Tracheal Collapse in Shih Tzu

Tracheal collapse is a disease in small breed dogs such as the Shih Tzu which has been suspected to have a genetic predisposition. The trachea, also known as the windpipe is a tube found on the neck where air travels when dogs breathe. It is formed by C-shaped rings made of cartilages and filled in with a muscle. This muscle, known as tracheal membrane holds the windpipe and regulates its shape and size depending on the amount of air inhaled and exhaled. Tracheal collapse mainly manifests as a difficulty in breathing and consistent sneezing.
Tracheal collapse is due to the weakening of the muscle of the trachea. Conditions such as obesity, respiratory diseases, anaphylactic reaction to contaminants such as smoke and dust, and heart problems such as cardiomegaly, heartworm infection, and chronic heart failure predispose the Shih Tzu’s C shaped tracheal rings to become flattened. The smaller airway causes the coughing reflex and if not addressed, can lead to inflammation.
This condition is commonly observed in middle aged Shih Tzu of around 6-7 years of age. Usually, owners observe coughing or sneezing after a walk or exercise session. The coughing sounds like a goose honking and comes hand in hand with rigorous movement of the abdomen. The dog can also show shortness of breath and he easily gets tired. However, there are also cases where clinical signs are not apparent especially in the first few stages of the disease. Severe conditions show extreme difficulty in breathing and blue discoloration of the gums due to less supply to the body. When these are observed, it is already considered as an emergency case.
Diagnosis of this disease is seen in the xray where the trachea is literally collapsed or has a constricted part. Treatment can range from dieting and weight management, cough suppressants, tracheal prosthesis and stents, and cartilage supplements. There is no prevention for this condition as this is considered innate and genetic in nature. However, 70% of dogs diagnosed with this condition respond to treatment. If you observe consistent coughing and breathing issues with your middle aged Shih Tzu, it is best to see a vet to confirm tracheal collapse.