You've probably heard your dog cough before. It's a part of life for our canine friends, just like it is for you. But not all coughs are created equal. Depending on what your dog's cough sounds like and what is causing it, coughing could be nothing to worry about, or it could be something serious.
The occasional cough isn't an issue. Just like you, a dog might cough to clear his or her throat. Since your dog explores the world mostly with the mouth and nose, it's easy for dust, dirt, grass, and other foreign materials to enter the throat and cause a cough. A simple cough now and again is probably just your dog's way of clearing those materials out.
It's when a cough becomes persistent that there is cause to worry. If your dog can't stop coughing, something's up — it's time to take them to the veterinarian for an examination.
Types of Coughing in DogsPay attention to the type of cough that your dog is exhibiting. This is helpful for two reasons: One, so that you can better determine what's causing your dog's coughing problem and know whether or not it's an emergency, and two, so that your veterinarian gets a clear picture of your dog's symptoms when you take him in for an exam. Here are a few examples of the type of dog coughing that you may hear:
- Hacking cough — When your dog emits a dry hacking sound, as if she is trying to get something out of the throat or mouth
- Honking cough — When your dog emits a honk noise, almost like a goose honk
- Wet cough — When your dog's cough sounds moist, or phlegm-filled
- Gagging cough — When your dog emits a high-pitched gag sound while coughing
Make sure to note the consistency of your dog's cough. Is he or she coughing once every few minutes? Is it a series of rapid coughs in a row? Is it a persistent cough that lasts all day, or does it only happen at a certain time, like after physical activity or while your dog is sleeping?
Having the answers to these sorts of questions can help your veterinarian make a definitive diagnosis of the cause of your dog's cough.
Causes of Coughing in Dogs
There are many possible causes of coughing in dogs. Here are some of the more serious possibilities:
Foreign Bodies in the Throat
When your dog gets a foreign object of some kind stuck in his or her throat, they will naturally cough in an attempt to remove it. A foreign object lodged in your dog's esophagus can block airflow and prove life-threatening. That's why you should always check your dog's mouth and throat if you hear them coughing.
Kennel cough is one of the most common causes of coughing in dogs. Kennel cough is extremely contagious and is easily spread among dogs housed together like those in a kennel, hence the name. It doesn't usually cause serious symptoms unless the infection reaches the lungs, where dangerous problems like chronic bronchitis or pneumonia can develop.
A collapsing trachea is another possible cause of coughing in dogs, especially our small-breed dog friends. This occurs when the cartilage rings encircling the trachea weaken, causing the trachea to collapse in on itself. It results in a honking cough that is often described as a sort of goose honk.
Pneumonia involves an inflammation of the lungs and airways, and it's most often caused by a bacterial infection. Pneumonia can also occur as a secondary infection, related to a case of canine influenza or kennel cough, for example. As is the case with humans, senior dogs are generally more susceptible to pneumonia and are at a higher risk for serious complications.
The term "heart disease" describes a whole host of heart problems, such as congestive heart failure, mitral valve endocardiosis, and dilated cardiomyopathy. Some of these conditions cause fluid to start building up in the lungs, leading to a wet coughing sound. Heartworm disease is another possible heart-related cause of coughing. When heartworms migrate to your dog's lungs, they start to damage the tissue there, which leads to coughing. A case of heartworm disease can prove difficult to treat, but luckily, it can easily be prevented by keeping your furry friend on a quality heartworm preventative.
One of the scarier possibilities when it comes to dog coughing is cancer. Cancer of the lungs or other parts of the respiratory tract can cause serious coughing, and the prognosis isn't always good. When lung cancer is caught early, though, a dog has the best chance of recovery. It's yet another reason to see your veterinarian as soon as you notice Fido coughing.
When a dog's airways are inflamed and no other cause is found, chronic bronchitis is usually diagnosed. A hacking cough is most often associated with chronic bronchitis, and it typically gets worse when a dog exercises.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Coughing
So, what do you do if you hear your dog coughing? Is it nothing to worry about, or should you seek help?
Here's the golden rule: If your dog is coughing frequently or in a consistent way, call your veterinarian. The occasional cough is natural and is nothing to worry about, but anything more is not worth ignoring. It's best to check your dog's mouth when you first notice sustained coughing to look for any foreign objects lodged in the mouth or throat that could be blocking air from getting to the lungs.
DiagnosisYour veterinarian will probably use multiple methods to make a diagnosis of what is causing your dog's cough. Those method might include:
- A physical exam
- A blood chemistry panel
- Blood pressure measurement
- Electrocardiogram or ECG
- Fecal exam
- Fluid samples from the lungs or airways
The combination of the results of these tests will give your vet a clear picture of what is causing your dog's cough. Your vet will probably also ask you about your dog's history, including the progression of symptoms, any recent travel, the status of your dog's preventative medications, and more.
A case of canine cough will be treated depending on what is causing the cough in the first place. If the cough is caused by some kind of infection — kennel cough, pneumonia, respiratory infections, etc. — antibiotics will be prescribed to help your dog's immune system fight off the bacteria. Often, cough suppressants can be given to help ease the symptoms.
A case of tracheal collapse may require surgery to correct, although medications can be given to help suppress coughing, dilate the airways, and help your dog breathe easier.
Lung cancer will most likely be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. Heart disease might be treated with a combination of medications and even surgery in severe cases. A heartworm infestation must be eradicated with medications that kill off the worms, and dogs recovering from heartworm disease must be closely monitored until they return to full health.
The Bottom Line: Ask Your Vet
Dog coughing is not a one-size-fits-all situation. There are many types of coughing in dogs, and even more possible causes. How your pooch's cough is dealt with will depend on the underlying cause. Dog owners should tell their veterinarian as soon as they're concerned with their dog's cough, especially if the cough is accompanied by other symptoms like loss of appetite, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, or weight loss. When your veterinarian examines your dog quickly, he or she can make a diagnosis and start thinking about treatment options. That means your dog has the best chance of a full recovery.