Chihuahuas are excitable little dogs who are adoring and protective of their owners. Sometimes, when their enthusiasm gets the best of them, they have a tendency to cough or wheeze.

This could be a sign that they have a condition called collapsing trachea. The severity of the problem can range anywhere from Grade I – a minor nuisance, to Grade IV – a life-threatening emergency.

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Toy breeds are prone to a genetic weakening of the cartilage that makes up the rings of the trachea. When they get worked up or stressed, the trachea collapses in on itself, restricting the airway and making it difficult for the dog to breathe. Overweight dogs seem to be at a higher risk for collapsing trachea.

The condition is considered chronic, progressive and irreversible, although weight loss, cough suppressants, and sedatives can certainly help. The most serious cases may require surgical correction, which involves placing plastic rings or stents inside the trachea to hold the airway open.

The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) lists the symptoms of collapsing trachea as:

  • harsh dry cough that sounds like a goose honking
  • coughing when picked up or if someone pulls on their collar
  • difficulty breathing
  • exercise intolerance
  • coughing or turning blue when excited
  • fainting
  • wheezy noise when they breathe inward

If you suspect that your Chihuahua may be suffering from this condition, your veterinarian will take x-rays of the chest and throat and possibly recommend fluoroscopy – a type of x-ray that allows the internal structures to be viewed in motion; and/or endoscopy – an internal view of the trachea using a fiber-optic camera.

Once your vet has a better idea of the severity of your Chihuahua’s collapsing trachea, he or she can decide the best course of treatment. According to the ACVS, up to 70% of dogs respond to medical management alone and never require surgery. Those that do undergo surgery have a 90 – 95% improvement rate.

Any dog suspected of having tracheal collapse, or prone to it, should wear a harness when walked – never a collar – to reduce pressure on the throat. We should keep chihuahuas away from smoke and other environmental pollutants.

Chihuahua parents are advised to keep their dogs as calm as possible and help them maintain a healthy weight. Sedatives and cough suppressants should be used as needed to prevent further irritation to the airway.

With proper medical intervention and the option of surgery, Chihuahuas with a collapsing trachea can live long, relatively healthy lives. As with all progressive conditions, early intervention and consistent monitoring are key to good long-term prognosis.

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