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What is Coughing?

A cough can be described as a powerful and unexpected burst of air from the airway and lungs. Your dog will have their mouth open either part of the way or fully, may cough up foam or bile, and the head will usually be down. Coughing may be a normal way of clearing the throat, a habit, or it could be a sign of a serious illness. The best way to figure it out is to watch for other signs of illness such as fever, loss of appetite, and general tiredness. But, what is a cough? A cough is a normal response to a number of different things such as foreign objects, infections, parasites, or even a tumor. Some of the reasons your dog may be coughing include:

  • Allergies
  • Foreign object in throat
  • Infection
  • Bronchitis (acute or chronic)
  • Parasites
  • Pneumonia
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Tumors
  • Cardiac (heart) problems
  • Tracheobronchitis (kennel cough)

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Why Coughing Occurs in Dogs

There are many possible reasons for your dog’s cough, ranging from mild to very serious. Other signs will accompany the cough if the condition is serious. Some of these conditions include:

Allergies

Your dog may be allergic to food, insect bites, shampoo, and more but it is usually not an emergency unless there is facial swelling or breathing difficulty.

Foreign Object in Throat

This can be serious if your dog is not able to clear the object from the airway. If your dog is suddenly gagging and hacking with a high pitched cough, there may be something stuck in the throat or airway that needs to be removed.

Infection

There are several infections that can cause a canine cough, mostly caused by viruses and bacteria. Some of these infections include upper respiratory infection (URI), lower respiratory infection (LRI), canine influenza, bronchitis, and fungal infections such as aspergillosis and blastomycosis.

  • Upper respiratory infection (URI) affects the throat, nose, and eyes and usually includes a fever, cough, discharge from the eyes, and a runny nose
  • Lower respiratory infection (LRI) affects the lower airway and lungs and includes a fever, deep cough, labored breathing, and weakness
  • Canine Influenza is a virus that causes a cough with phlegm, fever, malaise, and sleepiness
  • Bronchitis (acute or chronic) causes severe coughing and gagging, sometimes coughing up phlegm
  • Aspergillosis is a fungus that floats in the air and causes coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and nosebleeds
  • Blastomycosis is a fungal infection that also includes fever, appetite and weight loss, eye inflammation and discharge, and skin lesions

Parasites

There are certain parasites that cause a cough in your dog which include heartworm disease, roundworms, hookworms, and lungworms. The symptoms of these all include coughing, with or without phlegm.

Tracheal Collapse

A tracheal collapse is similar to a foreign body cough, with a loud and hacking cough.

Tumor

A tumor, cancerous or benign, can also cause coughing and may also include weight loss and weakness.

Cardiac (Heart) Problem

The cough of a cardiac problem such as congestive heart failure is usually mild and most often worse at night. The cough will get worse without treatment and include other symptoms such as fatigue, edema, and slow or irregular heart rate.

Tracheobronchitis (Kennel Cough)

Kennel cough is a loud dry cough that will spread to other dogs in the household readily. It usually only lasts a few weeks and normally does not include other symptoms.

What to do if your Dog is Coughing

If your dog’s cough is accompanied by increased body temperature, you should definitely seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible. While this is not a medical emergency that warrants a trip to the emergency veterinary hospital, a fever almost always means your dog has an infection and needs treatment by a veterinary professional. If the veterinarian finds an infection, antibiotics and fluids will be given.

However, if your dog is coughing and cannot breathe, this is an emergency situation and you need to get to a veterinary professional immediately.

In cases of allergies, you should call your veterinarian and get advice on what to do. You may need to bring your dog for a visit, or the veterinarian may suggest an allergy medication such as Benadryl.

A tumor is a serious illness that needs treatment by a veterinary professional. The veterinarian will likely do a biopsy to check and see if the tumor is benign or cancerous and treatment depends on the outcome of the test.

Prevention of Coughing

Helping your dog avoid a cough includes preventive vaccinations, regular veterinary check-ups, keeping your dog away from sick animals, and being careful that your pet is not eating anything that may pose a choking hazard.

It is best to avoid:

  • Kennels (they may be safe, but only use those with excellent recommendations)
  • Dog parks with sick animals
  • Small items your dog could choke on

You can help by:

  • Staying up to date on vaccinations
  • Use a veterinary approved dog kennel if necessary, although it is better to have a dog sitter come to your home
  • Bringing your dog to see the veterinarian regularly

Cost of Coughing

The cost of treatment depends on the cause of the coughing. It can range from a few dollars for allergy medication to treat an allergy to up to $10,000 to treat lung cancer. Some others include up to $1,200 for pneumonia, $2,500 for congestive heart failure, and about $650 for kennel cough.

