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Dear Daisy Dog

Mattie, our toy poodle, has been coughing a lot. Our veterinarian diagnosed collapsing trachea. Would you explain this disease and its treatment?

Daisy Responds

Collapsing trachea is marked by a dry, honking cough, especially during times of excitement and when dogs pull against their collars.

The disease is most common in small-breed, overweight, middle-aged to older dogs.

I am a svelte standard poodle, the largest of the poodle varieties, so it’s not a disease I have to worry about.

My healthy trachea, or windpipe, is a tube composed of strong cartilage rings, each with a small gap bridged by muscle tissue.

Mattie’s cartilage rings are abnormally soft, so when she breaths hard, the rings flatten, the gap widens and the stretched muscle protrudes into her trachea.

This narrows the inside of her trachea and causes the characteristic honking cough.

To minimize the cough, Mattie should switch from a collar to a harness that puts no outside pressure on her trachea.

If Mattie is one of the many overweight poodles I see when I’m out walking, she should lose weight, because fat inside the chest pushes on the trachea.

Medications typically prescribed for dogs with collapsing trachea include cough suppressants, bronchodilators and antibiotics when an infection occurs.

If you smoke, do so outside, away from Mattie. Indoors, the particles in smoke settle to the level where Mattie undoubtedly spends her time – between the couch and the floor – where they can irritate an already compromised trachea.

Most dogs do well with this approach, but if it’s not effective for Mattie, your veterinarian may suggest surgery.

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