Common Causes of Coughing in Dogs

dog in park on bench

Common Causes of Coughing in Dogs

Why is my Dog Coughing?

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

The following are a few of the most common conditions that may cause coughing in canines.

Common Causes Of Coughing In Dogs

Respiratory Infections And Kennel Cough

Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites can all cause coughing in infected dogs. These infectious agents can target the entire airway from the upper respiratory tract down into the lungs causing several different conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia depending on the specific infection.2

Kennel cough is the most common infectious cause of coughing though it may not always be attributed to just one agent. Sometimes, Kennel cough in dogs can be caused by multiple different viruses or bacteria.2

Dogs with Kennel cough tend to have a deep, dry, hacking cough along with possible sneezing, snorting, gagging and in some cases, vomiting.3

Contact with other dogs is the primary way to get the highly contagious viral or bacterial infection that causes Kennel cough. Be aware for symptoms if your dog has been boarded recently or has been exposed to large numbers of other dogs, such as at a dog park.4

dog sleeping on bed

Chronic Bronchitis and Coughing

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.

Treatment options for chronic bronchitis focus on managing the inflammatory response. Inhaled corticosteroids are the preferred anti-inflammatory format for long term management of the condition. Unlike oral steroids and injectable formats, inhaled medications target the lungs directly and do not cause the same side-effects (e.g., excess urination, aggression, lethargy). One of the more common inhaled steroids prescribed is fluticasone proprionate (also known as Flovent HFA and Flixotide HFA, GSK).5

Inhaled bronchodilators may also be prescribed. Versions of bronchodilators that are rapid acting with short-term effects, such as salbutamol and albuterol, may be used in cases of respiratory distress to open constricted airways. These short acting bronchodilator medications should not be used as the only therapy as they do not treat the underlying inflammation. In some cases, a long-acting inhaled bronchodilator may be prescribed in a combination format with an inhaled steroid. An example of this is Advair HFA (GSK), which includes the long acting bronchodilator salmeterol and the inhaled corticosteroid fluticasone.

All of these inhaled medications can be administered to your dog using a device like the AeroDawg* Chamber, which is designed to capture and hold the medication until your dog is ready to inhale.5 Chronic bronchitis is a lifetime condition and needs to be managed regularly to minimize symptoms. Keep administering medication as prescribed by your veterinarian even in the absence of symptoms to keep inflammation down and prevent progressive lung damage.

Collapsed Trachea And Coughing

dog looking over shoulder

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.2

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.3 Weight control and using a harness instead of a collar are two options that could help prevent tracheal collapse.4

Inhaled medications delivered with an AeroDawg* chamber may be used to treat dogs with tracheal collapse. In particular, inhaled bronchodilators (e.g., albuterol and salbutamol) to dilate or open the airways and inhaled steroids (e.g., fluticasone) to decrease inflammation of the airways. Other treatment options may include medications that suppress coughing and treat secondary infections. In severe cases surgery may be required.2

Heart Disease And Coughing

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.3

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.3

Reverse Sneeze

Small dogs and flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds may make cough-like or choking sounds caused by what is termed reversed sneezing.2 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.

dog bronchitis coughing

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.3

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.2

Foreign Objects And Coughing

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.

Other Conditions That Cause Coughing

There are other conditions that can cause your dog to cough. In these cases, the cough is just the symptom of the other condition. Examples include heartworm disease and some types of cancer. Persistent coughs should be investigated by a veterinarian to help ensure the wellness of your dog.

What to Expect at the Vet’s Office?

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.

Diagnosing a Coughing Dog

Your vet will perform a physical and may ask some of these common questions:

  • How long have the symptoms been present?
  • Is the cough wet or dry?
  • Have you noticed any other symptoms besides the cough?
  • Has your dog been around other dogs who have a cough?
  • Is your dog more lethargic than usual?

Further evaluation may include some combination of the following diagnostic tests depending on the specific situation:

  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal examination
  • Chest x-rays (CT scan)
  • An examination of fluid samples taken from the airways
  • Echocardiography (an ultrasound of the heart)
  • Measurement of blood pressure
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG)

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.

dog running

Pay Attention to Your Dog's Cough

Although relatively common, coughing in dogs can be a sign of more serious issues that can be life-threatening in some cases. If the cough is severe, gets worse, or does not improve over a week, then book an appointment with your veterinarian. If you notice symptoms of lethargy, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite, or other potentially serios symptoms, then call your veterinarian immediately.2 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.

Take the Canine Bronchitis Assessment to see if your dog could have chronic bronchitis.

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1. “Dog Coughing: Types and Causes.” WebMD, WebMD,




5. Carey, SA. Current Therapy for Canine Chronic Bronchitis. Michigan State University.…