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What is Coughing and Hacking?

When we humans cough, it is usually to clear our throats; however, dogs have no need to cough or hack. While some coughing is normal in dogs, especially if it can be attributed to eating or drinking too quickly, excessive coughing and hacking with no obvious reason can be a sign of a  potentially dangerous disease. Several conditions can cause your dog to cough and/or hack:

  • Kennel cough
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Canine distemper
  • Heart disease
  • Fungal infections
  • Other possible causes (allergies, internal parasites, coccidiosis, auto-immune illness)

Why Coughing and Hacking Occurs in Dogs

Kennel Cough

If your dog has been boarded lately or somehow come in contact with a large number of dogs, and he has developed a deep, hacking cough that gets worse with exertion, then your dog may have kennel cough. Caused by the highly contagious bordetella infection, kennel cough is associated with severe coughing and inflammation. Any age or breed of dog can become sick with bordetella. 

Tracheal Collapse

Listen to the sound of your dog’s cough. If your older or overweight dog develops a cough that sounds more like a honking sound, it is possible your dog is experiencing a collapsed trachea. Other signs you may notice are gagging while eating or drinking, low tolerance for activity, and episodes of respiratory distress. In addition to elderly and overweight dogs, small breed dogs have a higher incidence of tracheal collapse. 

Canine Distemper

Dogs do not normally show signs of a common cold the way humans do; if you notice your dog exhibiting lethargy, a yellow, mucous discharge from her eyes and nose, and a dry cough, it is possible your dog is experiencing canine distemper. 

Heart Disease

Congestive heart failure is present when the heart becomes enlarged and obstructs airways, thus producing a cough and/or gagging episodes in your dog. Heartworms can also cause a dog to cough excessively. Pericardial effusion is the buildup of fluid around the heart, also causing your dog to produce a “wet” cough or a gagging sound. Be sure to notice if this cough occurs mostly at night or when your dog is lying down as this is a sign of fluid gathering around the heart. Great Danes, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and all older dogs are at risk for heart disease.  

Fungal Infections

Do you happen to live on or near a farm? Do you happen to have chickens or live near chickens? Has your dog developed a “wet” cough that almost sounds like a gargling sound? Then it is highly possible your dog could have inhaled some fungal spores or animal droppings and is now coughing as a result. Dogs can also inhale fungal spores after spending time in damp areas. Fungal infections can lead to pneumonia, so if you suspect this is the problem, get your dog to the vet immediately. 

Other Causes

Always be sure that your dog has not swallowed a foreign object that might be stuck in his throat. A foreign object does not have to choke the dog, but can be a huge irritation. Allergies can make your pup as miserable as they make humans. Pollen, mold, household dust, and insect mites can have much the same effect as they have on humans. If allergies are what is plaguing your pooch, you will also notice itchiness in him. Although it is very rare, dogs can develop tuberculosis. You may notice a “wet,” productive cough accompanied by bloody phlegm. Coccidiosis is another disease that is characterized by a wet, productive cough. Because these symptoms can signal both mild and more serious diseases, it is imperative that your vet diagnose the cause of the cough. Any age or breed of dog can suffer from allergies, tuberculosis, coccidiosis, or other auto-immune illnesses.

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What to do if your Dog is Coughing and Hacking

Because the disease that is causing the coughing or hacking in your dog could be serious, it is best to see a vet so that he can do a physical exam and some lab tests to confirm diagnosis. Kennel cough is generally not serious in otherwise healthy dogs; however, if your dog is very young or a toy breed, untreated kennel cough can lead to pneumonia, and should be treated by a vet. The characteristic goose honk of tracheal collapse must be professionally treated. Medication is most likely necessary, and surgery may be a possibility as well. Distemper is usually prevalent in dogs who have not been vaccinated; often distemper develops in dogs who are in the process of receiving all their shots (when immunity from the pup’s mom is decreasing, and vaccines have not provided full immunization just yet). Distemper can be fatal, especially in younger dogs. Heart disease is highly serious; however, if it is caught early, the prognosis can be positive. Any suspicion of heart disease should be treated by your vet. Fungal diseases can lead to pneumonia, so they should be diagnosed and treated by a vet, as should any persistent cough.

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Prevention of Coughing and Hacking

Always keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date, as they protect against canine distemper and the bordetella virus that leads to kennel cough. Do not kennel your dog in dirty cages, old chicken coops, or near pigeons as they might inhale the bird droppings and develop a fungal infection. Maintain your dog’s chew toys; once they start to get worn, throw them out so your dog won’t accidentally swallow part of a toy.

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Cost of Coughing and Hacking

Treating coughing and hacking in your dog can range from less than $100 to $2,500; kennel cough generally costs $650 to treat.

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Coughing and Hacking Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Shiba Inu

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One Year

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Hacking

She randomly started hacking in the middle of the night. She is due for another Kennel cough vaccine that is scheduled for next week, and she hasn't eaten anything off the floor that I know of that she wasn't supposed to.

