Tracheal Collapse

Pugs and other small dogs such as the Shih Tzu, Pomeranian, Maltese, Yorkshire terrier, Lhasa apso, chihuahua, and miniature poodle are especially likely to experience a collapse of the trachea. The trachea, or wind pipe, is a flexible tube surrounded by rings of cartilage that help keep the trachea open so the dog can breathe. Dr. Karen Becker, in “Tracheal Collapse: If Your Dog is Coughing or Gagging, This Could Be Why” (May 2012), compares the trachea to a vacuum cleaner hose, with rings that hold the hose open. The term “tracheal collapse” refers to the chronic and progressive disease that eventually causes the “hose” to close off.

12 trachea

Diagram from

Dogs may be born with tracheal cartilage that is weak or especially likely to become weak. As the dog ages, or if pressure is put on the trachea, the trachea my close off, “leaving the dog trying to pull air through what is essentially a closed straw,” as Dr. Becker says.

When taken on a walk with a leash attached to his collar, a pug is at risk of having too much pressure put on his throat, especially if he doesn’t want to go where his human wants to go. If the human pulls on the collar (with the leash), this may increase the possibility of a complete tracheal collapse.

12 collar 1Because complete tracheal collapse is a life-or-death emergency, veterinarians often recommend using a harness instead of a collar for pugs and other small dogs. For our pug Sarah, I’ve tried using just about every type of harness on the market.
12-03 harness12-05 harness12-04 harness

However, especially during her early years, Sarah viewed all harnesses as overly restrictive articles of clothing. Wearing a harness, our perky, happy-go-lucky little pug would turn into a fearful, nervous-looking mutt. She’d stand stock-still, convinced that movement was impossible with the constraints being placed on her body.

12-01 Sarah harness, tail down

(Here’s Sarah in her harness. Notice how she loses the curl in her tail – a visible sign that she’s upset.)

When I gave Sarah a little nudge to show her that movement really was possible with a harness on, she’d hesitantly take a few steps sideways, crab-like, toward the door. Once outside, instead of trotting along gaily in her usual carefree fashion, she’d slink along with her tummy nearly to the ground and her tail held tightly between her legs, looking like a victim of intolerable cruelty. Worse, with a harness on, she usually wouldn’t relax enough to do her “business” – making the whole exercise of putting on a harness to go out rather pointless. Fortunately, for most of this time, we had a doggie door to a large fenced back yard, so we didn’t always have to go on leashed walks.

Now that we’ve retired to an apartment with no yard, Sarah wears her harness each time she goes out. She’s even found that she really can do her business with a harness on, as we continue to try to keep tracheal collapse at bay.

For more about tracheal collapse, click on this link:


3 thoughts on “Tracheal Collapse

  1. Thanks for this post, Maija — I worry about this a lot with Charle, and we did get him a harness (but he’s not crazy about it). 🙂 Hope you’re having a wonderful Wednesday!

      • I’m going to keep trying with Charlie. He has occasional seizures and I’ve read some things about collars pulling on the neck muscles that might be related. Best of luck! And Happy New Year!!!

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