Tracheal Collapse in Cats

By Laura GarcĂ­a Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. September 12, 2023
Tracheal Collapse in Cats

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Tracheal collapse is the flattening of the trachea, generally dorso-ventral. This can affect either the cervical trachea, located in the neck, or the part of the trachea inside the feline's thoracic cavity (the thoracic trachea). This flattening causes the trachea to narrow during breathing and, therefore, air has greater difficulty passing through, making it difficult for affected cats to breathe. The most common clinical symptoms include coughing, panting, intolerance to exercise, and inspiratory and expiratory dyspnea of varying degrees.

This AnimalWised article explains the causes, symptoms, and treatment of tracheal collapse in cats.

You may also be interested in: Collapsed Trachea in Dogs

What is a tracheal collapse?

Tracheal collapse is a condition where the windpipe (trachea) becomes flattened or narrow, making it difficult for air to flow into the lungs and causing breathing problems. This condition is chronic and gets worse over time. It can also affect the voice box (larynx) and the main air passages leading to the lungs.

The trachea is like a tube made up of rings. In tracheal collapse, these rings weaken and start to flatten, eventually collapsing. Sometimes, the collapse can also affect the back part of the trachea. This collapse can extend into the main air passages leading to the lungs, which can cause serious problems with a cat's breathing.

In the areas of the trachea that have collapsed, there is inflammation and changes in the tissue. The lining of the trachea changes, and more mucus glands, congested blood vessels, and widened lymphatic vessels appear.

Tracheal collapse can be classified into different grades to show how severe it is:

  • Grade I: the trachea is almost normal, with a slight 25% reduction in its size due to a partial collapse of the back part of the trachea.

  • Grade II: the trachea's rings are somewhat compressed, and the back part of the trachea wobbles and widens, causing a 50% reduction in the trachea's size.

  • Grade III: the back part of the trachea is almost touching the rings, which are almost flat, leading to a 75% reduction in the trachea's size.

  • Grade IV: At this stage, the back part of the trachea is firmly pressed against the rings, which are completely flattened, nearly blocking the trachea.

Understanding the severity of tracheal collapse is essential for deciding how to treat and manage the condition in affected cats.

You might also be interested in this other article that discusses the symptoms and treatment of asthma in cats.

Causes of tracheal collapse in cats

Tracheal collapse in cats is a relatively uncommon condition, and it often has a hereditary component linked to an inherited congenital defect. This means it can be passed down through generations.

The primary reasons behind tracheal collapse in cats include:

  • Tracheal cartilage problems: this can either be a congenital issue present from birth or something acquired later in life. It involves defects in the cartilage that make up the trachea.

  • Neurological issues: certain neurological conditions, like megaesophagus, can contribute to tracheal collapse. Megaesophagus affects the esophagus and can impact the trachea as well.

  • Dietary changes: sudden and significant changes in a cat's diet can also play a role in tracheal collapse.

  • Obesity: being overweight or obese can put extra pressure on the trachea, making it more susceptible to collapse. You can learn more about obesity in cats, its causes, and treatments in our article on the topic.

  • Respiratory infections: infections affecting the respiratory system can sometimes lead to tracheal collapse. You can find more information on respiratory diseases in cats in our related article.

  • Airway blockages: anything obstructing the airway, whether it's a foreign object or some other issue, can increase the risk of tracheal collapse.

If you suspect your cat may be suffering from this condition, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment options. To know more about common respiratory infections in cats, be sure to read this other article on cryptococcosis in cats.

Symptoms of tracheal collapse in cats

Some common clinical signs seen in cats with a narrowed trachea include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • High-pitched wheezing sounds while breathing
  • Lung infections
  • Fainting or collapsing
  • Wheezing sounds when inhaling
  • Dry and harsh cough
  • Struggles with physical activity
  • Enlarged liver
  • Coughing or bluish coloration after excitement or mild exercise

Recognizing these signs is crucial for identifying tracheal collapse in cats. If you observe any of these symptoms in your cat, it's essential to seek veterinary care promptly. Your veterinarian can provide a proper diagnosis and discuss appropriate treatment options.

