We cough for all kinds of reasons — because we’re clearing our throats, because we are sick, or even to get someone else’s attention. But what about dogs?
“My dog is coughing! What do I do?” First, don’t panic. Your dog will cough from time to time; that’s nothing to worry about.
However, if their cough persists or is accompanied by gagging or hacking something up, then this may indicate they are dealing with a more serious underlying illness or medical condition.
When your dog is coughing, when is it time to worry? How can you tell? Let’s dive into that below.
- 1 Why Is My Dog Coughing?
- 2 When to See the Vet
- 3 Treatment for Coughing Dogs
- 4 Conclusion
Why Is My Dog Coughing?
Dogs cough to clear their throats of any dust, germs, or other irritations they breathe in – just like we do. Not all coughing should be a cause for alarm, especially if your dog seems to be acting fine afterward and displays no other signs of distress.
Depending on the season (or how clean your house is on a regular basis), your dog may be coughing due to allergies. Yes, that’s not just a human problem; doggos can be upset by the changing seasons, too.
The most common allergies your dog may suffer from include pollen and grass, as well as certain air fresheners.
Reverse sneezing, as the name suggests, is when your dog will sneeze in reverse – meaning that, instead of pushing air through their nose to expel dirt or dust, they will rapidly pull air into their nose instead.
This noise may alarm owners because it sounds like your dog is choking or having an asthma attack. Your dog may also stand with their elbows spread apart, while extending their head or back forward, with their eyes bulging. This helps their reverse sneeze.
This habit is typically caused by some irritant that makes your dog’s throat and soft palate spasm. These sudden aggravations can be caused by excitement, strenuous exercise, a tight collar, allergies, or even sudden changes in temperature.
This condition is most common among small breed dogs and brachycephalic (or flat-faced) dogs.
Kennel cough is an illness that many dog owners are familiar with. Also called canine cough, dog cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis, this disease is typically characterized by your dog having a hacking cough.
Their coughing may also sound deep and dry, and will usually grow worse after exercise. This is because the kennel cough virus inflames and irritates your dog’s airways, making them cough in an attempt to get rid of their discomfort. In some cases, they may also have trouble breathing altogether.
Kennel cough is not a serious condition. Rather, it’s the dog version of the common cold that humans suffer from. All dogs will get kennel cough at least once in their lives, and it’s extremely contagious, to boot.
In fact, kennel cough earned its name because, if even one dog in a kennel has it, the virus can easily spread to other dogs in that same kennel. Dog owners should always be wary of keeping their dogs in tight quarters with other canines, or they may come home feeling ill.
Your dog may contract kennel cough both through the air (i.e. another dog coughs near them and releases the virus into the air) and by physical contact (i.e. brushing against an infected dog or using items an infected dog has touched or used).
The danger of kennel cough lies in the fact that it can greatly lower your dog’s immune system, making them far more susceptible to other, more harmful diseases. As such, even if the disease itself is rather manageable, it’s still wise to give your dog the proper care and rest they need to recover.
Sore Throat or Tonsillitis
If you notice your dog coughing and gagging, then they could have either a sore throat or, in rare cases, tonsillitis. This behavior may also be accompanied by your dog making swallowing motions or licking their lips.
Your dog may also have something stuck in their throat. If this is the case, then take them to your veterinarian immediately.
Trying to remove it yourself might work, but you may also harm them further or run out of time before they choke.
If your dog is coughing up mucus or has a gargling, wet-sounding cough, then this may indicate your dog has contracted pneumonia – a disease where fluid or phlegm has built up in your dog’s lungs.
The infection may result from airborne viruses or bacteria, fungi consumption, accidentally inhaling a foreign body or parasites. They may also develop pneumonia if they have recently thrown up and then inhaled or ingested some of their vomit.
Elderly, very young dogs, and those with weak immune systems are at the greatest risk for contracting pneumonia.
Many toy or smaller dog breeds are prone to having their tracheas (more commonly known as the windpipe) collapse and will make a coughing sound similar to a goose honk.
They may make this noise if they strain or pull against their collars, so be sure you are very gentle when walking these breeds.
Chronic bronchitis (also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD for short) is when the mucous membranes of your dog’s bronchi (or the passageways into your lungs) become inflamed. This can then lead to chronic, dry coughing.
Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult for veterinarians to identify what exactly causes this irritation. Some small dog breeds, like the West Highland White Terrier and the Cocker Spaniel, for instance, are more prone to developing this condition than others.
Certain dog breeds are prone to developing heart conditions or other inherited abnormalities. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for example, is a breed particularly susceptible to developing a heart condition called acquired mitral valve disease.
This condition usually develops over time, so your spaniel may not even show symptoms until much later in their lives.
If your dog is mainly coughing at night after they lie down to sleep, then this is often signals that their heart disease is progressing.
Canine distemper is a highly infectious viral disease that impacts your dog’s gastrointestinal, respiratory, and central nervous systems. It is usually accompanied by persistent coughing.
