Why do dogs make coughing sounds? Like human being, dogs cough. And like a human being, a cough could mean a number of different things, with some regular and not so serious, and others irregular and a reason to make a trip to the vet. Just like you, when a dog coughs, he is trying to say, “Hey, I’m not okay.” But the level of concern the cough should elicit depends on what is causing it, or how it sounds. Think about it. When you choke on saliva, or when your throat is dry from talking, you cough. In such situations, a sip of water will take the discomfort away. On the other hand, if you have the flu, you will cough persistently unless you get appropriate medical attention. This is the same case for your dog.
To learn more about this behavior in dogs, whether or not it’s serious and what you need to do when your dog coughs, read on below to see what dog experts and vet have to say.
The Root of the Behavior
Whether or not your dog’s coughing sounds suggest an underlying medical condition depends on several factors such as: How do the coughs sound? Is there any discharge produced? Are there other accompanying symptoms? Among the factors that fall in the ‘not serious’ category is a condition that Dr. Becker, a veterinarian, refers to as a reverse sneeze.
The sound is called reverse sneeze because unlike a regular sneeze where air is pushed out, with a reverse sneeze, your dog will inhale noisily through the nose. You might also notice other changes in posture during the sneezing such as bulging eyes or an extended back. These sneezing episodes pass but can recur if the root cause is not eliminated. Dr. Becker explains that most dogs, particularly smaller breeds, experience reverse sneezing. It happens when dogs inhale irritants, which they come into contact with while playing, exercising, if a collar is tight, or when exposed to dust and pollen.
A more common and more alarming cause for coughing is when an object is lodged in a dog’s throat. Depending on the size of the object, your dog should be able to dislodge it with a few coughs. If this doesn’t happen, it means your dog is choking and is in potential danger. London Vet, Liron Levy-Hirsch says that when a dog is choking, the coughing is accompanied by extreme agitation, drooling, pawing at the mouth, and eventual collapse. Most vets and the ASPCA recommend that in such situations, you should perform a dog’s version of the Heimlich maneuver.
The Heimlich maneuver can be summarized in the following short steps: one, hold your dog with his back against your stomach, or if he is large and heavy, lay him on his side. Two, make a fist and find the soft area under the dog’s ribs. Three, with your fist still closed, pull up and inwards several times or until the stuck object comes loose. After such an ordeal, your dog could use some extra love and attention from you. But if he wants to just lie down, let him be.
Encouraging the Behavior
Although coughing can be scary, you should accept it when it happens because your dog is telling you that he needs your help. Suppose a cough is caused by irritants, your dog is saying to you, “Hey, this park has too much pollen. Can we play somewhere else?” If your dog keeps choking on his food, you should change what you feed him. Dogs commonly choke on smaller sized toys and loose objects and when this happens, you should buy him bigger toys. You should also put away any small household objects that your dog likes to chew on but may present a choking hazard.
There is no shortcut when it comes to minding the well-being of your dog. The key is to always remain vigilant, observe your dog and his habits, adjust his environment accordingly in a way that will promote his health. The decisions you make regarding toys, food, play, and exercise could be dangerous to your canine. Always consult with a certified dog trainer when not sure of the kind of healthy treats to give your dog, or toys that are safe for your dog. Trainers are also in contact with many dog owners and they should be able to tell you which parks to avoid when there is an outbreak of some dog diseases such as kennel disease.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are times when coughing sounds mean that your dog is suffering from something potentially serious such as a collapsing trachea, respiratory disease, or even heart disease. Combinations of symptoms will alert you to such diseases. For instance, Dr. Becker cautions that coughing, particularly during resting or at night, along with symptoms like a bluish tongue, fatigue, and loss of appetite, could mean your dog has a heart problem. A honking cough, along with fatigue, difficulty breathing, and bluish gums could suggest tracheal collapse, especially in a smaller dog.
You should also consider Kennel cough as a possible reason for the coughing. Kennel cough is an infection that is passed from one dog to the next and can be treated with antibiotics. Most dogs pick it from other dogs at the park or kennel (hence the name) and the only way to prevent recurrence is by avoiding the source of the infection. A collapsed trachea, which is common in smaller dogs, is also another common disease to watch out for. In such cases, preventative treatments and regular visits to the vet should help catch some of these dangerous illnesses in their early stages before they get serious. If you don’t manage to catch the cough in its early stages, don’t waste time when you do. Take your dog to the vet immediately.