Your dog is coughing and you aren’t sure why, or if you should call your veterinarian. What to do? Short version, dogs can get a cough now and then and often it is nothing to be concerned about. However, there are many reasons your pup could be coughing, so it can be hard to tell what’s wrong. Are they sick? Are they choking? Do they have allergies or is it just dusty? Some causes of coughing fits in dogs can be dangerous. It is important to understand what to look for and when to be concerned.
Table of contents
- Types of cough
- Causes of coughing
- What to do when your dog is coughing
Types of cough
What your dog’s cough sounds like will depend on its cause. Dog parents may be able to distinguish:
- Deep, dry, hacking cough
- High-pitched, gagging cough
- Wet, phlegmy, moist cough
- Deep, honking cough
Being able to describe your canine companion’s cough will greatly help your veterinarian determine what is happening and identify the best next steps.
Causes of coughing
Dogs often explore the world around them using their nose and mouth. This means that they are regularly coming into contact with dust, germs, and other tiny foreign objects. An occasional cough may be normal dog behavior and not a cause for concern. Ongoing coughing and fits, however, could be a sign that there is a more serious issue.
- Kennel cough – Kennel cough is often considered a catchall term for tracheobronchitis. It is a highly contagious disease caused by either bacterium or a number of different viruses. According to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, this condition can be identified by deep, dry, hacking coughs. These coughs are caused by inflammation and infection of the windpipe and main lower airways. Secondary bacterial infections from kennel cough may result in fever, runny nose, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Kennel cough can also cause more violent retching, which can lead to vomiting. While it normally causes only mild illness and discomfort, infection can spread into your dog’s lungs. This can cause more serious problems like pneumonia.
Kennel cough is a form of Bordetella bronchiseptica, for which there is a safe and effective vaccine that helps prevent colonization of this bacteria in the lungs. Mar Vista notes that in addition to standard puppy vaccines, adult dogs who regularly interact with other canines should get this vaccine annually, particularly if boarding and many boarding facilities will require this vaccination.
Dogs can contract bacteria and viruses that cause kennel cough by inhaling them from the air or sniffing contaminated surfaces, such as food bowls and toys. Pups are most likely to catch kennel cough from boarding stays, doggy daycare visits, or other places where dogs congregate, like training classes and dog parks. It is important for infected dogs to quarantine from other pups for up to 14 days while kennel cough remains contagious. Experts from VCA Animal Hospitals note that the illness may resolve on its own, or require prescription antibiotics and cough suppressants depending on the severity. Your veterinarian may prescribe these medications to both reduce coughing and prevent the development of secondary infections.
- Pneumonia – One of the first signs that your dog has pneumonia is wet, phlegmy, moist coughing. These gargling sounds indicate that there may be fluid in your dog’s lungs. This inflammation can be accompanied by fever, lethargy, and poor appetite. When they are not coughing, your pup labors to breathe.
Pneumonia can be the result of bacteria, a preexisting viral infection such as canine influenza, parasites, fungi, or inhalation of foreign materials, notes ASPCA. The condition typically affects dogs with undeveloped or weakened immune systems. This includes young puppies, seniors, and other immunocompromised dogs. Pneumonia is serious—dog owners should seek immediate veterinarian attention if they suspect their pup has this illness.
- Tracheal collapse – Also referred to as tracheal chondromalacia, tracheal collapse causes the windpipe to become “soft and floppy,” according to AKC. Dogs with collapsed tracheas may have fits of dry, hacking coughs that can sound similar to a honking goose. If your pup’s trachea collapses completely, their cough can sound asthmatic as if trying to catch their breath. VCA Animal Hospitals notes that coughing may worsen at night, with excitement, with pressure on the trachea, such as from a collar, during hot or humid weather, or immediately after eating or drinking.
Obese dogs and toy breeds, such as Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Pugs, and Shih Tzus are at an increased risk of tracheal collapse. Veterinarians typically recommend weight loss for heavier dogs, and may prescribe cough suppressants, bronchodilators, steroids, and or antibiotics. In rare cases, tracheal collapse may require surgery. According to VCA, even with good control, most dogs will continue to experience at least some coughing throughout their life.
- Heart disease – Coughing related to heart disease in dogs can be identified as more continuous throughout the day, or worsening with exercise. In the case of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), a dog’s heart is not functioning properly as a pump and fluid may accumulate in the lungs. Coughing can also occur when parts of the heart swell and compress the major airways to the lungs, according to Morris Animal Foundation (MAF). Dogs coughing due to heart failure are likely to also have difficulty breathing, often having an increased respiratory rate constantly.
Some dog breeds, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, are more susceptible to heart disease than others. MAF notes that coughing related to heart disease often happens when a dog is sleeping or lying down. With this, it is likely that respiratory symptoms of heart disease are worse at night. Coughing due to heart disease can be accompanied by a decrease in energy and stamina and exercise intolerance.
- Allergies – Dogs are susceptible to seasonal, environmental, and food allergies. They can also have respiratory allergies or asthma. You may notice a wheezing, sneezing type of cough in addition to other symptoms. According to veterinarian Dr. Martin Goldstein, coughing from allergies is typically accompanied by sneezing, itchy skin and or eyes, sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, and swelling of tissues leading to fluid accumulation in the airways.
- Sore throat – Just like us, dogs can have sore throats. Coughing related to a sore throat is usually high-pitched and sounds similar to gagging. An upper airway irritation, infection, or even a partial blockage causes this cough. A sore throat could also be a secondary issue associated with mouth or sinus infections, a foreign body lodged in the airway, or tonsillitis (although fairly uncommon in dogs).
- Foreign object – Foreign objects lodged in your dog’s throat are dangerous and in addition to potentially causing physical harm or irritation, they can prevent proper ventilation and swallowing. A foreign body that makes its way into your pup’s esophagus can be potentially life-threatening. It is important to seek immediate veterinarian attention if your dog is choking or coughing due to an airway blockage caused by a foreign object.
What to do when your dog is coughing
Veterinary experts agree that the best thing you can do when your dog is coughing is to seek immediate veterinary attention. Because coughing can signal some serious health issues, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Take note of as many details about your pup’s coughing fits as possible—wet or dry, persistent or occasional, deep or high-pitched, gagging or honking. You should also try to report any additional symptoms your furry friend is exhibiting. If possible, take a video (with sound) of your dog coughing to share with your veterinarian. This will help your vet determine the cause of the coughing and identify the best next steps for helping your pup feel their best again.
Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an education resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.