When to Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse? (Advice from Vets)

When to Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse

The honking cough your dog has could be more serious than it seems. Tracheal collapse, a progressive disease, narrows a dog’s windpipe and makes breathing hard. When the cartilage rings in the trachea weaken and cave in, your dog’s struggle to breathe gets harder.

Watching your once energetic buddy slow down due to tracheal collapse is heartbreaking. You may have to think about euthanasia later to stop more suffering.

This guide covers everything you need to know about tracheal collapse in dogs. Knowing the causes, symptoms, and treatments helps you care for your dog during this tough illness.

When to Euthanize A Dog With Tracheal Collapse?

It’s emotionally hard to see your once energetic friend suffer from labored breathing and coughing. Tracheal collapse can eventually harm your dog’s quality of life greatly.

As a caring owner, you may need to consult your vet on euthanasia options to prevent unneeded suffering.

Making this decision revolves around two key assessments:

Considering Your Dog’s Suffering

In advanced stages, dogs often feel almost constant distress and struggle to breathe. Before considering euthanasia, gauge your dog’s symptoms:

  • Coughing fits lead to fainting or panic attacks
  • Little interest in interacting with family or surroundings
  • Struggles for air daily with wheezing or whistling
  • Extreme lethargy with no joy on walks or playtime
  • Frequent pneumonia infections not resolving with antibiotics

If you notice many signs that your dog suffers more than enjoys each day, it might be time to consider euthanasia.

Discussing With Your Veterinarian

Each dog’s progression varies with other factors like heart disease and risk of infection.

Your vet can provide experienced guidance, considering:

  • How quickly tracheal collapse has advanced
  • Presence of secondary pneumonia
  • Vital signs like low oxygenation
  • Response to symptom-relief treatments
  • Surgical risks if those options still appeal

Have an open talk with your vet focusing on your dog’s current quality of life.

What is Dog Tracheal Collapse?

A dog’s respiratory system is a complex network of organs and tubes responsible for bringing oxygen into the body and expelling carbon dioxide. The windpipe, also known as the trachea, serves as the main air passageway connecting the throat to the lungs.

This vital conduit relies on firm yet flexible C-shaped cartilage rings to keep it permanently open. The trachea collapses when these critical support structures weaken, causing the airway to narrow and restrict airflow.

Tracheal Cartilage

The trachea has 15-20 C-shaped rings stacked to keep the passageway open. In a healthy dog, tracheal cartilage provides structural rigidity while still allowing some flexibility for normal movement and breathing.

When the cartilage weakens, the C-rings flatten instead of keeping the trachea open. Progressive collapse of rings leads to an obstructed airway dogs struggle to breathe.

Understanding Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse refers to the phenomenon of the windpipe narrowing due to loss of cartilage strength and shape. Under respiratory pressure, more rings deform, causing the trachea to constrict, become inflamed, and fill with mucus and scar tissue.

Dogs struggle to breathe through the narrowed trachea, often making a loud, goose-honk cough. They cannot fill their lungs or adequately oxygenate tissues. Over time, the airway narrows further until dogs suffer respiratory distress from insufficient airflow.

What Causes Dog Tracheal Collapse?

Tracheal collapse is caused by a weakening of the C-shaped rings of cartilage that normally hold a dog’s windpipe (trachea) open. Here are the main reasons why a dog’s tracheal cartilage can deteriorate:


Some dog breeds are genetically prone to tracheal collapse, including:

  • Toy breeds: Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Poodles
  • Medium-sized breeds: Lhasa Apsos, Miniature Pinchers, Shih Tzus

For these dogs, weak cartilage is often present from birth. Tracheal rings that should be firm and resilient are limp or floppy instead.


Over time, cartilage in the trachea loses strength. Weakness in the rings can develop as part of the normal aging process. Large-breed dogs are more prone to age-related tracheal collapse.


Excess weight adds more pressure to the trachea. In overweight dogs, the tracheal cartilage might get damaged and buckle over time.

Respiratory Irritants

Irritants that lead to chronic coughing or airway inflammation can stress and weaken the tracheal cartilage. Irritants include:

  • Air pollution
  • Dust
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Chemical fumes

Blunt Force Trauma

Any trauma to the neck area can damage the trachea. Common causes include:

  • Being hit by a car
  • Falling from heights
  • Neck injuries from fights with other animals
  • Tugging on a leash attached to a collar

Vets check for conditions that might cause tracheal problems. Treating these issues reduces tracheal pressure and eases breathing difficulties.

