Saying Goodbye: When to Euthanize a Dog with Tracheal Collapse

🦴 Updated on July 7th, 2023


When my dog first started to cough, gag, and show signs that he was struggling to breathe, I immediately took action to get him to the vet to find out what was wrong.

Receiving the diagnosis that his trachea had collapsed was very scary. I knew that there were some really tough and expensive decisions ahead of me, even though the last thing that I wanted to do was lose him.

He was experiencing a relatively severe case of tracheal collapse, so I knew that euthanization might be the next step to ensure that he does not lose his quality of life. However, I did not know when to euthanize a dog with tracheal collapse.

I felt so lost. I did not want to say “goodbye” to my sweet boy, but I also did not want him to be suffering for much longer. 

My dog could not communicate how he was feeling to me, so I had no choice but to educate myself as best as possible to know the right moment to let him cross over the rainbow bridge.

What Is Tracheal Collapse?

To understand tracheal collapse, it is essential to know exactly what a trachea is. The trachea, also known as the windpipe, connects the lungs and the throat to each other, creating the passage through which air passes to allow the dog to breathe properly. 

The trachea consists of rings of cartilage that cover a little over eighty percent of the trachea wall

Tracheal collapse in dogs occurs when the cartilage that lines the trachea begins to lose its strength, and the cells that make up the tracheal lumen, or the structure that holds up the dog’s trachea, begin to reduce. As this happens, the tracheal rings will become weak. 

They will begin to collapse whenever air passes through to go to or from the lungs, which will make it difficult for the dog to breathe properly and lead to symptoms of respiratory distress.

Tracheal collapse does not happen all at once. It is a condition that will progress gradually over time as the cartilage weakens further and further. The collapse can be minor or major, and depending on the severity of it, the dog’s ability to breathe will be affected in different ways.

What Causes Tracheal Collapse In Dogs?

No one knows for sure what the exact cause of the tracheal collapse in dogs is. However, given that it is more common in some breeds than others, particularly smaller breeds, there is a valid suspicion that it is a congenital condition that results from the dog’s genetic composition.

All breeds become especially susceptible to the condition as they reach middle age and are especially vulnerable when entering their old age. However, toy breeds are the most likely to experience tracheal collapse. The following small breeds commonly fall victim to a collapsed trachea:

  • Pomeranians
  • Shih Tzu’s
  • Chihuahuas
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Miniature poodles
  • Toy poodles
  • Pugs

Just because a dog is not one of the smaller breeds listed above does not mean that it cannot experience tracheal collapse. A quick visit to the vet is always the best course of action if a dog is showing any signs of respiratory distress.

Collapsed Trachea In Dogs Symptoms

There are several identifiable symptoms of respiratory distress that a dog may exhibit due to tracheal collapse. Look out for the following symptoms as signs of a collapsed trachea in dogs:

  • A honking cough
  • Coughing in general
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Gagging or retching
  • Vomiting
  • Cyanotic episodes (in which the dog will appear to turn blue)
  • Fainting
  • Dog collapsing 
  • Blue mucous membranes
  • Wheezing

Of all of the above symptoms, the honking cough is one of the earliest and most recognizable characteristics of a collapsed trachea. 

A responsible owner will immediately take the dog into their veterinarian’s office for an examination. The cough is referred to as “honking” because it tends to sound like a goose’s honk.

Whether or not an owner suspects that their dog has a collapsed trachea, all of these symptoms warrant a thorough examination to ensure that the dog gets the necessary help. 

Consult a veterinarian immediately at the first sign of any of these symptoms, and if a tracheal collapse is a concern, make sure to express that concern to the vet.

How Is Tracheal Collapse Diagnosed?

When a dog begins to exhibit signs of a collapsed trachea, it is time to immediately call the veterinarian and take them in for an appointment as soon as possible. 

The veterinarian may see it fit to run a few different tests before confirming that the dog has a collapsed trachea, even in some of the more vulnerable breeds.

The vet may perform a tracheoscopy or a bronchoscopy by anesthetizing the dog and inserting a camera into the trachea to see exactly what is wrong with it. This will aid them in seeing whether or not it is collapsed. 

They may also perform fluoroscopy, which utilizes X-ray technology to watch what happens to the dog’s trachea while breathing. An actual X-ray may also be done to see where the collapse is occurring in the tracheae.

To diagnose a collapsed trachea in dogs, a vet may also perform any of the following tests to rule out other illnesses and conditions as being the source of the coughing, such as heartworms:

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • Blood count
  • Chemistry panel
  • Heartworm testing

Stages Of Tracheal Collapse In Dogs

There are four stages, or grades, of tracheal collapse that a dog can experience. The severity of their respiratory distress will vary depending on the stages of tracheal collapse that the dog is experiencing.

Grade 1 of tracheal collapse is actually less of an issue with the cartilage in the trachea, as it occurs when only the tracheal lumen begins to weaken. In this case, collapse begins when the cells in the lumen are reduced by twenty-five percent, but the cartilage is intact.

Grade 2 of tracheal collapse occurs when the cartilage has begun to flatten, and the lumen cells are reduced by around fifty percent.

We characterize grade 3 of tracheal collapse with cartilage that is nearly completely flattened, with a tracheal lumen whose cells have reduced by seventy-five percent.

