Collapsing Trachea

Other than allergies and IBD, collapsing trachea is at the top of the list for questions in my inbox. While small dogs such as Maltese, Pomeranians, Pugs, and Yorkies commonly suffer from this problem, it can affect any breed of dog. 

The trachea or "windpipe" is the semi-rigid tube that connects the nasal passages to the bronchi in the lungs. It is formed of C-shaped cartilage rings with a muscular connective tissue running along the top of the rings. With age, the muscular layer can weaken, causing it to collapse downward into the airway, resulting in difficulty moving air through the trachea.


Symptoms of tracheal collapse include a distinctive "goose-honk" cough, heavy panting, open-mouth breathing, fainting, and cyanosis (blue tongue and gums). Symptoms are worse with obesity, excitement, exercise, extreme heat and humidity, excessive dryness, tracheal irritants such as perfumes and smoke, and are sometimes set off just by eating and drinking. 

Symptoms can be seen at any age, although most dogs are commonly diagnosed after age seven. A surprisingly high number of dogs with tracheal collapse also suffer with obesity, heart disease, liver disease, brachycephalic airway disease, and other respiratory conditions. Diagnosis is made using x-rays of the neck and chest, fluoroscopy, or bronchoscopy (which requires sedation). 

Treatment for collapsing trachea may include many facets. Traditional veterinarians commonly use these drugs:

  • Cough suppressants - hydrocodone is commonly used. It also has a sedative effect for most dogs, decreasing anxiety associated with respiratory distress.
  • Bronchodilators - theophylline, terbutaline, albuterol. These drugs help open airways but have side effects and may have limited use in dogs with concomitant heart disease. 
  • Sedatives - butorphanol, acepromazine. These help alleviate distress associated with the anxiety of being unable to get good airflow. Also useful at times when dogs may undergo stress or excitement.
  • Antibiotics - commonly these dogs will develop respiratory tract infections secondary to poor airway flow. These should be used very judiciously!
  • Anabolic steroids - stanozolol - This derivative of testosterone has some anti-inflammatory activity and can help strengthen the muscle along the top of the trachea. 
  • Surgical repair. This is a technically difficult surgery that is only performed by specialists. Results are variable.


From a holistic point of view, herbs, diet, and acupuncture may be helpful for these pets. Some therapies worth trying:

  • First and foremost, if the dog is overweight, change the diet to get the dog to an appropriate weight.
  • Strengthen the airways with foods that support the lung system, including white fish, white mushrooms, white meats, radishes, eggs, and barley.
  • Pears, apples, peppermint, ginger, and clams will help decrease phlegm production. 
  • Support the muscle in the trachea by nourishing the Spleen (Earth element). 
  • Strengthen cartilage by feeding bone broth.
  • Supplement with natural sources of glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid to support cartilage.
  • Honey is a great cough suppressant and helps the immune system. A dab of honey given with meals and also when coughing fits occur can be helpful.
  • Acupuncture can help strengthen the immune system, decrease phlegm, and increase strength of the cartilage rings and muscle in the trachea.
  • Use a harness instead of a collar. Do not apply pressure to the throat area.
  • Vaporize the air. Lungs and airways dislike dryness, particularly in winter. 
  • Avoid exercise in high heat and humidity.
  • Use HEPA air filters in your home to clean the air.
  • No smoking. No scented candles or artificial scent diffusers. No heavy perfumes.
  • Keep dust to a minimum. 
  • Weight management - do not allow your pet to become overweight.
  • Keep stress to a minimum. Keep the animal calm using flower essences, CBD oil, homeopathics, essential oils, or pheromone diffusers.
  • Herbal formulations specifically made for cough and tracheal support. 

While tracheal collapse can be a frightening disease, it can usually be managed and the dog can live a good quality life. By combining traditional and alternative therapies, you can use all the tools in your toolbox to keep your dog comfortable.

 Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash

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