Symptoms of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

Tracheal collapse can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Here are some of the most common early symptoms to watch for:

  • Dry cough similar to a goose honk
  • Coughing when excited or after eating
  • Tiring more quickly during walks
  • Occasional blue tinge to gums or tongue

As the disease progresses and airway narrowing worsens, you may notice:

  • Cough becoming more frequent and severe
  • Wheezing or raspy panting
  • Struggling for breath
  • Extreme fatigue with little exercise

Emergency symptoms requiring immediate vet care include:

  • Collapsing trachea completely blocking the airway
  • Severe breathing difficulty
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Blue tinge to gums and tongue
  • Pale or muddy-colored gums signaling oxygen deprivation

As the disease progresses to an advanced stage, you may notice:

  • Loss of interest in toys, walks, play
  • Problems with balance, weakness
  • Weight loss from difficulty eating
  • Collapsing trachea cutting off breathing for short periods
  • Frequent respiratory infections

Tracking symptoms daily provides valuable insight into your dog’s rate of decline. Share all observations with your vet to determine the best treatments.

Stages of Tracheal Collapse in Dogs

Veterinarians classify tracheal collapse into 4 grades based on the percentage of airway obstruction:

  • Grade 1: Less than 25% of trachea diameter collapsed
  • Grade 2: 25-50% tracheal collapse
  • Grade 3: 50-75% collapsed
  • Grade 4: Over 75% collapsed often requiring oxygen therapy

The stage of collapse guides your veterinarian’s treatment approach:

  • Grade 1 may not need treatment yet and can be monitored
  • Grade 2-3 can benefit from medications and sometimes surgery
  • Grade 4 is very severe with poor outlook but still treatable

In most dogs, tracheal issues progress gradually over the years. However, quickly evaluate any decline in breathing to see if treatments can slow more tracheal damage.

Assessing Quality of Life at Each Stage

It’s crucial to monitor your dog’s symptoms and assess their quality of life to make healthcare choices suited to their collapse stage:

Early Stage Life Quality

  • Dog enjoys near-normal activity with occasional coughing
  • Responds well to medications easing airway inflammation
  • Only slow decline expected over years

Mid-Stage Life Quality

  • Frequent loud coughing spells impact dog’s happiness
  • Struggles in heat, resists walks
  • May require intensive medication routines

Late Stage Life Quality

  • Severe constant air hunger and distress
  • Little interest in people or surroundings
  • Fainting spells from a blocked airway
  • Risk factors rising daily

Watch closely for suffering signs to avoid delaying euthanasia consideration. Always make end-of-life decisions in consultation with your veterinarian.

What Treatments Are Available For Dogs With Collapsed Trachea?

If your dog is diagnosed with tracheal collapse, various medical and surgical treatments may help ease breathing issues.


Mild cases often respond well to medication therapy aiming to:

  • Open narrowed airways
  • Reduce airway inflammation and secretions
  • Prevent respiratory infections

To create a treatment plan, you need to find the right drugs and dosages for your dog. Consistency is key for medications to work.


Moderate to severe cases may undergo surgery, including:

  • Stenting: Inserting mesh tubes to open airways
  • Reconstruction: Rebuilding parts of the collapsed trachea
  • Tracheostomy: Creating a temporary opening in the neck to aid breathing

Your vet will talk about risks like anesthesia, infections, and swelling, which can harm dogs with weak breathing. Consider seeing a veterinary surgeon for a specialist’s opinion.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Use a properly fitted harness for walking
  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Avoid overheating and intense exercise
  • Control cough triggers like dust exposure
  • Keep up with heart/lung medications

Management aims to lessen the strain on the weak trachea and use medication to treat inflammation.

How Long Can A Dog Live With A Collapsed Trachea?

On average, a dog can live approximately 2 years with a collapsed trachea. This is because their trachea is slowly deteriorating as time goes on until it fully collapses by the weight of their throat and neck muscles.

When compared to the average lifespan of a dog, this is a long time for them to live with such an ailment. A stent, or a small, sturdy, plastic tube, could hold up their trachea for a bit longer, making it a maximum of up to 4 years depending on the overall health of the dog.

Within this time, the trachea could hold up, but unfortunately, it will fall until it fully collapses. Yet, 2 to 4 years is the amount of time that a dog can live with a collapsed trachea.

Can A Collapsing Trachea Kill A Dog?

In essence, it isn’t the collapsed trachea that kills the dog, it is the symptoms of it that eventually does. When the dog’s trachea starts to fall, it becomes narrow. This narrowing of the throat causes less air to pass through their trachea which causes symptoms such as coughing, as the most prominent feature.

The narrowing can become so severe that their body cannot inhale as much air as it needs to function, thus, potentially causing suffocation, which could then lead to the death of the dog.

