Written by Ella White
Like humans, dogs cough or sneeze to clear their airways and get rid of any dust they’ve breathed in. It’s a natural response to irritation, which dogs are even more prone to since they follow their nose and are constantly sniffing around.
So a lot of the time, when you notice your dog coughing, they are probably just clearing their throat. However, there are other causes of dogs coughing, which can usually be identified by the type of cough and its sound and consistency.
In this article we’ll answer the question ‘why do dogs cough?’ and arm owners with knowledge of the causes, symptoms, and potential treatments to be aware of.
The odd cough or throat clearing is perfectly normal in dogs, as their nose and mouth can pick up dust, germs, and other irritants. Usually, this will present as a few small coughs that happen irregularly as they clear their nose or throat.
If your dog pulls on their lead, their collar can cause pressure around their windpipe which can lead to coughing. The best way to prevent this is to increase their lead training or, in front-heavy breeds like French Bulldogs, try a harness that will remove any pressure from their throat.
Some dogs also cough when they are excited or anxious. In smaller breeds in particular, excitement and fear can cause them to breathe at a rate that their airways can’t keep up with. This could also be caused by the shape of their airways, which might need to be treated with surgery. Or in severe cases it could be a symptom of a collapsed trachea.
However, if you notice your dog coughing repetitively, or if there is any change to the sound of their cough and the pattern of their breathing, the cause may be something more serious.
If your dog’s cough becomes dry and hacking, moist and phlegmy, deep and almost honking, gagging, or if they’re coughing in their sleep, one of these conditions could be the cause.
A common cause of coughing in dogs is Kennel Cough, a contagious disease that can be prevented by vaccinations. Kennel Cough presents as a deep, honking cough and can also lead to hacking and gagging. It can be picked up at dog parks, shelters, day cares, and anywhere where lots of dogs interact in close proximity with one another.
Though easily spreadable, the prognosis for dogs with Kennel Cough is good. Though it sounds distressing – and won’t feel great for your dog either – the symptoms should subside in under three weeks.
Take your dog for a check up at the vets (but let them know you suspect kennel cough as it’s highly contagious), where they might be prescribed antibiotics or a medicine to suppress their cough. But as long as they have no other worrying symptoms, Kennel Cough should be easy for them to recover from.
When the cartilage of the windpipe becomes weak, it can collapse. This makes it difficult for a dog to breathe and can result in vomiting accompanied by a dry cough. Collapsed trachea is more common in small dogs like Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers.
If you think your dog is coughing because of a collapsed windpipe, take them to the vet for treatment immediately.
Just like with humans, bronchitis is caused by an inflammation in the airways. It can develop as a result of allergies, viruses, and bacterial infections all of which can result in coughing. Bronchitis can also cause wheezing, coughing up phlegm or fluids, and lost appetite and energy.
If you think this is the cause of your dog’s cough, and they are displaying any other symptoms, take them to the vet. The most likely treatment will be a prescription of antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication. Like kennel cough, as long as your dog is usually fit and healthy, they’ll likely recover with no lasting side effects.
If your dog has something lodged in their throat, their choking may sound like deep, hacking coughs. Check whether your dog is able to breathe or swallow as normal, and take them to the vet immediately if you’re unable to unblock their airway.
Canine Distemper is an airborne virus that can easily be prevented with a vaccine. Distemper attacks the respiratory system so can lead to severe coughing that sounds like retching in infected dogs.
It’s important to take your dog to the vet immediately if you think they have Distemper, as if left untreated the results can be severe and even fatal. However, it can be treated, though it could take up to two months for your dog to make a full recovery.
Bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancer, respiratory disease, and infection caused by foreign bodies like dirt and grass seeds can all cause coughing in dogs.
To ensure a correct diagnosis and the best treatment, seek advice from your vet. The most common treatment for dog coughing caused by lung problems is a course of antibiotics, however other medication and even surgery could be recommended.
Some heart conditions, like leaky valves and congestive heart failure, can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs that leads to excessive coughing. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and medications can all help relieve the symptoms of these conditions.
Heartworms, spread by mosquitoes, are another heart illness that can cause coughing. Though easily prevented with a vaccine, heartworms in dogs can also be killed with a 12-month course of medication. This treatment is both expensive, and tough on your dog. So it’s recommended that all dog owners have their pets vaccinated against worms.
All that sniffing and licking that dogs do while they’re exploring the world through their noses can easily pick up and spread viruses. From germs to dirt and bacteria to fungal and yeast infections, there are plenty of ways that dogs can contract illnesses from one another and even from the air. And if your dog’s into coprophagia, you’ve got a whole other world of germs to contend with.
If you think your dog is coughing because of a bacterial infection or virus, a vet will likely prescribe antibiotics or other medication as a cure.
As we’ve already covered, a number of the conditions that cause coughing in dogs are cause for a visit to the vets. However, if your dog is continuously coughing and you can’t work out why, there are some factors to consider before seeking medical attention.
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ then you should consider consulting a vet to get to the root of the problem. Some external factors that can also cause coughing in dogs include:
Your vet might ask about these situations in order to gather an idea about the causes that could be affecting your pet’s condition. In some cases, they will have had no impact on their health but as with any illness, it’s always best to answer your vet’s questions as accurately and truthfully as possible.
If your dog spends time at doggy day care, goes out with a dog walker or has been to the groomer recently, reach out to them and ask if any of their other clients have developed a cough. Any reputable business owner will want to help their clients out.
In almost all cases, a dog’s cough is easy to treat. Once the cause of the cough has been diagnosed, your vet will either reassure you that it will pass, recommend some home remedies to soothe the symptoms, prescribe medication, or suggest corrective surgeries.
More often than not, your dog will just need some TLC and extra cuddles for a while. It’s not uncommon for dogs to hide any pain or discomfort they’re feeling. Make sure you know when your pup’s just trying to be stoic and when they need to see the vet.
Your vet will diagnose the symptoms based on physical examinations and tests, often to rule out worst-case scenarios at the same time as identifying the cause. They will then recommend the best course of treatment based on the findings of their examinations.