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Ask the Vet: Collapsing Trachea Causes Dry, Honking Cough in Small Dogs

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: Our Yorkshire terrier Bentley has a dry, honking cough. His veterinarian said he has a collapsing trachea and recommended we walk him on a harness rather than a neck collar to take the pressure off his throat.

Is there anything else we can do to minimize his coughing and help him catch his breath? Please tell us more about this condition.

A: Collapsing trachea, also called tracheal collapse, is very common in toy and small-breed dogs like Yorkies.

The trachea, or windpipe, is a flexible tube made of cartilage rings that meet at a thin muscle called the trachealis muscle. The trachea collapses because the dog's cartilage rings are flattened instead of round and/or the trachealis muscle is so wide or pendulous that it sags into the trachea.

These characteristics result in a trachea that can't maintain its shape when the dog inhales and exhales, but instead narrows and collapses, producing the characteristic cough.

The most prominent clinical sign is an intermittent dry, honking cough. The cough, which usually occurs when the dog is breathing rapidly during excitement or exercise, is sometimes followed by retching.

 

If Bentley coughs when he's excited, help him relax until his breathing rate settles down.

Pressure on the trachea also can elicit the cough, which is the reason your veterinarian recommended a harness instead of a neck collar.

Fat in the neck and chest of an overweight dog presses on the trachea, worsening tracheal collapse. So, if Bentley is overweight, help him slim down.

Particles in secondhand smoke settle onto the furniture or floor, where Bentley probably spends most of his time. Smoke particles irritate a compromised trachea, so, if you smoke, you should quit or smoke only outdoors.

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