You might be interested in this other article, where we discuss the different types of bronchitis in cats.

Diagnosis of tracheal collapse in cats

Diagnosing tracheal collapse in cats involves a comprehensive evaluation process, which includes:

  • The veterinarian initiates by gathering details about the cat's medical history and performing a thorough physical examination to assess overall health.

  • Blood analysis and biochemistry tests are conducted to provide insights into the cat's general health and uncover any underlying issues.

  • Lung auscultation is carried out, involving the veterinarian listening to the cat's lung sounds, which can range from normal to the distinctive sounds of stridor or wheezing.

  • Cardiac auscultation is performed to assess heart sounds, and any abnormalities, such as murmurs resulting from cardiac strain due to respiratory problems, are noted.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) may be employed to reveal chronic respiratory effort, often characterized by a prominent P wave, indicating tracheal collapse.

  • X-rays (radiography) are considered a highly effective diagnostic tool for tracheal collapse. Lateral radiographs of the thoracic and cervical trachea are taken during both inhalation and exhalation to accurately capture the condition. A motion radiograph can also be performed without anesthesia to pinpoint the moment of collapse due to the brief window of collapse during a cat's breathing.

  • Tracheal endoscopy entails the insertion of a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the trachea to visually examine the interior. This procedure allows for sample collection for culture if infection is suspected or for histopathological study.

For further details on your wheezing cat's breathing, check out our article on understanding wheezing in cats.

Tracheal Collapse in Cats - Diagnosis of tracheal collapse in cats

Treatment for tracheal collapse in cats

Treatment options for feline tracheal collapse can be divided into medical and surgical approaches, each tailored to the severity of the condition. Here's an overview of both:

Medical treatment for feline tracheal collapse

Medical treatment aims to alleviate symptoms and enhance the quality of life for affected cats. It's important to note that medical treatment is typically not curative, but it can provide significant relief. The following drugs and interventions are commonly used:

  • Bronchodilators: these medications help relax and widen the airways, making it easier for the cat to breathe.

  • Sedatives: administered to reduce anxiety, stress, and coughing, which can aggravate tracheal collapse. Learn more about anxiety in cats in our recommended article.

  • Antitussives: medications that suppress coughing, providing relief from the irritating cough associated with tracheal collapse.

  • Expectorants: these drugs can help thin and expel mucus from the airways, making breathing less labored.

  • Antibiotics: prescribed if there is a confirmed bacterial infection in the respiratory tract.

  • Corticosteroids: reserved for severe cases of tracheal collapse and used in conjunction with inhaled bronchodilators to reduce inflammation and ease breathing.

  • Dietary Management: if the cat is overweight or obese, a weight management plan may be recommended to reduce stress on the trachea. Learn about preventing obesity in cats in our post on the topic.

Additionally, it's crucial to protect the cat from tobacco smoke and irritating chemicals in the environment, as these can worsen respiratory symptoms. Using a humidifier, especially when radiators are in use, can help maintain a more comfortable environment for the cat.

Surgical treatment for feline tracheal collapse

Surgical intervention is considered in more severe cases or when medical treatment proves ineffective. There are several surgical options available:

  • Tracheal ring prosthesis: plastic rings or coils are placed around the outside of the trachea to help support and maintain its shape.

  • Placement of a stent: a stent is a hollow tube that is inserted into the trachea to keep it open and prevent collapse.

  • Chondrotromia: this procedure involves cutting the affected cartilage. However, it may not always be effective.

  • Tracheal resection and anastomosis: in some cases, a portion of the trachea may need to be removed and then reconnected (anastomosed) to restore normal airflow.

Following surgery, most cats are discharged within 24 to 48 hours. They may continue with medical treatment, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and antitussives, to aid in recovery.

The choice between medical and surgical treatment depends on the individual cat's condition, the severity of tracheal collapse, and the response to initial therapies. It's important to work closely with a veterinarian to determine the most appropriate course of action for your cat.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Tracheal Collapse in Cats, we recommend you visit our Breathing diseases category.

  • Harvey, A., Tasker, S. (Eds). (2014). Manual of Feline Medicine. Ed. Sastre Molina, SL L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain.

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