A puppy's trachea, commonly called a windpipe, is essential for carrying air to his lungs. If it collapses, he will have difficulty breathing and may make a gagging sound or have a strange honking cough. In serious cases, he could stop breathing and die, so it's important to get him to the veterinarian right away if you suspect a collapsed trachea. Some small breeds of puppies have a fairly high risk of developing a collapsed trachea, while in bigger breeds the risk is low.
A puppy's trachea is held open by a series of C-shaped cartilage rings. If these rings are weak, misshapen or begin to soften, the trachea will start to close, almost like a folded straw. When this happens, the puppy will have difficulty getting enough oxygen into his lungs. The severity of the problem depends on how much the trachea has collapsed. If the rings are still strong enough to keep it partially open, your puppy may cough and wheeze. If it collapses so much that air is severely restricted, however, he may appear to be choking. His tongue can turn blue; he may panic because he cannot breathe.
A collapsed trachea is far more common in certain toy breeds of dogs; in puppies it is usually congenital. Breeds most susceptible include the Yorkshire terrier, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Maltese, Shih Tzu and toy or miniature poodles. Since these tiny dogs tend to have trachea problems more often than other breeds, tracheal collapse also occurs more frequently in puppies of these same breeds.
Some larger breeds can suffer from collapsed trachea, but it is more likely in older large dogs than in large-breed puppies. It is not clear exactly why larger puppies are less prone to the problem. One simple theory is that because there is more room in and more thickness to a larger trachea to begin with, a slight weakness or unusual shape in the cartilage rings does not affect airflow as much as it does in a small trachea.
In puppies, a collapsed trachea is usually a congenital problem, meaning that the weak or misshapen trachea is present at birth and was caused by genetics, not other factors. Sometimes a congenital tracheal weakness doesn't manifest until later. Some health conditions, like congestive heart failure, obesity or chronic bronchitis can either cause or contribute to a collapsed trachea. These conditions are unlikely in puppies, however, since they are generally problems found in older dogs that affect the trachea over time and through repeated straining.
By Carlye Jones
Michigan Veterinary Specialists: Collapsing Trachea Chicago Tribune: Dog`s Collapsed Trachea Causes Serious -- But Treatable -- Breathing Problems
PetMD: Collapse of the Wind Pipe in Dogs
The Pet Health Library: Tracheal Collapse
Healthy Pets by Mercola: If Your Dog Is Coughing or Gagging, This Could Be Why
About the Author
Carlye Jones is a journalist, writer, photographer, novelist and artisan jeweler with more than 20 years of experience. She enjoys sharing her expertise on home improvements, photography, crafting, business and travel. Her work has appeared both in print and on numerous websites.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.