Also, because of this loss of breath, a dog could also pass because of respiratory distress, or suffocation due to lack of air flowing in and out of the lungs.

How Can I Help My Dog’s Collapsing Trachea?

Monitor Appetite and Weight

  • Feed multiple small meals on a schedule
  • Choose easy-to-digest wet foods
  • Prevent weight loss and dehydration
  • Avoid crunchy kibble triggering coughs

Control Environmental Factors

  • Reduce exposure to irritants like smoke or dust
  • Avoid extremely hot/humid weather
  • Walk early morning/evening when cooler

Invest in a Properly Fit Harness

  • Helps prevent tracheal injury
  • Enables walks without straining neck
  • Consult your vet on the best options

Keep Medications on Schedule

  • Give all drugs exactly as prescribed
  • Refill prescriptions 1 week before running out
  • Adjust dosages only on the vet’s guidance

Learn Pet First Aid

  • Recognize signs of respiratory distress
  • Perform rescue breathing/CPR if needed
  • Ask about emergency inhalers or sedatives

Knowing what to watch for and how to handle episodes helps you react quickly. Dogs with tracheal collapse require careful observation and a lot of tender loving care. Show them how much you care through gentle handling and close bonding.

Can A Collapsed Trachea Heal Itself?

Although most ailments can heal on their own, a collapsed trachea is not one of them; therefore, a collapsed trachea cannot heal on its own. A collapsed trachea is cartilage and muscle that weakens without notice.

Symptoms like excessive sneezing and coughing will occur. You should know that without medication, treatment, or surgery – if necessary – it will be more than likely that the trachea will continue to deteriorate because there is nothing to help it become solid again.

It is possible for the symptoms to pass on their own without medication or any other type of surgical reparation, but the underlying condition of the collapse will remain until proper medical treatment has been applied.

Do Dogs With A Collapsed Trachea Suffer?

Dogs with a collapsed trachea will go through many different stages and changes while they are in possession of the ailment. In the beginning it may start with them excessively drinking water to soothe their throat.

Other symptoms such as a honking cough and harsh sneezing will most likely occur as well.

As the trachea continues to collapse, they may also experience trouble breathing, wanting to walk or exercise less, pain in their mouth, as well as bluish gums from the bacteria that is loading in their buccal cells.

From this perspective, it may be safe to use the word “suffering” due to the gradual pain that the dog will endure.

What Do You Feed A Dog With A Collapsed Trachea?

With a collapsed trachea, a dog could find eating and drinking challenging, and may not even have the desire to do so often. However, as long as it’s alive, it will have to eat at some point, right?

When it comes to the food, it has to be simple enough for them to chew and swallow with little to no pain while the massecation is happening. Some of the best choices to feed a dog with a collapsed trachea are soft food such as oatmeal, honey, bananas, or blended food that the dog can easily swallow without much effort to chew.

Water is the main liquid that a collapsed trachea can handle, so mixing that with other forms of soft foods increases the chances of your dog eating and drinking without feeling much pain.

How Much Does It Cost To Treat A Tracheal Collapse?

The cost of attempting to treat, or fix, a tracheal collapse could run up a bill of a couple thousand dollars; between 4,000 and 6,000 dollars.

Consider the medical factors that are included in fixing any part of the mammalian body: analysis, testing, machinery that does the testing, x-rays, and medication. These factors have to be paid for, and it will be a persistent, and slightly expensive, bill.

Another medical trait that you should know about is the placement of a tracheal stent. This procedure would include hospitalization, the stent, the doctors, and the rehabilitation.

Is It Dangerous to Intubate A Dog With A Tracheal Collapse?

Although not dangerous, there is a risk of intubating a dog with a tracheal collapse. When a dog is affected by the unfortunate event of a collapsed trachea, they are prone to experiencing complication with their heart and their lungs. 

With intubation, it could open up their tracheal airway so that they can breathe more efficiently; yet, that open airway could also be an entrance for bacteria and other microbiological to infest and infect the dog’s trachea, making it more susceptible to their trachea collapsing further.

What Does A Dog With A Collapsed Trachea Sound Like?

As mentioned before, a trachea that has been flattened or collapsed will cause a significant cough; this cough sounds like a broken car horn, or a human that has been smoking for most of their life.

You’ll also hear the sounds of sneezing…not much emphasis or description, just a series of sneezing throughout the day. Labored breathing is another sound that you’ll hear, as if the dog is literally gasping for the remaining air that is not entering their body due to the collapsed trachea.

The fact that the dog is making sounds outside of panting or barking is an indication that something is wrong, and that it could be a collapsed trachea.

You Might Also Like:

Scroll to Top