The trachea, or windpipe, is made up of several cartilage rings joined together by ligaments. Tracheal Collapse, or Dynamic Airway Disease, is a condition whereby weakening of the cartilage rings causes collapse of the trachea and a dynamic reduction of the tracheal diameter. The narrowing of the trachea means that airflow, and therefore breathing, becomes more difficult in affected dogs. A collpased trachea in dogs occurs mostly in middle-aged to older small and toy breed dogs.
Symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs include a chronic dry cough which is made worse by excitement, stress, heat and exercise, especially when on a collar and leash. Difficulty breathing in dogs in these situations may also be noted. In more severe cases, collapse may occur. Respiratory infections can occur secondary to tracheal collapse, and in these cases, the cough will be productive and the pet may be unwell.
Diagnosis of the disease can be done using x-rays or bronchoscopy, which involves using a tiny camera to visualize the airways with the pet under anaesthetic. There are 4 grades of the disease, with grade 4 being the most severe, and bronchoscopy can be used to establish the severity in each case.
In milder cases, any secondary infection should be treated, a harness should be used instead of a collar, and any stressful situations or overheating should be minimized. Lifestyle changes, such as walking the pet only during the cooler part of the day using a harness should be instituted. If the affected dog is overweight, weight loss is very important to improving its breathing. In very severe cases, surgery may be an option, and this is an area of veterinary surgery that is currently being developed.
Did your dog ever experience difficulty breathing? Was the diagnosis a tracheal collapse or something else? Tell us about it in the comments!