The collapsed or collapsing trachea is most commonly seen in toy breeds and very small breeds of dogs such as the miniature Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier and the Pomeranian. It is also very common in the short muzzled or brachycephalic dogs such as the Shih Tzu, Pug, Bulldog, Boston Terrier and the Pekingese.
Collapsed tracheas can also be seen in almost any other dog that has an injury to the throat area, has a severe or persistent problem with kennel cough or another upper respiratory infection or disease, is extremely obese or has an enlargement of the heart that pushes against the trachea. In rare cases dogs that have under gone a surgical procedure and have had a breathing tube placed down the throat may have problems with collapse trachea later if the tube was incorrectly inserted or if the dog already had the condition and the insertion of the tube made it more severe. Those breeds already known to have weak tracheas should not be walked using a standard collar as this places additional stress on the trachea, possibly hastening the collapse or at least contributing to the problem. Harnesses or head halter type restraints are highly recommended for these breeds.
A normally functioning trachea, also known as the windpipe, is the structure that moves the air to and from the lungs. It is basically a hollow tube that is made up of rings of cartilage and muscle and is located close to the throat surface down the center of the neck. The trachea is not a completely round shape, the rings of cartilage are actually a sideways "C" shape with the open area that faces the spine covered with a membrane. When the trachea begins to collapse the rigidity of the trachea starts to weaken, causing the curve of the "C" to flatten out. The more severe the collapse the flatter the trachea, resulting in poor air movement between the lungs and the nose, causing extreme breathing problems and discomfort for the dog.
The more the dog struggles to breath, the more the trachea collapses, further restricting the air movement. The membrane that closes the "C" in a normal trachea also begins to touch the inside surface of the trachea, causing the dog to cough as this is an irritant. Coughing then further interrupts breathing, leading to anxiety and further problems in normal respiration. In addition the tissue of the trachea becomes irritated with the constant contact and coughing, causing a general swelling that further reduces air passage. This condition continues to worsen in a continuing downward cycle. Lack of breath, coughing in a honking sound when breathing patterns are increased, lack of energy and stamina are all indicators of a collapsing or collapse trachea.
Treatment, depending on the location of the collapse and the severity of the condition will vary. In mild cases preventing coughing through the use of cough suppressant medicines, slow and regular exercise with no high levels of exercise as well as addressing any other health conditions that may be contributing to the problem is often very successful. In cases where the trachea is completely collapsed or close to collapsing surgery to add a stiff outer tube to the trachea can be done but only in very specific conditions. Usually this surgical procedure is only done in dogs under six years of age as older dogs tend to have far greater problems in the recovery phase. Early detection and treatment of the condition is essential in overall success of the treatment.