Sometimes your Chihuahua may exhibit a dry, honking cough after excitement or play. After exercise or a big burst of excitement, your Chi might have labored breathing, be overly fatigued, even faint. The honking cough and these other clinical signs suggest your dog may have a tracheal collapse.
This condition is a malformation seen in small dogs in which structures inside the trachea (also known as the windpipe) aren’t stiff enough to hold the trachea open as the dog breaths. When your dog starts rapidly inhaling air, such as during physical activity or excitement, the trachea flattens, obstructs the airway and restricts oxygen to the lungs. It’s not known why this condition occurs.
Dogs are often born with the condition, but it’s believed that other airway disorders could lead to tracheal collapse. Additionally, poor quality dog food could be a contributor because proper nutrients are needed for the proper formation of airway structures. Some contributing factors include allergies, obesity, cigarette smoke and other environmental irritants.
A diagnosis is made through tracheal X-rays, endoscopy, history, clinical signs and a physical examination. Depending on how affected your dog is, your veterinarian will recommend drug therapy to control clinical signs, lifestyle changes to minimize physical stress on the respiratory system or surgery to implant a device that keeps the airway open.
Although drug therapy doesn’t correct the disorder, it can be successful in managing the disease in many dogs. There’s a lot of different drug therapies. Cough suppressants to reduce irritation, tranquilizers to keep a high-strung dog from getting overly excited, bronchodilators to help the animal breathe better or perhaps steroids to reduce inflammation.
If necessary, your veterinarian may also recommend making a few changes to your dog’s activities. You might need to limit your Chihuahua’s exercise and play, avoid exercise that involve running or jumping. When walking your dog, walk him in a harness instead of a collar, which puts pressure on the trachea when your dog pulls. You’ll also need to help your Chi shed the extra pounds if he’s overweight.
Most dogs respond well to drug and management therapy. In most cases, the dog is not in distress all the time. Usually the condition is exacerbated by exercise and excitement. If he’s running around and barking, he may have an episode with a lot of coughing, then it subsides. It’s really only in severe cases where dogs have distress that is exacerbated by normal activity.
In severe cases in which the dog faints or turns blue from lack of oxygen, and the disease doesn’t respond well to medical management and lifestyle changes, your veterinarian may suggest surgery to implant a prosthetic device that holds the trachea open in a normal position.
Only an expert should perform tracheal surgery and the surgery is not without risk. But if the surgery is successful, the dog can lead a normal life.