From Collapsing Trachea In Dogs

Respiratory distress is not the only complication that tracheal collapse can lead to in our canine companions.

The additional strain that a tracheal collapse can put on the body can lead to lung complications, cardiac disease, and even kidney and liver disease.

The inadequate flow of oxygen puts pressure on multiple canine organs, proving just how important it is to seek veterinary care from the moment their symptoms develop.

5 Ways On How To Manage Tracheal Collapse At Home

While your vet will prescribe any medical treatment necessary, there are ways that you can improve your dog’s life with at-home care.

As we mentioned above, lifestyle changes can make a world of difference for these furry friends.

Avoid airways irritants

Airways irritants can trigger inflammation and coughing in dogs with tracheal collapse.

This can include cigarette smoke, essential oils, incense, perfumes, dust, and cleaning chemicals.

By limiting these irritants in your home, you can help to keep your dog comfortable.

Switching to harness use

Walking a dog with a collar and leash can trigger a coughing fit for dogs with tracheal collapse.

A collar will put additional strain on their already compromised trachea, often making it difficult for these pups to breathe.

Harnesses strap around your dog’s chest instead of their neck, allowing them to walk comfortably without the pressure on their throat.

Keeping them at a healthy weight

Excess fat can easily put additional strain on a dog’s collapsing trachea.

This fat can accumulate around the neck and the chest, causing further respiratory distress for your already struggling pup.

Not only will keeping them at a healthy weight relieve pressure around their trachea, but it will also improve their stamina.

Limiting heat exposure

Heat and humidity can make it challenging for any dog to catch their breath, but especially a dog with a collapsing trachea.

Excessive panting can cause increased inflammation around the trachea itself, and a dog with tracheal collapse does not need any additional inflammation in this area.

By limiting their exposure to heat or humidity, you can help your pup combat their symptoms.

Limiting vigorous exercise

Tracheal collapse can decrease a dog’s stamina, which is why it is important to limit any vigorous exercise.

Increased panting and respiratory rates can lead to additional inflammation of the trachea, and this can trigger respiratory distress in these furry friends.

Some dogs with a collapsing trachea have collapsed during intense exercise, so you never want this to happen.

By implementing the lifestyle changes discussed above, you can comfort your dog with a collapsing trachea at home. Keep in mind that these options do not replace medical care, so we still suggest maintaining a close relationship with your vet.

How Long Can A Dog Live With A Collapsing Trachea?

If your dog has just been diagnosed with a collapsing trachea, you may be wondering if this will shorten their life.

While severe cases can certainly lead to a quality of life discussion over time, proper management of the disease is the best way to offer them as much time as possible.

If your dog’s collapsing trachea was diagnosed once it was already in a progressed state, this could mean that your pup has less time.

These dogs may require aggressive medical management and even surgery, and they may be at an increased risk of organ complications.

Equally if your pet has a complicating underlying condition such as cardiac disease, this could
shorten their longevity.

It is best to have the conversation with your vet about your dog’s long-term prognosis, as the
condition can vary in its severity between different patients. Prompt treatment usually leads to
better outcomes though, so get your dog seen as soon as possible if you suspect there is something
not quite right.

Are Dogs With A Collapsed Trachea Suffering?

If your dog with a collapsing trachea finds relief through ongoing treatment, there is no reason to believe that they are suffering.

Many dogs can go on to live long and happy lives if they are being monitored closely, and will even enjoy activities that they loved before their condition began.

If your pup is not experiencing respiratory distress or any other severe complications, they are not likely suffering.

However, if your dog is experiencing regular episodes of respiratory distress, this could mean that they have a decreased quality of life as a result of their tracheal collapse.

This is also the case for any dogs that develop secondary pneumonia, cardiac disease, or kidney and liver disease.

If your pup is battling the effects of their tracheal condition each day, it could be time to speak with your vet about their quality of life.

There may also be other ways to improve their life at this point, so you should always have this discussion first.

When To Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

If your pup is struggling with an unmanaged case of tracheal collapse, you may be at the point of considering euthanasia.

We know just how impossible this decision can be, so let’s list a few signs your pup may display if they are beginning to suffer.

By keeping an eye out for the complications listed below, you can better determine when they may be ready to let go.

It may be time to consider euthanasia in a dog with tracheal collapse if they are experiencing the following complications:

  • Secondary pneumonia from their collapsing trachea
  • Cardiac disease
  • Frequent fits of respiratory distress
  • Frequent coughing that is difficult to stop once it starts
  • Presence of kidney or liver disease 
  • Inability to manage their symptoms with medications
  • Inability to exercise without significant respiratory distress
  • Disinterest in activities they once loved
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia

If your dog with a collapsing trachea is experiencing any of the above complications, we highly suggest speaking with your vet about the possibility of letting them go.

Your vet may be able to suggest other treatment options you have not tried yet, but if not, they will discuss the details of saying goodbye.

When Should You Put Down Your Dog With Tracheal Collapse

FAQs

Can my dog with a collapsing trachea ever wear a collar?

It’s not the collar itself that is the issue in these situations, but rather when a dog pulls on their lead when they are wearing a collar.

This pulling action puts pressure on their throat, which in turn puts more stress on their collapsing trachea.

Your dog can wear a collar while inside of the house, but we suggest switching to using a harness for walks.

Just make sure that their collar is not too tight and you can slip two fingers in between the collar and their skin.

Can my dog with a collapsing trachea still go on walks?

Dogs with a collapsing trachea can still go on walks as long as you use a harness and prevent them from any overexertion.

You can prevent them from getting too worked up by taking them on low resistance walks, keeping their walks short during hot months, and always using a harness.

If you live in a hot and humid climate, limit walks to early morning or early night when the temperature is much cooler.

Is surgery for tracheal collapse in dogs successful?

Surgical repair of a tracheal collapse is typically very successful.

While complications are always possible, most dogs do well with the additional tracheal support and go on to live full lives.

The American Collage of Veterinary Surgeons states that about 75% of dogs who have had surgical placement of rings, improve after the surgery.

However, prognosis is guarded for dogs that have already developed secondary organ complications, so we suggest speaking with your vet about your dog’s outlook.

Will my dog’s collapsing trachea get worse over time?

If a dog does not have surgery for their tracheal collapse, it will typically worsen over time.

The tracheal rings will only get weaker and weaker, and the presence of inflammation will lead to deterioration of the tissue over time.

This is why it is important to be aware of the signs of suffering with this condition, as this will help you make the best decision when it is time.

Dr Rebecca MacMillan

Rebecca MacMillan

Rebecca is a companion animal vet who lives and works in the UK. She graduated from The Royal Veterinary College (London) in 2009 and since then has gained a wealth of experience in all aspects of veterinary care. She has also recently completed a British Small Animal Veterinary Association postgraduate qualification in medicine, passing with commendation. Outside of work, she enjoys writing on a variety of pet health and behaviour topics, as well as spending time with her young family and her flat coated retriever, George.

Rebecca is currently a Veterinary Surgeon at Vets4Pets – Find her on LinkedIn

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