Collapsed trachea in dogs

28 June 2024 - 5 min read
An anatomical illustration of a dog's neck showing the trachea

What's a collapsed trachea in dogs?

A dog's trachea, commonly known as their windpipe, is composed of around 35 C-shaped cartilage rings lined with a thin membrane. These rings provide the necessary rigidity to keep your dog's airway open.

A collapsed trachea occurs when the tracheal rings (cartilage) in a dog’s windpipe weaken and flatten, making it difficult for air to pass to the lungs. This condition can lead to severe coughing and breathing problems for your dog, and immense stress for you.

A line drawing diagram of a trachea with pink arrows indicating the direction of collapse

What causes collapsed tracheas in dogs?

Tracheal collapse is a complex condition, but it's mainly triggered by genetics and worsened by a dog's environment. Here’s a breakdown of the main culprits:


Repeated exposure to allergens, smoke, or even long-standing infections can inflame your dog's trachea, contributing to airway issues. This ongoing irritation can worsen issues like coughing.


Ever noticed how some dogs really pull on their leashes? When they're wearing a collar, this tugging can put extra stress on their windpipe, which can be a problem for dogs that have compromised airways.

Research in Veterinary Record suggests a harness could be a neck-saver for these dogs. It’s a simple switch that might make a big difference.


This is likely the biggest factor. Some pups, especially the tiny ones, are born with less sturdy tracheal rings. According to Cornell University's Canine Health Center, these breeds are more likely to suffer from tracheal collapse, likely due to their genetic makeup.

Dog breeds prone to developing a collapsed trachea


Certain small dog breeds are more prone to developing a collapsed trachea. These include:

So if you have one of these breeds, is there anything you can do to keep them from developing this condition?

Well, not entirely, but you might be able to reduce the risk and severity of the condition.

Can you prevent a collapsed trachea in your dog?

While a collapsed trachea is often linked to genetic factors, making it challenging to prevent entirely, there are several measures you can take to minimise the risks.

Keep your dog at a healthy weight

Obesity is a significant risk factor for a collapsed trachea because extra body weight puts additional pressure on the respiratory system, which exacerbates breathing difficulties. A proper diet and regular exercise can go a long way in reducing the strain on your pup's trachea and respiratory system overall.

Opt for a harness

Use a harness instead of a neck collar, especially for breeds prone to tracheal collapse. A harness distributes pressure more evenly around the chest and shoulders, significantly reducing the stress on the trachea that can occur with a collar (especially if your dog pulls on walks).

Reduce environmental irritants

Reducing your dog’s exposure to environmental irritants like cigarette smoke, excessive dust, and pollution can help with their tracheal health. Clean, fresh air at home might make breathing easier for dogs predisposed to respiratory issues.

Stay on top of preventive care

Regular wellness exams allow your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s respiratory health and catch signs of tracheal weakening early. Your vet can also provide guidance on weight management and care strategies tailored to your dog's specific needs.

Buy from a responsible breeder

It's not possible to eliminate the risk of tracheal collapse, but dogs who come from responsible breeders are a bit less likely to suffer from hereditary conditions in general. Ethical breeders avoid harmful practices like overbreeding, conduct health screenings, and often use genetic testing. These practices can significantly reduce the occurrence of genetic health issues in puppies.

Be aware of the signs

Knowledge can be power! (Who knew!) When you know what to look for, you can respond swiftly if your dog begins to show signs of distress. Head to the vet ASAP if your dog is showing signs of a collapsed trachea. Here's what those symptoms might look like:

Symptoms of a collapsed trachea in dogs

Symptoms of a collapsed trachea might include:

  • A persistent, dry cough that sounds like a goose honk

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing

  • Gagging or retching, especially after exertion or excitement

Differentiating a collapsed trachea from other respiratory conditions is critical for appropriate treatment. Symptoms can often mimic those of asthma, bronchitis, or heart disease. That's why seeing your vet for a diagnosis is so important!


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How do vets diagnose a collapsed trachea?

When a dog has a chronic cough or breathing issues, veterinarians start with a detailed physical exam to check breathing patterns and identify specific coughs related to tracheal collapse.

Next, they'll likely take X-rays to visualise the trachea, pinpointing any areas where the tracheal rings have flattened or collapsed. This step is crucial for assessing the condition's severity.

For more challenging diagnoses, veterinarians may perform endoscopy. This involves passing a small camera into your pet’s airway to visualise the problem more closely. On occasion, fluoroscopy is used to produce a live view of the trachea during breathing, helping to accurately locate and assess the collapse.

How is a collapsed trachea treated?

Treatment options vary based on the severity of the condition but may include medications, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, surgical intervention.

Lifestyle changes

As we've already mentioned, these simple adjustments can help improve symptoms if your dog doesn't have a serious case:

  • Switching from a collar to a harness to reduce pressure on the trachea

  • Avoiding smoke and environmental pollutants

  • Keeping the dog at a healthy weight

Medical management for collapsed tracheas

Medications for collapsed trachea management might include:

  • Cough suppressants to reduce coughing spasms

  • Steroids to decrease inflammation

  • Bronchodilators to widen air passages

Surgery for collapsed tracheas

When medical management isn't enough for severe cases of tracheal collapse, surgical options such as tracheal stenting or tracheal ring surgery might be needed. Here's what those entail.

Tracheal stenting

Tracheal stenting involves placing a flexible metal or plastic tube inside the trachea to keep it open. The stent acts as a scaffold, allowing the dog to breathe more easily.

This procedure is typically performed under general anaesthesia and can take about one to two hours, depending on the complexity of the case and the dog's condition.

Tracheal ring surgery

Tracheal ring surgery involves surgically placing plastic rings around the outside of the trachea to strengthen and support the weak sections. This surgery is more invasive than stenting and requires a skilled surgeon. The procedure can last between two and three hours.

Caring for a dog with a collapsed trachea

Whether you're waiting to get in for surgery or you're trying to minimise mild symptoms, here are a few ways to take action.

Manage your dog’s environment

To minimise the risk of coughing fits, which can be distressing and exhausting for both you and your dog, try to avoid situations that cause excitement or stress, which can exacerbate your dog’s symptoms. Maintaining a cool and humidified home can also alleviate breathing difficulties, making it easier for your dog to breathe comfortably.

Take care of yourself, too

Caring for a dog with a chronic condition like a collapsed trachea can be emotionally challenging. It's normal to feel overwhelmed or stressed as you adjust to your pet’s needs.

Engaging with online communities specifically for pet owners facing similar issues can be a tremendous source of support. Websites like the Pet Trachea Support Group will give you a place to connect with others who can share their experiences and coping strategies, helping you feel less isolated.

Consider getting pet insurance

It's in stressful moments like these that pet insurance really shines.

Dog insurance (like ours!) can help reimburse you for accidents and illnesses.

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Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.