Much like humans, dogs cough for a lot of different reasons, some mostly harmless, and some quite serious. Generally speaking, if your dog only coughs once in a blue moon and it passes quickly, there’s generally no cause for concern. The occasional cough can often times be a normal occurrence.
If your canine family member is coughing a lot or has intense coughing spells, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. A persistent cough is a red flag that your dog probably has an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. My best advice is do not wait too long before having your dog check by a Veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment can be vital to your pet's health.
Let's review some of the common causes of coughing.
Even though we are focusing on common causes for coughing, I wanted to talk about reverse sneezing since it closely mimics a dog coughing or choking. Reverse sneezing is a very common condition that we see in dogs. It is more commonly seen in small breeds and brachycephalic (short face) breeds. This can largely be due to their anatomy. While they have all the normal anatomy of the upper respiratory tract, it is crammed into a much smaller space.
A reverse sneeze occurs when there is a spasm in the throat and soft palate. This can be induced by a number of things such as: excitement, heavy exercise, a collar that is fitting too tight, inhaled irritant, environmental allergens or pollen, and sometimes a sudden change in temperature.
With a normal sneeze, the dog is pushing air out through the nose. The exact opposite happens with a reverse sneeze (hence the name). With reverse sneezing, air is pulled into the nose very rapidly making a loud noise. It can be quite alarming if you have never seen it before. Often pet owners will report they feel their dog is choking or having trouble breathing.
Most cases of reverse sneezing don’t require treatment. If the sneezing becomes chronic or episodes become more frequent or longer in duration, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out other potential health problems.
Persistent coughs in an otherwise healthy dog can sometimes be due to kennel cough or another similar bacterial/viral infection. Dogs will commonly present to the clinic with a persistent deep, dry, hacking cough. Sometimes at the end of the coughing spell, dogs will vomit a white, foamy substance that may even contain bile. Symptoms may not be as prominent when the dog is at rest but can worsen with any physical activity.
Most dogs experience this after coming into contact with other dogs in a common area such as a boarding facility, dog park, grooming facility, or pet party. Symptoms usually appear anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure and can last for 2-3 weeks.
Most of these infections are mild and resolve without medical intervention but occasionally medical management is necessary. On the positive side, most dogs act completely normal other than the cough. Most still maintain a normal activity level and healthy appetite.
Complete recovery from kennel cough can take up to three weeks in healthy dogs, and twice as long in older pets and those with underlying or concurrent health conditions. Puppies can also take a bit longer to recover since their immune system is not as developed. Serious cases can result in pneumonia so it is always advised to have your dog checked by a Veterinarian to ensure other causes are not present.
Collapsing Trachea has a very distinct sounding cough. The cough is often described as sounding like the dog is honking like a goose. Dogs will typically have an extended neck while they are doing this honking cough. It occurs more commonly in small breed dogs and can be either congenital or acquired. The Yorkie and Pomeranian are 2 breeds I see this is condition in more than others.
Dogs with the condition also typically show signs of exercise intolerance, respiratory distress and gagging while eating or drinking. Dogs with collapsing trachea can vary from mild to severe where the pet is in obvious respiratory distress and struggling to breathe. Diagnosis can be difficult with radiographs and may require advanced imaging techniques.
We take this condition very seriously. Medical management is successful in many cases but there are a percentage of cases that need more advanced therapy. I have personally had cases so severe that it required tracheal stent placement just for the dog to be able to breathe.
With coughing, it is easy to assume it is always respiratory in origin. However, coughing can also be a symptom of heart disease in dogs. Signs of heart disease could include: lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, persistent cough, exercise intolerance, weakness, fainting, abnormal heart beat. Dogs with heart disease will often exhibit clinical signs even while at rest. If this is occurring, it could be a sign that the heart disease is progressing.
Treatment of heart disease in dogs depends on a variety of factors including the severity of the problem, the age and health of the animal, cost of treatment and other considerations. Diagnostics procedures could include: blood work, urinalysis, radiographs of the chest and abdomen, ECG, and echocardiogram. A visit to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist can provide more information about the severity of your dog's condition. Early intervention with heart disease is crucial to getting your dog on the appropriate therapy so they have the best quality of life possible.
Other conditions that can cause coughing in your dog include pneumonia, bronchitis, fibrosis, lung parasites, heart worm disease, and different types of primary and secondary cancers. If your dog has a cough that is not resolving in a timely manner, please have your dog checked by your Veterinarian. Many of these conditions are completely treatable but the longer you wait, the more chance for irreversible damage to occur. Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM