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I am Your Dog's Trachea

Also known as the windpipe, your dog's trachea plays a vital role in the passage of air. You might not be aware much of this structure until it gives signs of problems such as when it triggers episodes of coughing and exercise intolerance. As with many other body parts, taking good care of your dog's trachea goes a long way in preventing problems, especially if you own a small dog. So today we'll be introducing the dog's trachea and learn more about this structure which, as many other dog body parts, certainly deserves some attention. Let's see what the dog's trachea has to say.


Introducing Your Dog's Trachea

Hello, it's your dog's trachea talking! You likely already know about me, I am that short, fairly rigid tube that extends from your dog's larynx, right down the neck area and then ends right by the thorax where I divide into two primary bronchi that enter the lungs.

I am basically shaped like an upside down letter Y. Structurally, I am just a tube made of fibrous tissue and smooth muscle kept open by several C-shaped cartilage rings.

If it wasn't for these rings, your dog's trachea would collapse each time your dog took a breath because of the vacuum created by inhalation. My main function, as mentioned, is to carry air to the bronchi, which in turn supply your dog's lungs.

I'm a Self-Cleaning Structure


While my main role is to transport air into and out your dog's lungs, I am also responsible for protecting your dog's airway from irritating substances. You see, my surface is lined up with motile cilia, several hair-like structures, which, as it happens in the nasal passages, are responsible for trapping any dirt and debris out of the lungs.

For example, if your dog was exposed to lots of dust and contaminants as you were sweeping the floor, I would produce an increased amount of mucus to help trap all those the foreign particles preventing them from reaching the lungs.

The mucus is then moved up towards the larynx so that when it reaches the pharynx, your either dog swallows it into the stomach or it's coughed up as phlegm to clear the passageway.

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dog collapsed trachea

The white arrows indicate a normal-sized trachea, whereas, the black arrows mark the collapsed trachea.

When Things go Wrong

While I am a fairly rigid in structure, unfortunately sometimes things go wrong. See, in a dog with a healthy trachea, the airways remain nicely open. Imagine me as an agility tunnel. However, when things go wrong, I might weaken overtime, become misshapen, and then, I might eventually collapse.

When I collapse, for sake of an example, you can imagine me as an agility chute, also known as a "collapsed tunnel." When I cave in or collapse, the air has difficulty passing through so I cause the poor dog to develop a goose-like honking cough as a response.

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This cough can be noticed more when the dog is exercising, coughing, eating or acting excited. Pressure from the collar on me when the dog is being walked can also trigger coughing. And to keep me in good shape, you must also watch what training tools you use. According to the Pet Professional Guild, tracheal and esophageal damage along with neurological problems and many other issues may result from the use of choke or prong collars.

Sometimes, other than coughing, I may also cause trouble breathing, panting, exercise intolerance and bluish gums which can be very scary symptoms! Some dogs are more predisposed than others in getting a collapsed trachea. Keep in mind that Yorkies, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, pugs and poodles are some dogs that are particularly vulnerable, especially when they age.

Some Preventive Measures

A harness is better than a collar.

A harness is better than a collar.

Preventing me from collapsing would sound like a good idea as there is really no 100 percent effective treatment once I collapse. Some surgeons have had some luck in using stents for keeping me open, but according to veterinarian Dr. Eric Barchas these are prone to failing over time.

There are several things that can be done though to slow things down. Even though there's likely a hereditary component at play in collapsed trachea of dogs, genetics are just one piece of the puzzle.

Most dogs with collapsed trachea do not show symptoms until a secondary problem arises and contributes in complicating matters, explains Robert Prosek a board certified veterinarian specializing in internal medicine. So here are a few things that can be done to prevent further complicating matters.

  • Keep your dog in good shape as obesity predisposes to problems.
  • Keep your dog away from cigarette smoke.
  • Keep your dog's heart healthy as an enlarged heart can push against me and the bronchi.
  • Prevent your dog from getting too stressed or overexcited
  • Use HEPA air filters to minimize exposure to irritants
  • Protect me from respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis
  • Protect me by using a harness instead of a collar
  • Holistic veterinarians may suggest maintaining my integrity by using cartilage builders. Examples are glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, eggshell membrane, and cetyl myristoleate (CMO), explains veterinarian Karen Becker. Consult with your vet.

Did you know? Dogs don't have an "Adam's apple" in the way that human males do. That's mainly because their larynx, and the anatomy that makes it, doesn't bulge out at all, explains Pet Doc, a senior small animal veterinarian working for Just Answer.


  • Clinical Anatomy & Physiology for Veterinary Technicians, Thomas Colville DVM, Joanna M. Bassert VMD, Mosby Inc. St Louis, MO, 2002
  • Marck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition, Merck and Co. INC. Whitehouse Station, NJ, 2007

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