Grade 4 of tracheal collapse indicates an entirely collapsed tracheal lumen with wholly flat cartilage.

The veterinarian will be able to tell which grade of tracheal collapse the dog is presently experiencing based on an examination and the symptoms that the dog is displaying.

How Long Can A Dog Live With A Collapsed Trachea?

There is no singular answer as to how long a dog will be able to live with a collapsed trachea. A few different factors may affect the tracheal collapse life expectancy.

Firstly, the grade of collapse that the dog has at the time of diagnosis will play a part in determining the potential prognosis. If it is still very early on in the collapse, then the dog may have more time. 

Not even this is certain, though, as, for some dogs, the rate of the condition’s progression might be speedier than others.

It is also important to note that the condition is often manageable, especially if caught early on. If the owner and veterinarian take all of the right steps to ensure that the dog is healthy, including surgery, then the dog may just be able to have an excellent quality of life for years to come.

What Is The Solution For A Collapsed Trachea In Dogs?

One of the first things that owners tend to wonder upon receiving the diagnosis is how to treat tracheal collapse in dogs.

There may be no answer when a dog is seriously struggling to breathe other than surgery. There are two kinds of surgery that the dog may undergo.

First, a neck surgery will insert plastic rings into the trachea to support its structure as the cartilage weakens. During the other surgery, the veterinary surgeon will place a tracheal stent into the throat to hold the trachea open, allowing for air to pass through easier. 

Both of these procedures have proven to be successful enough to lessen the dogs’ symptoms and prolong their lifespan, but it is unlikely that the symptoms will go away entirely.

After surgery, or even simply in less severe cases, there are a few steps that owners can take at home to lessen the dogs’ symptoms. 

Making sure that the dog is at a healthy weight is essential. Obesity will worsen respiratory symptoms. 

Additionally, abandoning the use of collars, which put pressure on the trachea, for a body harness is another good measure to take. Also, take care that the dog does not overheat, as panting will aggravate the trachea as well.

Tracheal Collapse Surgery Cost

The cost of the surgery that will remedy tracheal collapse will vary depending on the severity of the collapse that the dog is experiencing. The grade will determine how many stents or plastic rings the veterinarian will need to put in.

The cost of tracheal collapse surgery can range anywhere from $3,500 to $6,500.

When To Euthanize A Dog With A Collapsed Trachea?

The question of when to euthanize a dog with a collapsed trachea is a really important matter to consider. No one wants to lose their dog, but no one wants their dog to be living in pain. This highlights the difficulty of the question, “When is it time to put down a dog with a collapsing trachea?”

While dogs can live healthy and relatively comfortable lives while undergoing proper care and treatment for a tracheal collapse, sometimes the worse comes to worst. There will be cases when the dog stops responding to any treatments, unable to find any relief from very uncomfortable symptoms.

If this is the case, and if the veterinarian agrees that there are no other options available, then it may be time to consider euthanization. This is a regrettable decision to have to come to, but it is crucial to make sure that the dog does not suffer until their death.

Before considering euthanization, make sure to consult a veterinarian to ensure that there is nothing else to do and that the dogs’ symptoms have progressed to the point of untreatable discomfort.


Does Tracheal Collapse Hurt A Dog?

Tracheal collapse puts a dog in respiratory distress, which is both very uncomfortable and painful, especially in severe cases.

Does Tracheal Collapse Get Worse At Night?

Yes, symptoms of tracheal collapse, such as the honking cough, may worsen at night. There are a few other instances in which they may worsen, as well:
– Excitement
– Humid weather
– A tight collar that puts pressure on the trachea
– Immediately after eating or drinking

Is A Hypoplastic Trachea The Same As A Collapsed Trachea?

A hypoplastic trachea is a separate issue from a collapsed trachea. A hypoplastic trachea is a genetic disorder that leads to the cartilage rings growing abnormally, sometimes overlapping each other. A collapsed trachea could have completely normal cartilage growth before it deteriorates. English bulldogs, pugs, and Boston terriers are most often victims of hypoplastic tracheas.

Is Tracheal Collapse Especially Common In Pomeranians?

Yes, Pomeranians are one of the most susceptible breeds to tracheal collapse. Many small breeds are vulnerable in their tracheal structure, with Pomeranians at the top of the list. Veterinary scientists tend to believe that this is due to a genetic predisposition.

Saying Goodbye to a Dog with Tracheal Collapse

It can be very difficult to watch a beloved dog struggle with any condition, especially one that manifests as scary respiratory symptoms like coughing and fainting. 

Any dog experiencing respiratory distress will need a trip to the veterinarian as soon as possible, especially small dogs who are middle-aged to older that are prone to tracheal collapse.

There are several options for treating and managing tracheal collapse, including surgeries. Along with a healthy home life, these procedures will help the dog live a healthy and comfortable life.

If the dog does not respond to any treatments or surgeries, though, then it might be time to talk to the veterinarian about whether or not euthanization is to make sure that the dog does not live the rest of its life in pain and discomfort.

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Picture of Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Our resident DVM helps review every article to ensure we always provide scientifically accurate, up-to-date information. She’s proud to help provide pet parents everywhere with the info they need to keep their pets safe, healthy, and comfortable.