Coughing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Pablo
Pit bull
4 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Vomiting
Coughing

Medication Used

Fortiflora
Famotidine

My dog initially had an abnormal looking bowel movement 8 days ago. I put him on chicken/rice diet which cleared up his stool, but over the following 4-5 days he vomited intermittently about 4-5 times. There are no signs that he got into anything he shouldn't have, and he's never been the kind of dog that eats things around the house anyway, especially if I'm not home. Even with the intermittent vomit, he still wanted to eat and his behavior didn't really change much until the last vomit, which prompted me to bring him to the vet. (3 days ago)

I showed the vet a picture I had taken of the abnormal stool (just in case something like this happened,) and told her about his vomiting, but his physical exam was normal so the plan was to get a fresh fecal sample ASAP but to try probiotics and Pepcid in the mean time. That same night, he was having reverse sneeze spasms, wasn't interested in eating, and started showing outward signs that he didn't feel well. I called my vet (they have an emergency vet on call 24/7) and the on call vet told me to bring him back in.

His physical exam was still normal, and his reverse sneezing calmed down but was still happening intermittently. This vet wasn't too concerned about the series of events as I described them, or the picture of the bloody looking stool. She gave him a Cerenia injection and told me to continue with the bland diet, probiotics, and Pepcid.

I brought in a fecal sample the next afternoon and the results came back negative this morning. He hasn't vomited since before the first vet visit, he's back to eagerly eating his bland diet (still doing chicken/rice with a little bit of his food mixed in,) and his behavior is perking up again. However he has been having diarrhea that started yesterday, and he suddenly has a hacking/gagging dry cough that started during our first walk this morning. Should I be concerned that this really could be something more serious? I have been giving him Heartgard but I know heartworms can cause symptoms like this, which is what worries me.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1060 Recommendations
Episodes of vomiting are often followed by bouts of diarrhea, as the GI tract is all related. Since he is feeling better, you should be fine to continue to monitor him, and if the coughing doesn't clear up in the next day or two, have him rechecked to have that explored. If he has been on Heartgard, heartworms are low on the list of possible causes. I hope that he is okay.

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Spots
Half chihuahua half poodle
5 Weeks
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing

She wakes up when sleeping and starts coughing. She eats and sometimes coughs while eating.


After she is done coughing she drinks a lot of water. When she isn't coughing she is playing with the other puppies but sometimes starts coughing while playing with them. She is happy when not coughing.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
In puppies which have trouble coughing when eating, drinking or having increased respiratory effort when active we need to ensure that we check the soft palate for any defect which may be leading to the aspiration of food and we need to check the larynx and trachea for laryngeal paralysis or tracheal collapse (especially in Chihuahua breeds). You should have your Veterinarian take a look at this immediately and you could do it in the same visit as Brownie’s visit from your earlier question. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Harley
Labrador
15 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

My dog coughs only when he gets super excited, maybe twice a month. It also only seems to occur when he is on his harness, not collar. In between that, he gags on occasion during the day. It is only a single gag with no “cough” before it. He goes through periods where this single gag occurs a few times a day, and periods where he can go a week without anything. This has been going on for months now. He even used to be quiet a gaggy pup.

Tonight we took my dog to the vet for a GI issue, as he had diarrhea and reguirated water after he drank it. While there, he did the same gag when the Vet touched his throat. The Vet doesn’t think it’s kennel cough, but mentioned Lar Par. His only 2 years old and is defiantly not exercise intolerance.

My question is: does Lar Par illicit a cough when you touch a dogs neck, or is that more a kennel cough/collapsing trachea thing.

Oh my dog is a 75lb, 15 month old Labrador.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
Coughing or gagging when the trachea or larynx is touched may be ‘normal’ for some dogs; however laryngeal paralysis is common in Labradors and your Veterinarian may have notice other symptoms as well. Kennel cough is unlikely and this is more likely attributable to something like laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea, without examining him I cannot say for sure. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Timber
Husky
5 Months
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

no other symptoms

It's not really a cough but my dog will like gag or it sounds like he chokes. But he will stop and he has no other symptoms. I thought there was maybe something in his throat but it's not a constant gag. What could be going on

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations

There may be laryngeal spasms which may cause intermittent gagging; other causes like kennel cough, environmental irritation or oesophagitis may also cause these symptoms. It would be best to have your Veterinarian take a look and if possible try to catch an episode on camera for them. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

What if the symptoms also include weight loss and lethargy

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