Holistic vet Dr Rohini Sathish shares her top natural remedies for dogs with tracheal collapse
Our 12-year-old neutered male Yorkie, Biffy, has been diagnosed with a collapsing trachea. He has stopped responding to steroids, and we do not want surgery for him. Please suggest holistic remedies to stop his cough and give him a good quality of life.
Tracheal collapse is a common problem in toy and miniature dog breeds like Yorkshire terriers, toy poodles and Pomeranians, especially among obese and middle-aged dogs.
The trachea, also known as the “windpipe,” is a flexible tube supported by C-shaped cartilage rings that hold the airway open during respiration. Tracheal collapse occurs when these rings weaken and flatten. Its cause is unknown and is suspected to be due to multiple factors.
Since it affects mostly small dog breeds, a genetic component may be involved. Stress, heat, physical exertion, excitement, humidity, smoke and other inhaled irritants, and a tight collar or harness pressing on the neck can worsen the condition and cause coughing.
A dry, harsh, persistent cough, often described as a “goose honk,” is the most common sign owners describe. Other symptoms, like wheezing or difficulty breathing, cyanosis (blue tongue, gums and skin caused by low oxygen) or fainting may occur if the disease becomes severe.
It is important to take your dog to an emergency vet if the symptoms are as severe as described above. Other health problems, like obesity and heart or lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, may make the condition and symptoms a lot more severe.
Your vet will give your dog a complete physical exam to diagnose tracheal collapse. Often, a tracheal pinch test can bring on the goose-honk cough. Blood work, x-rays, fluoroscopy and/or bronchoscopy may be necessary.
Bronchoscopy looks directly at the trachea with a bronchoscope and requires anesthesia. Fluoroscopy (moving x-rays) is the best method to confirm tracheal collapse because it can show the collapse as it happens and let the vet pinpoint its severity and location. Any underlying conditions, such as heart or lung issues, should be diagnosed, and hypothyroidism and heartworms should be ruled out.
Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms, but most vets give medications that suppress cough, open airways or calm the dog. They may give steroids and antibiotics if there is also an infection. Surgery is necessary only if medical management stops working or if your dog experiences respiratory emergencies.
During surgery, a stent is placed inside the trachea to prevent collapse. The procedure is risky and can be performed only by a board-certified surgeon as a last resort. Your dog may still need medical management afterward.
Lifestyle changes: Simple changes like switching from a neck collar to a harness and avoiding symptom triggers can ease the condition and prevent acute collapse and coughing bouts.
Supplements: The following supplements may help dogs with tracheal collapse. For all supplements, follow the dosage instructions.
Chiropractic/veterinary orthopedic manipulation: A qualified vet can give these treatments by hand or using an activator. Adjusting the spine, especially the neck and above the trachea, has been shown to ease coughing and slow progression. The principle behind this is that it improves nervous system and skeletal system function so that the body can improve its own healing ability.
Chinese herbs: According to Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), multiple patterns can cause tracheal collapse, such as lung qi deficiency and stagnation with or without lung yin deficiency. A good TCVM practitioner can identify the pattern and pick an herbal formula to support the lungs. Ask your vet about Su Zi Jiang Qi from Jing Tang herbs, a commonly used formula.
Food therapy: Helpful foods include rice, oats, seaweed, apples, eggs, pork and string beans. Ginger added to foods can also help.
Essential oils: Open-Air and Exhale by Animal EO (animaleo.info), designed by Dr Melissa Shelton, can be diffused in a water-based diffuser to alleviate coughing by opening up the airways.
Homeopathy: Bryonia 6c is useful if the cough is worse during exercise/movement. Suggested dosage: three to four times daily for five to 10 days.
There is no real cure for tracheal collapse, and it can be progressive. But the prognosis depends on how severe the collapse is and the dog’s response to medical management and holistic therapies. Most dogs without other health problems do respond to a tailor-made protocol and cope well without surgery.
Acupuncture performed by a trained vet can help, or you can try acupressure by massaging or pressing the acupuncture points yourself at home. My book You Can Heal Your Pet offers a detailed guide, but here’s a quick look at the acupoints that can help.
LU-7 (Lung 7): This point is located just above the wrist bone in a tiny depression on the inside of the front paw. Massaging this point may help your pet breathe more easily.
Of course, if their breathing is severely labored, you must take them to a vet. But if you can’t get there soon, this point can supports the lung and suppress a cough in the meantime.
LI-4 (Large intestine 4): This point is located on the front paw in the depression of the dewclaw webbing, or where the thumb and forefinger meet. Massaging it can reduce aggression and relieve allergies, aching neck, shoulder pain, a blocked nose or even sinus problems. Take care as not all pets like their feet being touched.
BL-12–15 (Bladder 12–15): BL-12 is the association point for the trachea and is located in front of bladder 13 in the second rib space. BL-13, -14 and -15 are on either side of the spine, from the shoulder blades into the third, fourth and fifth intercostals, or rib spaces.
They help balance energy in the lungs and the heart and can help relax the diaphragm. Massage them in a back-and-forth motion for a couple of minutes.
ST- 36 (Stomach 36): This point is located behind or next to the tibial crest, on the outside of the back leg, just below the knee in a depression where the lower leg (tibia) joins the knee. Stimulating it can help with stomach or gastrointestinal upset. It is known to relieve exhaustion and energize a tired dog enough to walk a further 3 miles (5 km), so it is known as the “three-mile point.”
CV-22 (Cheng Jiang): This point is located on the midline of the dog’s chest in a depression just in front of the sternum, close to the neck. It suppresses cough, regulates the lungs and helps clear throat mucus. Massage for 30 seconds if the dog is coughing.