When To Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse in dogs is a tricky diagnosis that varies in severity.

Some dogs go on to live full lives with proper management, while others will struggle day to day.

So how do you know if you need to say goodbye to your dog with tracheal collapse?

In this article we will discuss the details of tracheal collapse in our canine companions, and help you understand what this diagnosis means for your dog’s future.

Ultimately the decision on when to put down your dog will be with you, but before you make that hard decision, understand what this condition involves.

What Is Tracheal Collapse In Dogs?

When To Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

The trachea in dogs is the tube that connects the throat to the lungs.

This tube is filled with rings of cartilage that offer the trachea structure, allowing a clear passage of air to flow to the lungs.

If the rings of cartilage within the trachea begin to lose their strength, the tracheal structure will become more lax.

The tracheal rings can begin to flatten over time, causing the trachea to begin to fall inward when air is drawn in during inspiration.

Tracheal collapse can vary in severity based on how weak the cartilage rings have become, and can cause complete collapse if the condition is not addressed.

Severe cases of tracheal collapse can make it extremely challenging for a dog to breathe, making it a medical emergency in many cases.

How Does A Dog Develop Tracheal Collapse?

The exact cause of tracheal collapse in dogs is unknown, but there are a few factors that have been linked to the condition in our furry friends.

Tracheal collapse can occur in all types of dogs, but there are some breeds that are known to be more at risk than others.

Toy breeds are often at the top of the list, causing many to believe that there is a genetic factor involved.

Tracheal collapse is most common in:

  • Pomeranians
  • Chihuahuas
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Toy Poodles
  • and other small breeds

Tracheal collapse is also more common in dogs that suffer from chronic respiratory disease or heart disease.

These conditions may weaken the cartilage rings in the trachea over time, leading to tracheal collapse in the future.

This often occurs in middle aged to senior dogs, but can vary from dog to dog.

Signs Of Tracheal Collapse In Dogs

The signs of tracheal collapse in dogs will often involve respiratory symptoms due to it directly impacting the flow of air to the lungs.

These symptoms will vary based on how collapsed the trachea becomes over time, and whether or not the condition is triggered by other factors.

Some of the common signs of tracheal collapse in dogs include:

  • Persistent dry cough
  • Honking cough
  • Cough that worsens during activity
  • Cough that worsens at night
  • Cough that is triggered by putting on a collar or leash
  • Cough that is present in humid or hot weather
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Labored breathing
  • Turning blue when worked up
  • Collapse during activity

Many dogs with a collapsed trachea will experience the worst of their symptoms when triggered by other factors.

For example, a dog may have a persistent cough directly after going for a walk each day.

Increased inspiration can cause the trachea to fall inward more than usual, which is why activity can cause sudden symptoms.

If your dog experiences any of the symptoms we mentioned above, it’s best to discuss the possibility of tracheal collapse with your veterinarian.

The Threat of Respiratory Distress

Tracheal collapse in dogs can become a medical emergency if the condition is not addressed early on.

Each time a dog experiences a coughing spell, this leads to inflammation in the airway.

A dog with a collapsing trachea will already experience breathing difficulty due to the flattening of the trachea, and increased inflammation will only add to this.

If a dog’s tracheal collapse is severe enough, this can lead to complete airway obstruction.

Dogs with a complete airway obstruction will find it nearly impossible to breathe, and may even collapse while straining to catch their breath.

These dogs require immediate medical attention to revive them, and may experience additional lung complications due to their respiratory straining.

Not only can a severe case of tracheal collapse impact a dog’s lungs, but it can also put additional strain on the heart.

Are There Treatment Options For Tracheal Collapse?

Thankfully for our furry friends, there are management options available for tracheal collapse.

Tracheal collapse is a progressive condition that cannot be reversed, but there are ways to slow the deterioration of the tracheal cartilage.

Medical Management

In terms of medical management for tracheal collapse, most veterinarians turn to either bronchodilators, antitussives, or steroids.

These medications can work together in controlling a dog’s cough, reducing inflammation in the airway, as well as widening the airways through relaxation to the muscles.

This approach can be extremely helpful in dogs with mild tracheal collapse, as well as dogs that are not candidates for surgical repair.

Surgical Treatment

If medical management is not effective in a case of tracheal collapse, there is a surgical option.

This is usually only considered in dogs with severe tracheal collapse, or those that are struggling due to their respiratory distress.

Surgical repair for this condition will involve a procedure that places stents in the trachea to offer additional support.

This will improve a dog’s ability to pass air to the lungs, as well as aid in slowing the deterioration of the tracheal cartilage.

How To Help Your Dog With Tracheal Collapse

If your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with tracheal collapse early on, there are a few effective ways to help your dog going forward.

