It starts out as a honking cough. Your little Yorkshire terrier, the light of your life, sounds more like a goose than a canine. That awful cough gets worse and worse. Rooted in his trachea, or windpipe, it's likely your Yorkie's cough is a symptom of tracheal collapse.
While little dogs in general are prone to tracheal collapse, Yorkshire terriers are the most commonly affected, according to Web MD. It generally appears in Yorkies at about the age of 6 or 7, although it can develop earlier or later in life. Your dog's trachea consists of cartilage rings, with a dorsal ligament connecting them to form a tube. It ranges from the throat to the bronchi, airways leading to the lungs. When the trachea collapses, it prevents air from reaching the lungs. Four grade levels exist, from mild to severe. In grade 1, the cartilage is slightly loose and weakening. Grade 2 cartilage is looser, wider and slightly flat. By grade 3, the cartilage is almost flat and the tracheal membrane almost touches the dorsal ligament. At the grade 4 stage, the cartilage is flat and the tracheal membrane is on the dorsal ligament.
In addition to the telltale cough, other signs of tracheal collapse include exercise intolerance and fainting spells. Your Yorkie's cough might worsen when he's excited or it's hot and humid. If he's around smokers or in a dusty area, that could also exacerbate his coughing. The same holds true during allergy season if your Yorkie's susceptible to pollens.
Your vet can treat milder cases of tracheal collapse non-invasively, with bronchodilators, steroids, anti-inflammatories and cough suppressants. While these medications treat the symptoms, they don't offer a cure. For dogs with higher grades of tracheal collapse and those who don't respond well to medication, surgery is an option. During the procedure, your vet either places support rings around the trachea or metal stents inside of it. Most dogs recover very well, although they still require certain medications. Of course, any surgery entails risks, but these operations reduce clinical signs of the disease in 75 to 90 percent of cases, according to DVM 360.
Although you can't guarantee your little love bug won't experience tracheal collapse, one way to avoid it is by never using a leash attached to a collar. From puppyhood, always use a harness and leash when taking your Yorkie out. That way he can't pull against the leash to chase a squirrel or when undertaking serious Yorkie sniffing and investigative work. Don't let your Yorkie become overweight, as extra pounds add to respiratory difficulties.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.