What Is Tracheal Collapse In Dogs? Are There Natural Treatments?

If your pup has common condition, there are natural ways to help as well as traditional.

The first time it happened, I actually thought my dog was dying.

Grant and I were enjoying a late-summer stroll, when suddenly his favorite Schnoodle, Sally, came bounding around the corner. Grant began tugging on his leash in excitement. I’d already started in with my usual stern commands to “heel” and “sit” — but this time, something alarming happened.

Without warning, Grant dropped down on all fours, hung his head low, and began wheezing in the most horrible, raspy-grinding sort of way. It almost sounded as if he were honking, like a goose. In between honks, he would pant frantically. It seemed like his lungs just couldn’t get enough air. That’s because, as I later found out, they couldn’t.

Grant managed to recover after a few minutes. But I was so flustered that we visited our vet, where I was introduced to the troubling term “tracheal collapse.” My vet explained that the condition is actually not that uncommon. The problem lies within the tracheal structure itself.

To understand more clearly, I checked with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Basically, they illustrate that the trachea — which some call a “windpipe”— looks kind of like a long, hollow, muscular straw or tube. It consists of stacked, c-shaped cartilage rings, which help transport air to and from the lungs. When these rings begin to constrict or collapse, only a tiny bit of air manages to squeak through with every breath. That’s what produced the panicky honking noises Grant was making.

Board-certified veterinary surgeons like Dr. Daniel Degner point out that this condition generally tends to affect smaller breeds such as Yorkies, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Shih-Tzu mixes like Grant. In some cases, it’s congenital — meaning basically present from birth. But often, it begins to manifest gradually over time. So in certain instances, those cartilage rings may be slightly malformed from the start. But they can also progressively weaken and begin to change from a nicely rounded c-shape into a more flattened u-shape.

Lungs/trachea illustration by Shutterstock.
Lungs/trachea illustration by Shutterstock.

Grant has had a couple more instances of tracheal collapse since that first incident, and so far he’s always recovered rather quickly on his own — but that’s not the case with every dog. Moreover, a raspy-sounding cough can be the hallmark symptom of several conditions, so your vet may also rule out other underlying issues. Grant had a special X-ray, which showed a tracheal-shape distortion. This technique, called fluoroscopy, demonstrates what happens to the trachea in real time as your dog breathes. In severe cases, an endoscopy can also be performed to get a closeup, inside view of the airway with a miniature camera.

If it’s confirmed that your pup struggles with tracheal collapse, recognize that it’s not a death sentence. But certainly, your canine’s quality of life could be compromised. So what are some steps you can take to help your furry friend breathe easier? Here’s a list of natural measures that have worked well for Grant so far.

1. Losing weight

Excess weight puts added pressure on your dog’s airway. Losing even a couple extra pounds can help minimize air obstruction and decrease your canine’s overall respiratory effort.

2. Adjusting eating position

Raising your pup’s bowl off the floor — either by placing it in a stand or on a low platform — helps prevent “crimping” of the neck region as your dog chews and swallows. This reduces general stress on the airway. Aim for a height that keeps the top of your canine’s head somewhat even with his shoulders.

3. Avoiding over-excitement

Some dogs with trachea issues may begin to gag when they become stressed or over-excited. I’ve even heard of certain dogs turning blue. So it’s smart to practice calming techniques with your pup. ThunderShirts can be an effective apparel option. You can also try sprinkling botanically based products like Bach Rescue Remedy on food or using calming aromatic scents like those offered by Lampe-Berger.

4. Alleviating pressure

Never use a collar to walk any dog who struggles with tracheal issues. A soft chest-wrapping harness is always your best bet. When it comes to Grant, we avoid all pressure around the throat region. Even his ThunderShirt is secured loosely in that area.

5. Evaluating the environment

Keep your home environment as smoke-free and dust-free as you can, to avoid undue irritation of the airways. This is your perfect excuse to pull out the vacuum (and maybe even kick that nicotine habit)!

6. Investigating alternatives

My holistic veterinarian often suggests cartilage-building supplements to help support the tracheal structure. These include MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin. Ask your vet if any of these might be appropriate for your pup.

A key strategy with chronic tracheal collapse is to break the coughing cycle, which irritates the airway and compounds the problem. So for moderate cases that aren’t improving on their own, your vet may want to discuss prescription cough suppressants, antispasmodics, and/or bronchodilators. And certainly, antibiotics can calm the coughing reflex in cases where infection is actually present.

Surgery is one final option, and if the problem seems to be worsening you could consult with a qualified veterinary surgeon. Recognize, however, that tracheal procedures are fairly specialized. They involve specific rehabilitation protocols and carry a degree of surgical risk. The good news is that managing symptoms proactively can often help you avoid surgery altogether — keeping your canine comfy, active, and going strong.

Have you dealt with tracheal collapse in your dog? Share your insights below!

Top photo: Shih-Tzu by Shutterstock.

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

Contributions

Tip: Creating a profile and avatar takes just a minute and is a great way to participate in Lucky Puppy community of people who are passionate about animals.