Collapsing Trachea in Yorkshire Terriers

Written on May 01, 2013 by Jennifer O. Brisson, DVM, DACVR Hospital: Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital & IVG MetroWest

“My little dog coughs all the time and my veterinarian says she probably has a collapsing trachea. What does this mean?”

Yorkshire Terrier

Tracheal collapse is a syndrome that occurs most commonly in middle-aged to older toy breed dogs as a result of weakening or defect of the tracheal cartilages.  It is reported most often in Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Poodles, and Chihuahuas.

Diagnosis and Clinical Signs

Diagnosis of tracheal collapse is made by a combination of clinical signs, thoracic radiographs (chest x-rays) and fluoroscopy (real-time xrays displayed on a monitor). Clinical signs range from a chronic non-productive cough and exercise intolerance to severe difficulty in breathing and even collapse.  Stress and excitement can worsen the clinical signs and lead to the need for emergent veterinary care.    X-rays and fluoroscopy may show a narrowed or occluded trachea, often with concurrent changes in the lungs.

A Pomeranian’s collapsed trachea.

The green arrows indicate where a Pomeranian’s trachea has collapsed.

Unlike in people where the tracheal cartilages form complete rings, the tracheal cartilages of dogs are C-shaped, with a soft tissue membrane connecting the two ends.    The weakened tracheal cartilages may result from an acquired degenerative process or secondary to congenital abnormalities in the tracheal rings, called chrondrodysplasia.  Tracheal collapse is a dynamic process, and may occur in the extrathoracic (neck portion) or intrathoracic segments, or both.


Most patients with tracheal collapse are managed with a combination of medications to help reduce cough and airway inflammation, as well as weight management.  Changing from a collar to a harness that avoids any pressure on the neck is equally important.


The green arrow indicates where a tracheal stent has been placed under fluoroscopic guidance to open up the airway.

With severe cases of tracheal collapse, an intraluminal stent can be placed under fluoroscopic guidance.   This procedure is minimally invasive with the stent introduced through the mouth, and has replaced surgical methods for correction of tracheal collapse.   The majority of patients exhibit a significant immediate improvement in breathing, though long-term medications to control cough are often still needed.




Other interesting articles on the subject:

Get to Know the Yorkshire Terrier (AKC)

Newsletter article by Jennifer Brisson, DVM, DACVR: Minimally Invasive Treatment Options – The use of Stents in the Veterinary Patient

What is a Board Certified Veterinary Radiologist?



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