Coughing and Hacking in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Why is my dog coughing and hacking?

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Why is my dog coughing and hacking?

What is Coughing and Hacking?

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  potential problem. 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/Bordetella infection

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 a highly contagious virus, kennel cough is associated with severe coughing and inflammation. Any age or breed of dog can become sick with bordetella. There is an effective vaccination that can be given by your veterinarian.  

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. If your dog has been vaccinated for distemper, this disease is less likely.  

Heart Disease

Congestive heart failure can occur 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 and can  cause 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 can be a sign of fluid gathering in the lungs. Great Danes, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and older dogs are more at risk for heart disease.  

Fungal Infections

Do you live on or near a farm? Do you have chickens or live near chickens? Has your dog developed a “wet” cough that almost sounds like a gargling sound? Then it is 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 veterinarian 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 might 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 signs can signal both mild and more serious diseases, it is imperative that your veterinarian 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 veterinarian so that he can do a physical exam and lab testing if needed to confirm a diagnosis. Kennel cough is generally mild 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 veterinarian. 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; distemper can develop 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 veterinarian. Fungal diseases can lead to pneumonia, so they should be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian, 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 $100-300 to treat. Curious about which health plan is right for your dog? Head over to Forbes' breakdown of pet insurance providers.

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Worried about the cost of treating your pet's symptoms?

Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

Coughing and Hacking Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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jack russel

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10 Years

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53 found helpful

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53 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Coughing

My dog is coughing a dry cough but foam comes out sometimes. When he is outside and over exerts himself, he coughs more and seems to be out of breath.

Jan. 8, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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53 Recommendations

Hello, your dog could have an upper respiratory infection, heart or lung disease or tracheal infection. It would be best for your dog to see you vet. They can listen to your dog’s heart and lungs and see what is causing these issues. They will also be be able to prescribe your dog medication to help them feel much better. I hope your dog quickly improves.

Jan. 9, 2021

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Maltese

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Three Years

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19 found helpful

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19 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Coughing

My dog who has a heart murmur has been coughing since yesterday. He hasn’t been around other dogs. He seems to bring up phlegm but swallows it. It does this every minute or two when he’s not asleep.

Jan. 7, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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19 Recommendations

Hello, this could be a worsening of his heart issues or could be an upper respiratory tract infection. It would be best for your vet to see your dog. They can start him on heart medication or antibiotics to help him feel much better

Jan. 7, 2021

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