If left untreated, it can prove fatal. Be sure to visit your veterinarian for yearly vaccinations to prevent this.
This video goes into more detail about the reasons for dog coughing.
When to See the Vet
If your dog’s coughing sounds mild and they seem fine otherwise, then continue to observe them for a few more days to see if their symptoms clear up before calling the vet.
However, you should definitely take your dog to the veterinarian if:
- Their coughing persists for a whole week, sounds especially severe, or grows worse.
- They seem exhausted.
- They have difficulty breathing.
- They have developed a fever.
- They refuse to eat.
- They have a history of other health issues.
To form an accurate diagnosis, your veterinarian will ask you questions about your dog’s health history, as well as more details about your dog’s coughing. This may include things like:
- Is your dog having coughing fits or are the coughs more spaced out?
- Is your dog having any trouble breathing between coughing fits?
- Does your dog cough at night? After eating? After drinking water? After exercise? When they are excited?
- What does the coughing sound like?
- Does the cough sound dry or moist?
- Does it sound like they are about to vomit?
- Has your dog stayed at a place with other dogs, come with you on a family vacation, or recently been around a smoker?
- Has their daily routine changed in any way?
- Is your dog up-to-date on their shots, heartworm prevention, and medications?
While they may reach a vague diagnosis from this questioning, they will still need to perform a complete physical exam on your dog to confirm it. They may perform any of the following tests:
- A blood chemistry panel.
- Complete blood cell count.
- Serologic tests, which are blood tests that help rule out various infectious diseases that your dog may have contracted.
- A B-type natriuretic peptide (or BNP for short) blood test, which tests your dog for heart disease.
- Fecal examination.
- Chest X-rays.
- Echocardiography, which is basically an ultrasound of your dog’s heart.
- Measurement of blood pressure.
- An electrocardiogram (or ECG or EKG for short), which is a recording of the electrical activity of your dog’s heart. It typically measures your dog’s heart rhythm and can identify any abnormalities, such as an irregular heartbeat or an enlarged heart.
- An examination of fluid samples taken from the airways to test for pneumonia.
Treatment for Coughing Dogs
No matter the cause of your dog’s coughing, you should always encourage them to rest, drink water, and eat healthy foods.
Natural Causes and Reverse Sneezing
Keep a Close Eye on Them
If your dog reverse sneezes or has coughed to clear their throat, then you do not have to seek out treatment.
However, it’s still wise to keep track of when they perform these habits, so you can figure out what triggers their coughing.
Keep Them in Clean Environments
Avoid leaving your dog near (or in) dirty cages, old chicken coops, or anywhere near pigeons, as they could accidentally inhale bird droppings and develop a fungal infection.
Check Their Toys
You should also check on your dog’s chew toys every now and then, just to ensure they don’t ingest and choke a part of a worn toy.
If your dog has any allergies, your vet can provide you medication to help with that.
Rest and Medication
Keep in mind that any viral infections your dog obtains generally have to run their course, so your vet cannot provide you with any medication for those.
Antibiotics, on the other hand, are effective only against bacteria. There are also some medications that only work against some types of fungi and parasites.
If your dog’s coughing is especially severe, feel free to give them pet-friendly cough suppressants.
Kennel Cough and Pneumonia
Again, kennel cough is not a very serious condition.
However, if you own a very young dog or a toy breed, then untreated kennel cough will lead to pneumonia, which does need to be treated by a veterinarian.
This video shows an example of dog pnuemonia.
Your veterinarian may prescribe a medication that can dilate your dog’s airways, decrease any inflammation, suppress their coughing, and even treat secondary infections.
In particularly severe cases, your vet may need to perform surgery.
Your veterinarian will prescribe medications like fluticasone or prednisolone, which decrease inflammation, or albuterol or terbutaline, which will dilate your dog’s airways.
These medications should be inhaled by your dog to reduce any potential side effects, but they can also be given systemically if needed.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from a heart disease, it’s imperative to see your veterinarian right away. Heart disease is especially serious for dogs, so if you are able to catch it early, the prognosis can be positive.
Depending on the kind of heart disease, your veterinarian will prescribe a medication that will make your dog’s heart pump better, normalize their blood pressure, and reduce any abnormal fluid build-up.
Heartworm prevention medications are also quite safe and effective to use. Your veterinarian may also suggest your dog undergo surgery or that they use a pacemaker.
It’s very important to keep on top of your dog’s vaccinations since they help protect dangerous conditions – like canine distemper, as well as numerous viruses. Remember, distemper can be fatal, especially for younger dogs!
Distemper often develops in dogs who have not been vaccinated, or in young dogs who are still receiving their shots – usually when immunity from your puppy’s mom is decreasing and the vaccines they’ve received have not provided them with full immunization yet.
If you notice your dog coughing, then it is natural to be concerned. While it’s not always a sign of more serious issues, it’s still good to know the difference between a regular cough and a dangerous one.
How do you handle your dog coughing?