My Dog is Coughing – Treatment and Causes

By Julie •  Updated: 02/01/21 •  10 min read
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Just like us, our fur babies can develop a cough, and it can be caused by many different issues. Some coughs are not a problem, while others can be caused by serious medical issues. Even so, if your fur baby is healthy, with no underlying health conditions, and coughs once in a while, chances are the cough is OK. However, if your dog develops a hard cough and/or has a loud cough, then your pup will need a trip to the vet. There could be an underlying health issue causing the cough. As with most medical problems, the sooner your fur baby is examined, the sooner his treatment can begin.

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Why is my Dog Coughing?

Coughs can be caused by many issues in a dog. Our canine companions are known for their intense curiosity of the world around them. A dog will use his nose and mouth to taste, chew and more. During these exploratory excursions, dogs will inhale and/or eat germs, grass, dead things, and more. And don’t forget he can also access some interesting materials in the waste basket.  If your dog is coughing, it could be he just snuffed dust, which has irritated his airways. Or it could be a sign that he’s sick. An occasional cough, as noticed earlier, is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your pup has an intense, harsh cough that’s persistent, this is a sign that something’s wrong.

The Most Common Causes of Coughs in Dogs

We’ve put together a list of the most common causes of dog coughs. It’s quite a list, but it’s good to review the whole list, so you’ll be aware of what could be the underlying reason for your fur baby’s cough.

Infections: can take many forms including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitical, all of which can cause upper respiratory issues in dogs. Common infections can include pneumonia or bronchitis. There’s also a disease that can cause both of these infections and it’s called bronchopneumonia.

Kennel cough: is one of the most common contagious infection for dogs. It can be caused by both bacterial and viral infections, even a combination of both. Another common reason for dogs coughing is canine influenza.

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Heart disease: there are many heart conditions that can cause coughing in dogs, including dilated cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure and mitral value endocardiosis, and more.

Collapsing trachea: most often seen in small dogs, this condition is caused by weakened cartilage rings, which partly go around the trachea. This can lead to trachea collapse, causing irritation in your pup’s throat and a chronic cough. Some people describe this cough as sounding a bit like a goose’s honk.

Heartworm disease: heartworms are parasites that are caused by the bites of mosquitos. The larvae move to the dog’s heart and lungs, where they mature. Heartworms in the lungs cause inflammation that can lead to an increased risk of lung and heart damage.

Reverse sneeze: while this isn’t a cough, it can sound like a reverse sneeze. These usually come several at a time and can be caused by foreign material, parasites, postnasal drip, etc.). These issues irritate the back of the nasal airways, causing your canine companion to reverse sneeze.

Chronic Bronchitis: bronchitis is a form of chronic inflammation of the airways. Dogs that have this condition may have a dry, hacking cough that gets worse with exercise or excitement. The condition can worsen over time.

Laryngeal paralysis: this condition is caused by a weakness of the nerves that control the muscles surrounding the windpipe (also called the larynx). This can lead to coughing, noisy breathing and even shortness of breath.

Foreign objects: this can be a problem caused when a dog inhales an object, which then becomes lodged in the airways. The dog’s natural response is to cough in order to get the object out.

Cancer: this can be one of the first symptoms you may notice if your fur baby develops cancer in his lungs, airways, etc.

Allergies: while not the most common sign, your pup may be coughing due to allergies. A dog with allergies may feel itchy, irritable, have a runny nose, water eyes, etc.

Types of Coughs in Dogs

Just like us, a dog’s cough can sound different depending on the underlying health issue causing it. A dog with a deep, dry, hacking cough may have kennel cough. Or your fur baby may have a high-pitched gagging cough, which may be caused by a throat infection. It could also be a sign he has something stuck in his throat. A wet cough is another common type of coughing sound in dogs. Your pup may sound as if he’s gargling, which may be caused by fluid in the lungs or phlegm. This is generally a sign of pneumonia, though it could also be caused by bronchitis, fungi, parasites and other types of infections.

