Small breed of dogs like the Shih Tzu are considered to have a genetic tendency towards a disease called tracheal collapse. The trachea is also known as the wind pipe and it is a tube inside the neck through which the air passes. It is usually made of C shaped rings of cartilage and is filled with a muscle. This muscle is called tracheal membrane and it holds the windpipe and adjusts its shape and size. This adjustment will depend upon the amount of air that is inhaled or exhaled. The usual manifestations of tracheal collapse are excessive sneezing and problems in breathing.
The tracheal collapse happens when the tracheal muscles get weakened. There are certain conditions that cause the tracheal muscles to get flattened; some of them are obesity, lung diseases, and cardiac problems like chronic heart failure, heartworm infection, cardiomelagy and anaphylactic reaction to contaminants. Thus the airway becomes smaller and causes reflexive coughing and if you do not address these issues then it will cause inflammation.
Tracheal collapse usually is seen in 6-7 years old Shih Tzu. Usually after a walking session, you will observe sneezing and coughing. The coughing will sound like a goose honking and it sometimes is accompanied by some forceful movement in the abdomen. The Shih Tzu will easily get tired and show shortness of breath. It is not necessary that you will get clinical signs always as they often are not manifested especially in the preliminary stage. In case of extreme conditions the gum of the dog will bear a blue discoloration and the breathing will be extremely difficult. In case you see these symptoms, know that the situation is of extreme emergency.
Usually in the diagnostic process the x-ray of the place where the trachea has collapsed or has a confined part. There can be a variety of treatment like cartilage supplements, cough suppressants, dieting and weight management, tracheal prosthesis and stents. You cannot prevent this condition as this is genetic in nature and this is regarded as an inborn character. However there is no need to worry as majority of the dogs with this condition respond to treatment. In case you get to see the above mentioned symptoms like breathing problems and coughing with your Shih Tzu who has attained a mid-age, it is better to consult a vet.
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