Collapsible Trachea

Q: My Yorkshire Terrier gets very excited when people come to the door. He then starts coughing and choking as if he’s having an asthma attack, before collapsing flat out on the floor. After a couple of minutes, he’s absolutely fine again. What’s going on?


What you describe is likely to be a collapsing trachea, which is quite common in Yorkshire Terriers. The cartilage rings that keep the trachea (windpipe) open are weak, and start to collapse when the dog gets excited, as air is forced through the airway. This leads to a vicious cycle that further causes collapse of the windpipe, and hence an even narrower tube. Eventually the dog struggles to get much air at all and flops down. This causes the windpipe to relax and then open up a bit, and breathing becomes easier. So, in this way, it’s very similar to a human having an asthma attack.

The extent of collapse is graded on endoscopic and X-ray assessment, which your vet would need to do under general anaesthetic. For the most severe cases, internal stents can be applied to keep the trachea open. This is very specialist surgery.

Many dogs can be managed by keeping them as calm as possible and trying to anticipate periods of excitement (such as visitors coming to the door), and trying to prevent or limit them. Medications, such as steroids, are often used to try to keep the airway as open as possible and reduce any inflammatory stimulant setting off an attack.