Dog Knowledge

Dog Coughing: Reasons Your Dog Is Coughing

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Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

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 the underlying cause, a cough could be nothing to worry about, or it could indicate something more 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. 

It’s when a cough becomes persistent that there may be 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 Dogs

It is important to pay attention to the type of cough as differentiating your dog’s cough can help in understanding what may be causing the cough. If you are concerned, it is best to take a video of your dog when they are coughing so you can show it to your vet when you take your dog in for an exam.  Here are a few examples of the type of 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 frequency 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, such as 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.

spaniel dog on a leash

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

If 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 trachea can block airflow and prove to be life-threatening. That’s why you should always check your dog’s mouth and throat if you hear them coughing.

Kennel Cough

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. If your dog is coughing after  a recent stay at a boarding facility or a trip to a dog park, kennel cough is a possibility. To learn more about kennel cough check out our article: How Long Does Kennel Cough Last? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Tracheal Collapse

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. Dogs with tracheal collapse generally cough when pressure is put on their neck, and when they are excited. As mentioned, small dogs are prone to tracheal collapse which is one of the reasons why you should use a harness instead of a collar. 

Pneumonia

Pneumonia involves an inflammation of the lungs and airways, and it’s most often caused by a bacterial infection. Pneumonia can result from 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.

Heart Disease

The term “heart disease” describes a whole host of heart problems, such as congestive heart failure, mitral valve endocarditis, 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. Heartworm disease can prove difficult to treat, but luckily, it can easily be prevented by keeping your furry friend on a quality heartworm preventative.

Lung Cancer

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 often a good one. When lung cancer is caught early, a dog has the best prognosis. It’s yet another reason to see your veterinarian as soon as you notice your pup coughing.

Chronic Bronchitis

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.

Cute beagle sitting down

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 consistently, 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.

Diagnosis For Dogs Coughing

Your veterinarian will probably use multiple diagnostic tools in an effort to determine what is causing your dog’s cough. Potential methods of diagnosing your dog’s cough may include:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood work  
  • Heartworm test
  • X-rays
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Electrocardiogram or ECG
  • Fecal exam
  • Urinalysis
  • Fluid samples from the lungs or airways

The combination of the results of these tests will likely 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.

Dog Coughing Treatment

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 likely be prescribed to help your dog’s immune system fight off the bacteria. Often, cough suppressants are given in conjunction 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.

The Bottom Line About Dogs Coughing: 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 such as loss of appetite, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, or weight loss. When your veterinarian examines your dog, he or she can make a diagnosis and start thinking about treatment options. That will give your dog the best chance for a full recovery. 

Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA

Dr. Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva is the Professional Services Veterinarian here at Wild Earth. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Brown University, and attended veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in general practice, on telehealth platforms, and in animal rehabilitation. She has worked tirelessly to gain expertise in the field of canine nutrition through numerous certifications and coursework, and plans to pursue her Masters in Animal Nutrition.

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