5 min read


Why Do Maltese Dogs Cough



5 min read


Why Do Maltese Dogs Cough




Honking, hacking coughing sounds are not the noises you would associate with the delicate, fluffy little Maltese Dog, and yet this breed of dog is very prone to coughing and sounding as if they may well pass out at any time. Why do they cough so easily? The Maltese have a very sensitive trachea that goes into spasm after strenuous exercise, eating and drinking, and getting over excited. The Maltese is prone to collapsed trachea and reverse sneezing. The trachea, or windpipe, is a very important part of your dog’s anatomy. It connects your dog’s throat to its lungs so that it can breathe. The Maltese Dog becomes easily excited and rapidly inhales air and this can cause a collapsed trachea. The coughing and honking sounds are emitted by the Maltese as he struggles for breath. The trachea is made of soft cartilage rings and it supports your dog’s throat. If these soft rings get flattened for any reason, the throat closes and it is difficult for your Maltese to breathe. 

The Root of the Behavior

This is not a normal behavior but does seem to be quite common in the Maltese and other toy breeds of dog. Experts do not really know why, but it seems that some dogs have an abnormality that affects the delicate rings of the trachea. The tracheal rings are impaired by a chemical weakness making the rings softer than they should be. This softening of the cartilage makes the rings of the trachea lose their ability to keep their circular shape. If your Maltese shows any of these signs the reason could be a collapsed trachea. Look out for chronic coughing, a dry ‘goose honk’ type of a cough that is worse in the daytime. A dry cough can be brought on by drinking or eating, being overexcited, or even pulling on a leash. The cartilage is very sensitive and is only part of the rings supporting the opening of the trachea. The cartilage starts at a 10 o'clock point round to the 2 o’clock point of a clock face diagram, and the remainder of the ring is made of a membrane. It is easy to see how this light framework can collapse under stress and strain. 

A persistent, chronic cough coming from your Maltese would need the attention of a vet. Your vet will be able to determine if further examinations are required with an x-ray or an endoscope. It is difficult to x-ray a little dog for trachea problems. The x-ray will only show the difficulties encountered with a collapsed trachea when your dog inhales and the trachea is inflated. Dogs cannot be told to breathe in and hold their breathe for the x-ray. The endoscopy is the best method to determine if there is damage, but it is not always available and is very expensive. It is possible, depending on the severity of the collapsed trachea, to calm your dog down and gently stroke his throat to restore the rings of the trachea to their proper shape. This will help with the breathing pattern of your dog and return him to a calm state. If your Maltese pulls on his leash whenever you go out for a walk, then a harness would be a better form of control. A harness does not fit round the dog’s neck, and it will not aggravate the trachea if your Maltese has a tendency to pull on the leash.

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Encouraging the Behavior

Listening to your dog having respiratory problems is very concerning. The sounds of coughing, noisy breathing, and wheezing all alert you to a problem. The severity and the length of time your dog has these problems will prompt you to visit your vet for a second opinion and treatment for this condition. Your vet will tell you that it is a congenital condition and a disorder that affects the cartilage of the trachea. A vet can recommend bronchial dilators or anti-inflammatory drugs. An infection may call for antibiotics, but medicines will only treat the symptoms, and not the underlying problem of the collapsed trachea. 

Dogs that are overweight are always at a greater risk for health issues and if your Maltese is a bit on the plump side then a diet and reduced weight could be the solution you are looking for. Unfortunately, the Maltese with cartilage problems in the trachea may also be prone to heart disease. It is definitely a good idea to get advice from your vet if your Maltese is struggling with any breathing issues. The vet will be able to give advice on ways to manage the problem. You will want to give your Maltese a good quality of life and reduce the stress of not being able to breathe. It is helpful to know what is causing the problem and the source of the coughing. The problem could lie with an obstruction and once again your vet will be able to ascertain if this is the root of the problem.

Other Solutions and Considerations

The Maltese breed of dog is fluffy and endearing and often a much-loved family pet. The dog’s name comes from the island of Malta and it is believed these lovely dogs were one of the original breeds of domestic dog. Bred to be a ladies’ companion, they are very endearing and make perfect pets. Hearing this fluffy bundle of joy wheezing and coughing in a concerning way is very worrying for the Maltese dog owner. It would be wise to look at the lifestyle your Maltese leads and to find out what you can do to manage this problem. Simple techniques to help the trachea return to their shape and some knowledge of the triggers to avoid will help. All dogs need exercise, but knowing the sensitivity of the trachea should encourage you to use a harness instead of a collar and a leash. Excitement and eating or drinking can lead to a coughing episode so keep watch on those activities and help your Maltese through the situations that bring on coughing and wheezing. 


There is no doubt that hearing your beloved dog struggle for breath is a time of anxiety and calls for great sensitivity. Listening to your Maltese sound more like a goose in the yard that a delightful canine companion is challenging. Perhaps this little thought can ease the stress and help you remember why your Maltese does sound like a goose. 

Ask yourself….what is the difference between a goose and a Maltese dog? 

A goose lives to honk.

A Maltese dog honks to live.

A purposeful reminder of the root of the problem and the reason for a Maltese cough. 

Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/25/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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