Collapsing Trachea/Bronchomalacia

The trachea is made up of 35-45 C shaped cartilage rings that are connected by ligaments. These rings are connected at the top by a muscle called the dorsal longitudinal muscle. The trachea serves in air conduction, trapping and transporting of debris, and mucus secretion.

Certain breeds are predisposed to the development of collapsing trachea. The most common breeds include Yorkshire terrier, Chihuahua, Pomeranian, and Maltese. Collapsing trachea occurs because the cartilage in the tracheal rings becomes flaccid and less rigid. Many theories exist as to why this change occurs, but no studies have shown the exact cause.

Clinical signs of Tracheal Collapse

  • Cough
  • Noisy Breathing
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Decreased Ability to Exercise
  • Fainting (severe cases)

Diagnosis and management:

Other diseases affecting the lungs or trachea can cause similar symptoms. The diagnosis needs to be obtained by chest x-rays and endoscopy of the respiratory tract (bronchoscopy). Other diseases that can appear similar include laryngeal disease, bronchitis, kennel cough, and even heart disease. If collapsing trachea is not severe, it can be managed with medications and life style changes. Certain factors can greatly worsen a dog’s ability to live with collapsing trachea. These factors include: obesity, severe dental disease, increased levels of activity and activity during warm weather.

Collapsing trachea is a progressive medical condition that cannot be cured. The progression, however, can be slowed with proper medical management. Surgery can be used to treat collapsing trachea. Surgery is never a cure for collapsing trachea, but can greatly improve a dog’s comfort level and quality of life. Sometimes stents are effective to help open up the trachea. The decision to use a stent instead of surgery is based mainly on the location of the tracheal collapse. In some cases, neither surgery or stents will alleviate the clinical signs of difficulty breathing, or coughing. Patients should always be thoroughly evaluated with bronchoscopy before surgery or stent placement is performed. Even after surgery, chronic medical management is crucial to try and prevent progression of the collapsing trachea.

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