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!
What Are the 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! This common condition is associated with a dry, hacking cough.
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.
Can Kennel Cough Turn Into Pneumonia?
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 possible 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.
How Is a Tracheal Collapse Diagnosed?
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.
Let’s discuss a few of these further.
Mosquitos are responsible for transmitting the heartworm parasite. Larval heartworms enter an animal’s bloodstream, thanks to the bite of a mosquito.
After a few months of traveling through the bloodstream, they reach the heart, beginning to grow and produce larvae once they have matured. They have an average lifespan of seven years and reach a length of one foot after six months. If heartworms mate, they can produce microfilariae, which can prompt a dog’s immune system to attack their own organs.
Heartworm Prevention and Testing
Overall, heartworm prevention is the best option for this condition, and part of this plan might be testing. So how often should they be tested?
- Dogs who have not previously received heartworm prevention measures and are over seven years old should undergo testing.
- Regardless of age, all dogs should be tested annually. Your DVM may recommend an annual injection or monthly medication along with this test.
- Puppies who are under seven months old can begin to receive preventative treatment. They should be tested six months after starting treatment, as well as six months after their first test.
- Dogs who have missed a heartworm treatment should be tested to ensure that they are not infected with the virus.
Now that you know what heartworm is and how to prevent it, you might wonder what symptoms to look out for. When your dog first contracts heartworm, it is likely that they will not show signs of infection. As the condition progresses, symptoms will become more apparent.
Here are the four main stages of heartworm:
- Class One: No visible symptoms or a mild type of cough.
- Class Two:Persistent cough and exercise intolerance.
- Class Three: Weakened pulse, increased intolerance for exercise, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing.
- Class Four: Cardiovascular collapse, referred to as caval syndrome, results in fatal organ failure in severe cases.
Canine influenzais an airborne respiratory disease caused by an airborne viral infection, but it can be spread through shared objects and environments that have become contaminated as well. Places where large numbers of dogs gather, such as dog parks, are just one example of a respiratory infection breeding ground.
Let’s discuss the most common symptoms you should be aware of:
What Are the Symptoms of Canine Influenza?
The symptoms of canine influenza are similar to those of the human influenza virus. Your dog may experience difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing, fever, feelings of lethargy, as well as discharge from the nose and eyes. If you notice your dog exhibiting these symptoms, seek help from your vet.
How Do Vets Treat Canine Influenza?
While this disease has no cure, your vet can advise you on treatment that will support your dog as they recover. It is important to notify your vet prior to your appointment as canine influenza is highly contagious. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics as well as anti-inflammatory medications.
They might also inform you of quarantine procedures to prevent your dog from infecting other dogs and what disinfectant products you can use to disinfect your home.
What Are the Best Ways To Prevent Canine Influenza?
There are vaccines for this virus, but the most effective way to prevent your dog from contracting it is to avoid taking them to public places that have had recently reported cases. If you believe you have come into contact with a dog infected or exposed to it, it’s best to wash your clothes, arms, and hands thoroughly before touching your dog.
Canine Chronic Bronchitis
Canine Chronic Bronchitis is a long-term, incurable condition that may lead to permanent lung damage. T lasts for two months or longer.
It causes inflammation in the lungs, which could result in mucus or phlegm being released into your dog’s respiratory tract. Then, dogs might begin to cough, as it is a natural reflex to attempt to clear the airways from a foreign object.
Let’s discuss symptoms and the steps pet parents can take to manage this health condition.
Canine Chronic Bronchitis Treatment
This condition can permanently change your dog’s airway structure from prolonged inflammation due to the release of mucus. It is crucial to control airway inflammation by modifying your dog’s environment and using medications to slow further damage to the lungs and airways.
As long as you are monitoring the symptoms, your dog’s quality of life will not be drastically impacted. However, an early diagnosis can result in a better prognosis. Although bronchitis itself is not life-threatening, severe damage to lung tissue may lead to bronchiectasis; a condition that could make your dog receptive to recurrent pneumonia.
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. Your family can 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.
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!