Your dog may be coughing for a number of reasons. While coughing is not always a concern, if your dog is coughing repeatedly over a long period of time, it can be a sign of an underlying respiratory condition.
Generally, an occasional cough is a normal behavior. If your dog exhibits signs of regular repeated coughing, what would be called a chronic cough, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian.1
What Makes a Dog Cough
When irritants, dust, mucus, or other particles enter the airways, a protective reflex is triggered to try to get rid of them. This reflex is a cough: an attempt to keep the airways clear.2
Coughing in dogs can occur for a number of reasons. While a cough isn’t a condition or disease itself, it can be a sign of an underlying problem.
Canine chronic bronchitis produces a dry, hacking cough in dogs that worsens with exercise and excitement. It is caused by persistent inflammation of the airways. Inflammation swells the lining of the airways and produces mucus which further narrows the passages in the lungs. Exposure to airborne pollutants and irritants such as cigarette smoke, are thought to lead to the disease. Chronic bronchitis in dogs is considered a progressive disease that will worsen with time and requires regular management to help ensure the best quality of life possible.
Small dogs are at a greater risk of experiencing a collapsed trachea. This is when the cartilage rings that partially encircle the trachea weaken and are no longer strong enough to support the trachea. It collapses on itself creating a narrow passageway that air is forced through producing a tell-tale honking sound similar to a goose honk.
Tracheal collapse causes irritation and a chronic cough. Dogs with the condition will often also have exercise intolerance, respiratory distress, and may gag while eating or drinking. Weight control and using a harness instead of a collar are two options that could help prevent tracheal collapse.
Coughing may be a sign of heart disease in dogs. Other symptoms to look for include a blue tinged tongue, reduced appetite, tiredness, weakness, lower endurance, rapid or depressed heartbeat, and difficulty breathing.
Take your dog to the vet if you notice these symptoms. If already diagnosed with heart disease, pay attention to when your dog is coughing. If your dog coughs when he is resting, lying down, or asleep, it could be a sign of a worsening condition.
Small dogs and flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds may make cough-like or choking sounds caused by what is termed reversed sneezing. In a reverse sneeze, air is inhaled rapidly and noisily through the nose as compared to a regular sneeze where air is expelled through the nose.
While not actually a cough, reverse sneezing is triggered by an irritant that causes the throat and soft palate to spasm. Irritants can include postnasal drainage, foreign material, excitement, exercise, a too tight collar, or sudden change in temperature.
Generally, reverse sneezing does not require a visit to your veterinarian. However, if they become severe or frequent then your dog should be taken to the animal clinic to diagnose for other potential health complications.
Sometimes dogs may inhale foreign objects or material that gets lodged in their airways. Coughs that become suddenly violent or sound like gagging, possibly including attempts to swallow and frequent lip licking could be a sign that something has become stuck in your dog’s throat.
If the cough can’t be cleared in short order, then a visit to your veterinarian is warranted to help remove the foreign material.
Before visiting your vet, take note of any other signs or symptoms your dog has shown in addition to the cough. If possible, try to take a video of your dog coughing at home to show the vet. Your vet will want to know as much as possible in order to properly diagnose and treat your pet.
Although relatively common, coughing in dogs can be a sign of a more serious issue that can be life-threatening in some cases. If you are unsure if your dog’s cough warrants a visit to the vet, always err on the side of caution and take them regardless.
Does Your dog Have Bronchitis?
Take the Canine Bronchitis Assessment to see if your dog could have bronchitis.