Can Dogs Fake a Cough?

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Introduction

We all know that seeing our pups in pain is terrible and heartbreaking. When our dogs are sick or injured, we either stay home from work to comfort them or rush our furry friends to the veterinarian. Sometimes, we even spend more time and money on our canine companions at the veterinarian's office than on our doctor visits! (Of course, we know they're worth it).

But recently, owners and researchers alike have noticed that some dogs have learned how to fake being sick - fake being sick in order to get attention and cuddles from their owners, that is! 

With this recent coverage, one may wonder whether our pups are legitimately feeling lousy or just trying to gain a couple extra "good boys." So, what exactly is going on? Can our dogs fake being sick? And can they fake a cough to pull it off?

Signs Your Dog Can Fake Cough

While it may be hard to believe, our pups can, indeed, fake a cough. Of course, we all know what a cough looks like (whether it be real or fake, maybe from our own experience). Generally, a cough will be a forced exhale of air that makes a rough, audible sound. When dogs are coughing, many pups will lower their heads and extend their neck. This helps to open up their airway and makes it easier to express a cough.

Further, dogs tend to open their mouths after each cough and may make a slight gagging motion with the throat.  Be alert for the characteristics of the noise of the cough, as this can indicate if the cough is real or fake.

For example, an extremely forceful cough, a hacking cough, or a cough that sounds moist and bubbly are unlikely to be fake. Other things to consider include:

  • Is it a deep, dry, hacking cough?
  • Is it a high-pitched, gagging cough?
  • Is it a wet, phlegmy moist cough?
  • Is it a deep, honking cough?
  • Does your dog cough in their sleep?
While the occasional cough may be normal dog behavior, repetitive coughing could be a sign of a more serious problem. When in doubt, always speak with your veterinarian.

Alternatively, dogs can learn that a simple cough is enough to get some lovin', and that a particularly harsh cough isn't necessary for attention. Remember, a cough can be a sign of a serious issue, so never overlook a cough just because you suspect it is fake. It's better to be safe than sorry, so check your dog out with your local veterinarian before assuming the behavior has been a *cough* for attention.

Body Language

Here are some signs that your doggo may just be faking it:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Shaking
  • Pacing
  • Dropped Ears
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Some other signs that your dog is fake coughing can include:
  • Coughing as you lean in for a scratch or get up to leave
  • Making eye contact
  • Begging for attention

The Science Behind Dogs Fake Coughing

Ultimately, a dog fake coughing is simply a dog wanting more interaction with its human. A successful human-dog relationship depends on a deep bond between both parties. The more time and care invested into the relationship, the better. If a dog is feeling a lack of attention or isolated at home, it may resort to a cough and feigning ailments to keep you around.

Fake coughing is a learned behavior. A fake cough comes about when your pup associates the act of coughing with getting attention and sympathy in return. Because human attention and interaction is a desirable reward for our dogs, in our dog's minds, anything that can get ahold of our love and attention is worth repeating. 

For instance, your dog may start with a tickled throat or a larger bite of food, and cough to feel better. As good loving owners, a cough seems concerning and we may resort to worrisome behavior and cuddles in response. Your dog may then hack or cough again, gaining the same response from us humans.  

Some dogs may realize that the cough induces human interaction, and figure it is worth a couple more coughs to get the attention they deserve. 

Treating Your Dog's Cough

While your dog may, in fact, be faking it, it is important to first consider whether your dog's cough is a real sign of a serious problem. Generally speaking, coughing in dogs is treatable. 

The first step would be to have your veterinarian analyze and diagnose the underlying cause of the cough. Veterinarians can diagnose a dog's cough based on a combination of tests and clinical signs. You should bring your pup to the veterinarian so that they can perform any necessary physical exams, listen to your dog’s heart and lungs, take your dog's temperature, and perform diagnostic tests. This will help determine what it is that is irritating your dog.

Once your veterinarian understands the underlying cause of your dog's cough, your vet should discuss a treatment plan with you that is catered to your dog’s specific needs. Some common causes of coughs can include:

  • Kennel Cough
  • A Sore Throat
  • Long Problems
  • Tracheal Collapse, or
  • Heart Disease

Some other, but less common causes of coughs can include:

  • Heartworm
  • Distemper
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Bronchitis, or
  • Canine Influenza Virus

The sooner you get your dog in to see your veterinarian, the better. Catching a cough early on, especially if it is the result of a more serious disease, can improve the prognosis for your best bud.

How to React to Your Dog Fake Coughing:

  • Don't assume it is fake until a vet tells you so.
  • Once the fakeness is confirmed, do your best to ignore your dog when they cough.
  • As soon as they stop the show and return to their normal behavior, give them very obvious attention (pets, coos, or scritches).