All dogs will cough sometimes – coughing in dogs is as common as it is people. Most coughing will resolve itself over a few days however coughing that is persistent (lasts over a week) or severe (when the dog is hacking and sounds like choking) needs immediate vet attention. A vet could determine one of several causes of the coughing, including:
Coughing due to Infection(s)
Dogs have a highly sensitive olfactory function and have a large opportunity to be infected by various viruses, bacteria & fungi that can infect the respiratory tract of a dog. This infection could be in the lung tissue (commonly referred to as pneumonia), or in the airway (referred to as bronchitis), or a combination of both (referred to as bronchopneumonia).
One of these injections is ‘kennel cough’ and is caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria – just as it is in the case of common-cold in humans. Dogs “catch” kennel cough when they inhale bacteria or virus particles which infects their respiratory tract and which results in inflammation of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe) which results in coughing. While kennel cough is highly contagious between dogs most of the time it will resolve itself within a week. If it does not you should see a vet.
The vet will prescribe antibiotics if the cause is a bacterial infection along with cough suppressants if symptoms are severe (human cough suppressants will do). Viral infections generally have to run their course. Other medications are prescribed for fungi and other parasites.
Coughing due to Heart Disease
A variety of heart conditions including mitral valve endocarditis, dilated cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure will weaken and thicken the heart muscle or cause fluid accumulation. This increases pressure on the lungs and airways which causes the dog to cough. Depending on the type of heart disease the vet determines the dog will be prescribed a combination of medications that will normalize blood pressure, make the heart pump more efficiently, and reduce the abnormal build-up of fluid. This will be combined with the right diet and exercise.
Most dogs sneeze breathing-in explosively instead of breathing-out as we do. Reverse sneezes occur in clusters and are produced when something irritates the back of the nasal passage of the dog. This clustering makes many dog owners think of reverse sneezing as coughing. If they occur infrequently, reverse sneezes are nothing to worry about, but if they become severe or frequent, the dog should be seen by a veterinarian.
Coughing because of a Foreign Object
If a dog has something lodged in its airway the body will try to cough it out. This coughing sound different because the dog will try to keep its mouth open and not really stop to inhale – it may be similar to it trying to throw up with force. If it is your pet dog and if you can safely check its mouth do so else get to a vet because it might be required for the object to be physically removed.
Other causes of coughing
Coughing can be due to many other causes including:
- Collapsing Trachea especially in small dogs where weakening of the cartilage rings that partially encircle the trachea causes the trachea to collapse in on itself causing a chronic cough.
- Laryngeal Paralysis where the passageway into the windpipe (called the larynx) does not fully open due to weakness of the nerves that control the muscles surrounding it.
- Chronic Bronchitis when chronic inflammation of the airways gives the dog a dry, hacking cough that worsens with exercise, excitement and over time.
- Cancer of the lungs generally shows up as coughing initially
Diagnosis of persistent coughing
If coughing does not resolve itself in a few days the vet will undertake on or several procedures to determine the underlying cause including:
- Physical examination
- Biochemistry blood test
- Complete blood cell count
- Serology to pinpoint the cause of injection
- BNP test for heart disease
- Chest x-rays
- Ultrasound of the heart
- Measurement of blood pressure
Appropriate treatment can then be prescribed by the vet.
The information contained in VOSD Expert Vet Advice™ is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical action which is provided by your vet. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For any emergency situation related to a dog’s health, please visit the nearest veterinary clinic.