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For the love of your pet: Collapsing trachea problem for small and toy breeds

March 31, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 30, 2011 at 10:31 p.m.


By John Beck

Can you tell me more about collapsing trachea . my Pomeranian was diagnosed with it and I'm not clear about what it is.

Pomeranians are one of the breeds that typically will have this problem. It is the small and toy breeds that seem to have this diagnosis (i.e. Miniature poodles, Yorkshire terriers, Chihuahuas). Collapsing trachea is a term used to describe an abnormality in the windpipe. It is usually just that. The small cartilaginous ridges that make up the airway to the lungs start to give way and collapse, making the diameter of the windpipe smaller when the dog breaths in or out. This problem is found primarily in dog's ages 4- to 14-years-old and seems to worsen with excitement, heat, humidity, exercise or obesity.

Many people think their pet has asthma or a croup-like cough when they bring their pet in to see me. During the exam, we look for other possible causes for these symptoms, like allergies, tracheobronchitis, or foreign body obstruction. If there are no findings that indicate other issues, a radiograph or endoscopy of the trachea can determine if they have a true collapsing trachea.

With collapsing trachea you will often see a dry, honking cough, difficulty breathing, retching, rapid - short breaths, bluish discoloration of the mucous membranes, etc.

The cause of this collapse can be related to genetics or nutrition. Most of the time genetics is the problem. Chronic upper respiratory infections and obesity can increase the chances of your pet getting tracheal collapse. If the patient is overweight, I recommend very mild exercise and a low calorie-high fiber diet to encourage weight loss. Try exercising your pet indoors to avoid the extreme heat and humidity of our area. If the client uses a collar, we recommend switching to a harness instead.

Antibiotics and cough suppressants are used off and on to control the symptoms of this disease. A medication to dilate the airway can also be used. I always let owners know that they need to keep a good eye on their dog. If they begin to have trouble breathing and it is getting progressively worse at a very quick place-it is an emergency. In emergencies like this, placing an endotracheal tube or putting them in a cage filled with oxygen is sometimes necessary.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me or your current veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.

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