Sept. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Kate D. MA VetMB MRCVS

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Hello, Thanks for contacting us about your dog. How long has the coughing been going on? Does it come and go or is it persistent? How is she in herself otherwise? Kennel cough, which is a cough caused by a throat infection, is definitely the most common cause of coughing or hacking like you describe. It can happen even in dogs who have had the kennel cough vaccine, because there are various viruses and bacteria involved, and the vaccine only protects against some of these components to prevent very severe symptoms. There are of course other possible causes of your dog's cough, including eating something they shouldn't and getting it stuck in the throat, but this happens less commonly than kennel cough. If the coughing has just started now, and is not settling or seems to be causing her a lot of distress, I would recommend seeing a vet as soon as possible. They will be able to help rule out the other possibilities and get some medication on board to make her more comfortable. If she is ok in herself but just coughing from time to time, give the vet a call and see when they can fit her in, but it might not be an emergency that has to be seen straight away. I would recommend that she be seen though, as kennel cough can sometimes get quite serious if it isn't treated. Please keep her away from other dogs for the time being (social distancing!) so that she doesn't risk passing anything on to others. I hope she feels better soon. Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

Sept. 3, 2020

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Dry Cough

My dog suddenly developed a dry hacking cough that lasts for about an hour at a time. She drinks water- but then starts again about 30 mins later. Has been going on for 2 days now

Sept. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. There are a few causes possible that might be making her cough. Kennel cough is one, that is a viral disease that is contagious between dogs and causes a cough. Lung disease or heart disease or tracheitis are other causes. If the cough is not getting better, it would be best to have her seen by your veterinarian, as they can examine her and see what might be causing this problem. Once they know more, they'll be able to get treatment for her so that she is comfortable and feels better. I hope that all goes well for her and she feels better soon.

Sept. 1, 2020

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Coughing

My dog has been having intense coughs for the past three days. It started out as sneezing and now has developed into a hacking cough. It mostly happens at night and when we are out for a walk. He wakes up from his sleep to cough and will walk as he coughs until the coughing is over. We have a vet appointment for next Tuesday, but I am concerned that he might need to be seen before then. Thanks!

Aug. 6, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. He may have kennel cough, or tracheitis. If it is getting worse, and not improving, it would be a good idea to have him seen earlier so that he can get treatment. Your veterinarian will be able to assess whether anything else is going on, and get medication so that the coughing improves. I hope that all goes well for him!

Aug. 6, 2020

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Hacking And Coughing

My dog hacks a few times and then coughs really hard at the end. Doesn't do it all the time, but repeats that a few times.

Aug. 4, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. As dog's age, their lungs become less elastic and more prone to coughing, and this may be a normal part of aging for your dog. Unfortunately, without seeing him, I can't say for sure that that is true, and if this is something that you have recently noticed it would be best to have him examined by your veterinarian. They will be able to assess his heart and lungs, and make sure that everything is okay. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 4, 2020

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Three Years

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Hacking, Nasal Discharge, Sneezing

My dog has been having all of the symptoms listed above. It doesn’t seem like anything serious; but every so often during the day she will have a “hacking” cough that sounds almost as if she has a hair ball, but nothing ever comes up. She also sneezes and sometimes has a runny nose.

Aug. 4, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello Thank you for sending the picture. I'm sorry that your pup is coughing and hacking. He may have an upper respiratory infection. I recommend that you take him to a veterinarian for an exam. Your pup may need some antibiotics or cough medication. Good luck.

Aug. 4, 2020

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Bonnie

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Bull mastiff

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Cough
Hacking
Throws Up

We have a foster dog that is heart worm negative but she is over weight. She will cough and hack up phlegm, food and bile a few hours after she eats or after exercise. The vet said her stomach sounds good and digestion looks ok. Would just her over weight cause this?

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Baloo

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Bischon Mix

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Gagging
No Vomit
Coughing At Rest

My 11ish bischon mix coughs then a gag sound but doesn’t bring anything up - followed by him making a licking sound 3-8 times. It’s been described as Tracheal Collapse Because could be replicated by pushing on neck, Kennel Cough, Asthma, Allergies, fungus... We have been prescribed asthma inhaler steroids, pressed pill steroids, terbutaline, robatussim, mucinex dm, allergy shot, anesthesia teeth cleaning, antibiotics and antifungal... all to no avail. We have moved him from a collar (he has never pulled on his leash) nothing has helped, even cough suppressant (two kinds!). The only thing suggested so far we haven’t done the lung wash as we were told it’s a last case scenario - but it’s so expensive at $1100 we don’t know what else to do? It’s so disheartening and when it happens he leaves and hides from everyone. We just want to help and can’t seem to find an answer.

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rolo

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Morki

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4 Months

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Cough
Hacking
Spitting Up White Foam

Hes been coughing and hacking through out the day for the last 2 days. Hes active and eating foods and drinking water.cold nose... hes been gagging up a small amount of white foam. Hes updated on all vaccines. Any suggestions?

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Millie

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Shipoo

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1 Year

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Hacking And Dry Coughing

I have a 1 year old shipoo bitch, she has been coughing/ honking and then wretches like she is going to bring up a hair ball. She isn't unwell with it and I tend to notice it more when we are in bed in a semi sleep mode. It seems to happen more at rest, but usually she is a happy bouncy girl. It seems to be worse at night, but then again it might be because it is alot louder when it's quite. But it doesn't seem to happen when excited, playful or having a mad 5 minutes with her half sister. She seems happy in her self and doesn't seem to have any type of breathing problems that I can hear. She is completely upto date with her vacations and flea/worm treatments. She is a little monkey when it comes to chewing things that she shouldn't and digging in the garden and eating the mud or when on walks trying to eat cow poo. Please can anyone advise me if I should get her checked out. I know as soon as I speak to the vet's they will start doing every possible test and scan to try and get as much money as possible out of the situation.

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Daphne

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Beagle

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4 Years

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Fair severity

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Coughing
Hacking
Difficult Breathing

My dog has an occasional hack...it isn't everyday, and you never know when it'll happen, or what causes it, but sometimes it occurs when she's sleeping, she wakes up and seems to have difficulty breathing. It seems almost like an asthma attack in a person. After about 30 seconds she calms down and returns to normal, but every time it freaks me out. Wondering if its possibly something serious I am unaware of. She was just seen by her vet last week for her yearly check up, is update on shots, and was given a clean bill of health, except she may be a pound or two overweight.