Dog with collapsed trachea can’t walk on a leash, so he rides in a special cart instead

Dog with collapsed trachea can't wear a collar or harness to go for walks since it prevents him from being able to breathe, so he now has a cart.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Like most active young dogs, two-year-old Bossco loves a good adventure. But taking him on outings used to be quite challenging, because a medical condition (a collapsing trachea or windpipe) makes it impossible for him to wear a collar or harness with a leash.

That meant that before Bossco arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, he was cooped up inside and missed out on a lot of fun. But that didn’t last long because his friends and caregivers designed a special cart so he can go places and have adventures. Now, Bossco can get to his favorite places safely and also have a blast on the way there.

Bossco the dog lying on an orange chair

Symptoms of collapsed trachea in dogs

When Bossco first came to the Sanctuary, his caregivers tried a wide variety of harnesses, head halters and even a no-choke harness donated by some kind volunteers. But his condition is severe enough that even the most specialized and gentle harnesses affected him.

Best Friends vet Dr. Patti Patterson says Bossco’s trachea is super sensitive to any pressure. “It is also quite weak. The cartilage is not supporting an open passage. So, when pressure is put on the trachea, it induces a cough which dynamically changes the pressures within the lungs and airways. The cartilage then collapses inward. So instead of an open tube like a rigatoni, it is flat, more like hollow fettuccine. Air flow is significantly restricted.”

Bossco likes to do a good amount of running and jumping around, and he can when he’s off-leash. He especially loves going to Tara’s Run, Dogtown’s large indoor training and agility area. He runs laps around the agility course and plays on the obstacles, which is good exercise for both his body and his mind. After one of these play sessions, he is calmer in his room and yard. What’s even more important is that he is much happier.

The challenge was getting Bossco to Tara’s Run. That wasn’t much fun because tracheal collapse in dogs makes collars of any kind a no-go. With anything around his neck, Bossco starts coughing and struggling to breathe. And if the pressure isn’t eased quickly enough, he could faint.

Bossco the dog looking at a man while leaning up on some agility equipment

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Treatment for collapsed trachea in dogs

Because Bossco’s brother, Buster, has a similar (but less severe) problem, the collapsing trachea could be a birth defect. But it’s also possible that the brothers each had a similar type of trauma. Whatever the cause, the treatment options include two different surgeries, and Bossco is a candidate for the one that involves placing rings in his trachea to keep it open and increase the airflow.

That may sound like an ideal solution, but Dr. Patti says the surgery is very risky, with some of the risks life-threatening. When his condition isn’t being aggravated by pressure on his trachea, overexcitement or extreme heat, Bossco can breathe normally without coughing and enjoy a normal level of activity. He can leap through the agility hoop, jump up on platforms and race up and down the A-frame. And because his quality of life is currently good, the surgery isn’t worth the risk; however, that could change if the condition worsens. For now, the focus is on striking a good balance between keeping Bossco safe and healthy and making sure he is living his best life.

Bossco the dog jumping through an agility hoop while a person directs him

Designing a cart for a dog with collapsed trachea

It would be a bummer for Bossco to miss out on his outings to Tara’s Run. Besides that, he needed a way to get around the Sanctuary and someday travel without a leash to a new home. So, his caregivers began to brainstorm about how they could get Bossco from his yard to wherever else he needed or wanted to be, without leashing him.

Putting Bossco in a crate in his yard and then lifting the crate onto a golf cart was a good starting point. But because the crate is big and Bossco’s a solid guy, it takes two people to hoist him up with him inside. Word got out that this was yet another obstacle to Bossco’s outings, so the Best Friends maintenance department stepped up to help. Together with Dogtown caregivers, they designed and built a custom cart that hitches onto the back of a golf cart. It’s the perfect size for his crate to be secured safely inside.

Best of all, the cart can be backed into his yard’s airlock (a small space between two gates that allows one outside door to remain closed at all times). The cart is low enough to the ground that Bossco can jump inside on his own. At the end of the ride, the cart can be backed into the airlock so Bossco can hop out. It’s the perfect way to get Bossco from his yard to a car without a leash when he’s needs travel beyond the range of the golf cart.

Bossco the dog with mouth open and tongue out leaning up on a smiling woman

Driving through Dogtown

“He gets so excited to see his cart now,” says Dogtown caregiver Pete Daw, “And he barks happy, excited barks as we’re driving through Dogtown.”

Another one of Bossco’s caregivers, Terry Tate, says: “It’s been a combined effort (between the maintenance department and Dogtown caregivers) to give him this. We can get him into the wagon easily and transport him anywhere. It is so exciting to see him and see how much fun he has. He can get out like all the other dogs, and he really likes to go fast.”

Dogtown team lead Tierney Sain says, “Bossco can still enjoy the sights and smells he would on a walk, only without pressure on his neck or chest area. He loves it, and it's the cutest thing!”

Bossco the dog standing in a tub of water and shaking with mist spraying around

Bossco can often be spotted riding all through Dogtown with the wind in his ears and a big smile on his face. His cart has been dubbed everything from a “zoomie mobile” to an “adventure wagon,” and it’s come to symbolize the way that Bossco’s life has changed since he arrived at Best Friends. His physical challenges no longer hold him back. He can go where other dogs go and do what other dogs do. He just has just has a different way of getting there.

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Bossco the dog standing in a tub of water next to a rainbow from the mist

Photos by Molly Wald and Lori Fusaro