Honking After Barking: Dog Tracheal Collapse

Does your dog have occasional coughing fits where it sounds like they’re trying to “hack something up,” but nothing comes out? If your dog is middle-aged or older, we may need to rule out tracheal collapse. Small or toy breeds are more prone to this condition. Your team at Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care is here to help shed some light on dog tracheal collapse and how life can get better for our furry friends who have it.

A Rough Cough

Your dog’s trachea is their windpipe, which is made of rings of cartilage. Think of a vacuum hose, and that’s what it looks like! When that cartilage making up the rings gets weak or starts to deteriorate, the trachea can collapse in on itself as air passes in and out. There are varying degrees of severity of just how collapsed the trachea is. With dog tracheal collapse, we tend to see one or more of the following signs:

  • Cough that sounds like a goose honking
  • Seemingly hacking up phlegm, but the mouth remains dry
  • Gagging
  • Fainting
  • Gums turning blue

Difficulty breathing that results in fainting or gums turning blue is a respiratory emergency. Be sure to call us right away. 

Contributing Factors to Coughing

Anytime your dog has a cough that lasts, we’ll want to rule out if there’s irritation in the throat. The signature goose honking noise of dog tracheal collapse will point more towards weakened cartilage in the windpipe. Weakened tracheal rings result from various factors, some of which are in your control and can be improved, others less so. These include:

  • Age: not much to be done about this contributing factor, but it’s also important to note that while weakened cartilage holding the trachea open is more likely to occur in older pets, it can happen in younger ones too.
  • Small breed: toy breeds have a history of this condition, which means there may be specific genes involved.
  • Obesity: being overweight (even by just a little!) can put excess pressure on the throat, causing fat to push in on the windpipe, which leads to collapse.
  • Pressure on the neck from a harness or especially from a collar: it’s essential to look for a chest harness that does not press on the throat at any time. Standing still just trying it on a harness may look one way, but when your dog is pulling on a walk, it may ride up!
  • Weather conditions: extreme heat, extreme cold, or humidity can worsen the condition but not cause it.

Breathing Freely, Living Happily

Medication is available depending on the severity of coughing, and we are here to help you choose if that’s best for your furry family member. One of the best ways to combat dog tracheal collapse is by keeping your pet at a healthy weight, which we can also help address during your next wellness exam. 

Lastly, teaching your pet how to walk without pulling seems like a dream far from coming true for many of us, but it is possible! For dogs who have previously exhibited signs of a collapsed trachea, walking without pulling is of particular importance. 

Because cartilage in the trachea never grows back, it never has a chance to reinforce itself on its own. However, like many diseases without a cure, there’s a lot we can do together to help your pet lead a comfortable, happy life. Give us a call at (704) 334-4684 to schedule your next appointment or if you have any questions!