If you have a small dog and he’s making a sound similar to a goose honk, this could be a sign he’s suffering from a collapsed trachea.

When to Call the Vet

If your dog has an occasional cough, with no other symptoms, he’s probably OK. However, if the cough changes to one that’s more persistent, changes (becomes worse, changes sound, etc.) over the course of a week or a few days, then it’s time to call the vet and take your fur baby in for an examination. Other signs that may accompany the cough can include lethargy, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, and more. If your dog has a cough and you’re concerned, then it’s a good idea to take him in to see the vet. If the cause is nothing serious, at least you’ll know and not have to worry about your fur baby. In addition, he can receive early treatment, which could help him avoid developing a more serious medical problem.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Cough

Before your dog’s cough can be treated, the vet will first need to conduct a full physical examination. During the exam, the vet will ask questions about your fur baby’s symptoms, his overall health, including any recent symptoms you may have noticed and they may ask if you’ve recently traveled. This question may seem a bit strange, but if you and your canine companion have recently visited an area with a current outbreak of some canine illness, this information can help the vet make a proper diagnosis. The vet will also ask out the progression of your dog’s symptoms. After the physical examination, the vet may need to run some tests in order to make a definite diagnosis of the cause of your pup’s cough. Testing may vary, but some of the most common test for coughs may include:

After the vet determines the health issue causing the cough, they will create a treatment plan for your dog’s condition. The vet may prescribe medication such as antibiotics (for an infection), cough suppressant, or heart medication if this is the cause.

Common Questions about Coughs in Dogs

In this section you’ll find common questions about coughs in dogs. Let’s take a look.

1). My dog coughing at night – what’s going on?

If your dog’s only coughing at night, this could be caused by several things, including fragrances, fleas, additives, etc. In this case, it could be an underlying allergy causing the cough. The allergen could be in his dog bedding, his food, collar, or in air fresheners, etc. You may also notice that he coughs mostly in one room; this could be where the source of his allergy is lurking. Another common cause for nighttime coughing in dogs can be kennel cough, which gets worse at night.

Additional causes could be tracheal or bronchial problems, or even heart issues.

2). My dog coughing when excited – should I be worried?

Possibly, as this could be caused by a collapsed trachea. This condition is a common health issue in dogs and can even be an inherited disorder. The trachea is surrounded by cartilage, which sometimes may not offer the support needed to keep your dog’s trachea open. Think of a straw that’s bent part of the way down from the top, and what happens if you try to blow air through the opening at the top. Air will have a difficult time passing through the straw. This is much the same thing that happens with a collapsed trachea. Treatment will vary but could include surgery.

3). My old dog coughing and gagging – what could be causing this?

Has his cough become more persistent or worse? Or is it just once in great while? In the later case, he may be OK. However, if you notice his symptoms worsening in any way, this could indicate a serious underlying health issue. The most common causes of cough and gagging in senior dogs can include heart disease (including congestive heart failure), parasites in the heart, cancer in the lungs, laryngeal paralysis, an upper respiratory infection, kennel cough, distemper, acid reflux, Valley Fever (an infection caused by fungi), etc. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause(s) of your fur baby’s cough. In any event, he should see a vet as soon as possible to be treated for his cough.

4). My dog coughing up phlegm – should I be worried?

This could be a sign of serious illness, such as pneumonia (bacterial or viral), bronchitis (caused by a virus or bacteria), or another lung problem. In this case, you should call the vet as soon as possible to have your canine companion examined and treated.

5). My dog coughing up blood and mucus – could this be something serious?

This could be a sign of a serious underlying medical problem such as tuberculosis, pulmonary vascular disease, or hematemesis (blood from the digestive tract which is coughed or vomited up). It’s important to call the vet and get your pup there as soon as possible to receive treatment. We hope this article helps you to determine when it’s time to call the vet. Seeking early treatment will help your pup get better faster, keep the illness from becoming more severe, etc. You may also save his life. If you have any questions on your fur baby’s cough, be sure to call the vet. They’ll have the right advice for your dog’s coughing issue.

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Julie

Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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