Q. My dog is a male, two-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. B.J. is very active and maintains a healthy weight (8 lbs.), but he is having problems with a collapsing trachea. His cough is hoarse and he seems to have trouble breathing. I have asked my vet about ways I could help him and he said that there is nothing you can do except surgery if it gets really bad. Is there anything that I can do to either give him some relief or make sure this problem doesn’t get worse?
A. Collapsing trachea is usually a breed-related genetic disease that is more common in Yorkshire Terriers and other small breed dogs such as Miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas and Pomeranians. It is caused by a weakening of the cartilage that makes up the trachea. The circular rings of the trachea tend to collapse inward when an affected dog is breathing in, especially if they are breathing harder than usual. It can become life-threatening in hot, humid weather or if your dog is overweight.
Although it is true that a surgical procedure is the only way to correct this condition, there are numerous medications and lifestyle changes that can help reduce its severity. First, let’s talk about the surgery: The procedure is actually not a surgery, but a procedure using a bronchoscope. An artificial, synthetic tracheal segment is placed inside the collapsing trachea to keep it from collapsing. The bronchoscope allows this to be done without making any incisions, essentially a bloodless procedure. It does require general anesthesia, however, and is usually performed by an internal medicine specialist. As you might expect, it is somewhat expensive.
A much less expensive option is to make some lifestyle changes with your dog. First, obesity will make a collapsing trachea worse, so make sure your Yorkie is not overweight. Most dogs improve drastically once they lose unnecessary weight. Secondly, excitement will also cause the coughing to become worse, so it is better to minimize any unnecessary excitement. Avoid using a leash on his collar, because the pull on the collar will also make the condition worse. Use a harness instead of a leash. Finally, humid conditions can make tracheal collapse worse, so if you have a choice, try to create as dry a climate as possible, even using a dehumidifier.
Your veterinarian can also prescribe some medications that may be helpful, including butorphanol, theophylline (Theodur sustained release tablets) and prednisone. These will all reduce the frequency and severity of the coughing; they may be necessary long term.
Make the lifestyle adjustments and then talk to your veterinarian about trying some medications. If you can afford it, consider the bronchoscope procedure as a permanent fix.