21 Oct Is Your Dog Coughing?
Have you noticed your dog coughing lately? Does it seem to happen at a certain time of day, or did it start suddenly after he came home from a boarding kennel “vacation”? Coughing is one of the most common reasons for pet owners to seek veterinary care and advice. Before you start wondering, “Is my dog sick,” read on below for a discussion on the most common causes of canine cough!
**If your dog’s tongue is a blue, gray, or white color—or if he is weak, unable to stand, or not alert—then please seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. These symptoms can indicate a life-threatening breathing emergency!***
Is My Dog Coughing, Gagging, or Choking?
Of course, we’re all familiar with how it sounds when a person starts coughing—but what does it sound like when your dog has a cough? To many pet owners, it sounds exactly “like there’s something stuck in his throat.” Rest assured that, unless your dog is turning blue, struggling to get air, or even losing consciousness—it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that there is something truly stuck back there!
Instead, dogs tend to have a very loud hacking, gagging cough. If they cough several times in a row, they might end the episode by spitting up some clear or white foamy fluid. (This part is called a “terminal retch” and is often mistaken for vomiting.) Spitting up at the end of a coughing episode may look alarming, but it is usually just an indicator of how severe the cough itself is—not necessarily how sick your pooch might be (Phew!). As long as they go back to breathing normally after a coughing episode (see below for more information), then the problem is a cough—not something stuck. Read our guide on “why is my dog breathing heavy” to learn more!
Most Common Causes of Dog Coughing
The most common cause of coughing in dogs is called “kennel cough,” which is an umbrella term used to describe all of the bacterial and viral doggie colds that dogs can pass to each other—much like children in school or daycare!
Dogs coughing due to kennel cough are usually known to have been around other dogs in the two weeks prior to their first episode of coughing. This social contact with other dogs can take place at a dog park, doggie daycare, boarding facility, or even at the groomer’s—basically, prolonged exposure to any facility where other dogs are cared for.
If your pooch has been diagnosed with kennel cough, is an adult dog who is otherwise healthy, and has received the Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine, then she will probably have a bad cough for several days to a week but feel pretty good otherwise. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or a cough suppressant to help her get back to normal as quickly as possible.
In young puppies and unvaccinated or older dogs, kennel cough is more likely to worsen and start to affect your dog’s lungs. Infection in the lungs is known as pneumonia and is very serious. Dogs with infection in the lungs will often have yellow, green, or white discharge from their nose, feel tired and lethargic, may have a decreased appetite, and breathe more quickly—even when they are sleeping. Pneumonia can worsen and require intensive care, including IV fluids, antibiotics, and even oxygen therapy. If you have any concerns that your pup may have pneumonia, it is best to have her evaluated by a veterinarian ASAP.
Fortunately, the vast majority of dogs with kennel cough recover quickly. However, once your dog has recovered, it’s important to keep her away from her canine buddies for at least ten days, since she’s probably still contagious to other dogs!
Another common cause of canine cough is due to weakness and sagging of the firm cartilage rings that make up your dog’s windpipe. You may have heard the technical term for this condition: tracheal collapse. This condition appears to have at least some genetic basis. It is more common in toy breeds, such as Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Pugs, Malteses, and Bichons.
If your dog has a collapsing trachea, she may make the characteristic “goose-honk cough” sound when she gets excited (and air is moving in and out of her windpipe very quickly). For example, you may notice that she coughs when someone comes home or is at the door, or when she sees a friend while on a walk and starts panting excitedly. Sometimes the windpipe can collapse so severely that it causes an emergency—but most of the time, the cough goes away when your little girl calms down and relaxes.
To diagnose tracheal collapse, veterinarians often recommend x-rays of the chest and neck. Because the collapse of your dog’s trachea is temporary (during the cough), we often don’t see it on our x-rays—since it is like taking a photo of a moving object! Instead, your veterinarian is looking for other causes of your dog’s cough. Conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and enlargement of the heart can be seen on x-rays. A cough can also be one of the symptoms of heart murmur in dogs. If no other cause for your dog’s cough is found, then your dog may be diagnosed with tracheal collapse.
Tracheal collapse is a medical condition that will be present to some degree for the rest of your dog’s life. As your pup ages, the cough may get more frequent over time, or cause episodes where your pooch really does have trouble getting enough air. In these cases, your veterinarian may prescribe cough suppressants.
Ask yourself, “is my dog overweight?” The best way to minimize your dog’s tracheal collapse symptoms is to maintain a lean body weight, which reduces pressure on your dog’s airway.
Less Common Causes of Coughing
Of course, there are PLENTY of other reasons for dogs to cough—we just see these conditions less frequently! Your vet may attribute your dog’s cough to an enlarged heart (with or without heart failure), acid reflux (yes, just like people!), an air-quality issue (like from nearby wildfires), pneumonia, canine influenza, bronchitis, heartworm disease, a fungal infection, cancer (fortunately very rare!), and many, many other possibilities.
This is why having your veterinarian perform a physical exam is SO important if your dog comes down with a cough—they can narrow down this long list of possibilities, and discuss whether x-rays, bloodwork, or other testing is recommended to figure out the reason for your pup’s cough.
Is My Dog’s Cough An Emergency?
To help assess whether your coughing dog is truly an emergency, or if your pet is stable enough to wait for an available appointment with your family vet, chat with one of our AskVet veterinarians!
AskVet Tip: A brief video (twenty seconds or less) of your dog’s breathing and coughing can be especially helpful for these chats.
If you are an AskVet member and an emergency visit is recommended, don’t despair—we have you covered with your very own Rainy Day Fund. Each month, your membership fee gets paid back to you in this pet emergency fund—and is there for you in case you need to have your beloved best friend taken in for an emergency visit. Your AskVet online vet can advise you on your available balance to be paid directly to the animal hospital—we have you covered, in more ways than one!
As always, your AskVet veterinarians are ready to field all of your questions about coughing in dogs and offer some recommendations for steps to take in their care. Getting your pup back to feeling their best is our top priority!
Allison Ward, DVM
Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.