Is Your Dog Coughing?

This guide will help determine causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Coughing is as common in dogs as it is in people. It could occur due to a number of reasons, but most often, the body can naturally recover. In some cases though, if the coughing persists (for over a week) or is severe (when the dog is hacking or makes choking sounds) immediate medical attention is required. Some of the several causes of the coughing as identified by veterinarians include:

Cough induced by infection(s)

Dogs have highly sensitive olfactory functions — this increases the possibility of infection in the respiratory tract due to various viruses, bacteria and fungi. The infection could occur in the lung tissue (commonly referred to as pneumonia), in the airway (referred to as bronchitis), or as a combination of both (referred to as bronchopneumonia).

One such illness is ‘kennel cough’, which is similar to a common cold in humans. Dogs “catch” kennel cough when they inhale bacteria or virus particles. This infects their respiratory tract and results in inflammation of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe), causing the dog to cough. Kennel cough is highly contagious between dogs — often, the body can heal naturally within a week but if the cough persists, please consult a veterinarian.

In case of a bacterial infection, the doctor might prescribe antibiotics along with a cough suppressant (human cough suppressants will do) if the symptoms are severe. Viral infections are different, and generally have to run their course despite medication. If fungi or other parasites have caused kennel cough, the medication will differ from one dog to another.

Heart diseases can cause cough

A dog can suffer from many heart conditions such as mitral valve endocarditis, dilated cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. These weaken and (or) thicken the heart muscle, or cause fluid accumulation. Naturally, it increases pressure on the lungs and airways, which causes the dog to cough. Depending on the type of heart disease determined by the veterinarian, medication to normalize blood pressure, improve heart rate, and reduce fluid build-up will be prescribed. It has to be combined with the right diet and exercise to improve the dog’s health.

Reverse sneezing

Humans breathe out while sneezing, but most dogs breathe in. This is known as reverse sneezing, and occurs in clusters when something irritates the back of their nasal passage. Dog owners may mistake reverse sneezing for coughing. If it occurs rarely, there’s nothing to worry about, but if it becomes severe, violent or frequent, the dog should be seen by a veterinarian.

Coughing out a foreign object

A dog will try to cough out any foreign object or particle trapped in its airway. The coughing sound in this case will be different — like a human trying to vomit with force — because the dog will try to keep its mouth open, without pausing to inhale. If you can safely check its mouth to remove the object, please do so; else, consult a veterinarian. 

Other causes of coughing

Coughing can be due to many other reasons such as:

  • Collapsing trachea: This occurs especially in small dogs, where the weakening of the cartilage rings (that partially encircle the trachea) causes it to collapse in on itself, causing a chronic cough 
  • Laryngeal paralysis: 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: Chronic inflammation of the airways gives the dog a dry, hacking cough that worsens with exercise, excitement and over time.
  • Cancer of the lungs, which generally begins with coughing

Diagnosing a persistent cough

If coughing does not resolve itself in a few days, the vet will undertake certain procedures to determine the underlying cause. This could include:

  • Physical examination
  • Biochemistry blood test
  • Complete blood cell count
  • Serology to pinpoint the cause of injection
  • BNP test for heart disease
  • Urinalysis
  • Chest x-rays
  • Ultrasound of the heart
  • Measurement of blood pressure
  • ECG

Appropriate treatment can then be prescribed by the veterinarian. 

Do you find this information valuable? Visit VOSD for comprehensive medical advice.

The information contained in VOSD 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.