Some of the best ways to help your furry friend is through changes in their routine, followed by medical management from your veterinarian.

Weight Management

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is one of the most effective ways to manage their condition.

Excess weight can put additional strain on the trachea, as well as cause exercise intolerance over time.

Limit Triggers

Many dogs with tracheal collapse have triggers that exacerbate their condition.

These triggers may include going for walks in humid weather, being around cigarette smoke, and wearing a collar.

If you are able to limit your dog’s triggers, this can help them significantly in the long run.

Medical Management

If your dog is experiencing increased coughing or respiratory distress, it is important to discuss medical management options with your veterinarian.

Limiting inflammation in the airways is essential for managing their condition long term.

What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Dog With Tracheal Collapse?

If you are turning to this article for advice, you may be wondering how long a dog can live with tracheal collapse.

When diagnosed early on, a dog has a high chance of living a long life with the condition.

Providing weight management and long term medical management can slow deterioration of the tracheal cartilage, and offer a life free of serious symptoms.

Early diagnosis is key in offering a long and happy life, and can generally offer a life expectancy of 2-4 years.

However, if a dog is diagnosed once they have begun to experience severe respiratory distress, the outlook is not as hopeful.

These pups may find relief from medication or surgical treatment, but their life expectancy may be shortened due to respiratory complications.

Their prognosis will often vary based on if their condition responds well to treatment, if the dog has any other underlying conditions, or if the hearts and lungs have been affected.

When To Say Goodbye and Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

So when is it time to say goodbye to a dog with tracheal collapse?

Saying goodbye to any furry friend is extremely challenging, but understanding the signs of a struggling dog can make it easier to make that tough call.

Some of the signs of a dog struggling with their tracheal collapse include:

  • Severe impact to the heart or lungs
  • Frequent coughing throughout the day that cannot be managed
  • No longer being able to manage their symptoms with medication
  • Frequent respiratory distress
  • Inability to exercise without respiratory distress
  • Disinterest in things they once enjoyed

If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms we mentioned above, it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

Tracheal collapse in our canine friends is a challenge condition that requires medical attention.

This can be a hard diagnosis to get for your furry friend but understand that there are treatment options available for this condition.

If you suspect your pup might have tracheal collapse, don’t delay on having your local veterinarian examine them.

There are 5 comments:

  • Lynn at 1:49 am

    Thank you for this info. My Havanese was diagnosed with tracheal collapse about 4 years ago and he also has mitral valve heart disease, an enlarged heart, and early congestive heart failure. At times he seems in distress, but in about a minute he will gag a time or two, and then go back to his normal self. It breaks my heart to hear him cough and struggle, but at this point he still enjoys his walks, his food, and his family. He may be on borrowed time, and all we can do is make sure the end of his life is as happy and pain free as we can make it.

  • Todd Glass at 12:53 pm

    We have a 13 y/o pug that has been diagnosed with tracheal collapse. She seems to do well when on prednisolone treatments but regresses once dosage regimen complete. We will be following up Internal Medicine specialist as our vet feels this is best. We control her weight and limit her activity but want to keep her as comfortable as possible. Any other suggestions.

  • John Lindenman at 11:10 pm

    Thank you so much. I have a 12 year old male chihuahua who was diagnosed over a year ago. His coughing and heavy breathing seems to be worse at night and after eating. He still wants to play fetch, but ends up quitting after 1 throw. I cry at night listening to him cough in his bed. Part of me thinks that he is really suffering, and then I see him play and he doesn’t cough when he is sitting with me. It is so hard to decide when it’s time. I don’t want to end his life too early, but I also don’t know how much suffering is too much. I am crying just typing this. He has been my emotional support dog for 7 years now and has gotten me through the toughest of times. Thank you again.

  • Lib James at 7:13 am

    This was a most informative and helpful piece. My rescue Pom x chi came to me at 7 years old and his collapsing trachea was not correctly diagnosed for nearly 4 years. It became so bad despite the drugs and puffers etc, that I made the decision to euthanize in 2017 when he was nearly 12.

    This has helped me finally accept that it was right for him as little else could be done. You still blame yourself though. Having that responsibility is an enormous burden most times. I now have another 6 year old lass who came to me 20 months ago with the same condition, but nowhere near as chronic and I live in hope her’s will continue to be a slow treatable process. Thank you

    • Amber at 3:41 pm

      Hi Lib, so sorry to hear about your struggles with tracheal collapse and both of your dogs. Thank you for taking the time to message us about your experience and that this post could help you finally accept your decision from a few years ago. As you said it, its an enormous burden and one of the hardest decisions we have to make. Take comfort in knowing that your Pom no longer is suffering and probably lived a mostly happy long life.

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