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Why is my dog coughing: 12 possible reasons why

by Vetic Editorial
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“Why is my dog coughing?” “Does my dog have a cold?” “Is coughing in dogs a sign of something stuck in their throat?” – These are some very valid questions dog parents ask veterinarians when their dogs begin coughing, whether chronic or sudden bouts.

Coughing in dogs is indeed concerning, especially if your dog has been coughing for a week or two, and you have no idea why!

A dog can cough just like a human and just like humans there can be multiple reasons why your dog is coughing. 

The cause can depend upon loopholes in your dog’s preventive healthcare, age, breed and weight. Obese flat-faced dogs are more prone to airway obstructions (BOAS) and senior large-breed dogs are more at risk of laryngeal paralysis. 

Why is your dog coughing: 12 possible reasons 

The most common reasons your dog is coughing can be –

  1. Incorrect collar and pulling on the leash
  2. Kennel Cough (KC)
  3. Canine influenza or dog flu
  4. Canine parainfluenza
  5. Heart disease
  6. Pneumonia (lung congestion)
  7. Allergic reactions
  8. Foreign body or food lodged in throat
  9. Heartworm
  10. Tracheal collapse
  11. Laryngeal paralysis
  12. Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)

Self-diagnosis is not recommended since coughing is a common sign of several diseases, disorders and emergencies.

Exploring the 12 reasons your dog is coughing

Expanding on the potential reasons your dog is coughing  –

1. Incorrect collar and pulling on the leash

It is one of the most common reasons for a dog’s intermediate coughing. The incorrect collar type and size combined with a highly energetic dog who pulls on their lead can cause your dog to cough frequently when on a walk. 

Be careful because incorrect collars can cause permanent damage to your dog’s throat and neck. A martingale collar or harness is often a better alternative to conventional dog collars. 

2. Kennel Cough

Infographic titled "Signs of Kennel Cough". Kennel Cough is one of the probably causes why your dog is coughing persistently and loudly. the infographic contains signs of KC including slight fever, chronic high pitched honking cough, nasal or eye discharge, and loss of appetite.

In India, kennel cough is very common among streeties and shelter dogs. Even an unvaccinated house pupper can catch kennel cough (Bordetella sp.) after spending a couple of days at a boarding kennel. 

Coughing due to kennel cough has a typical “honking” sound. It is treatable but dogs do suffer pain and discomfort during the infection period. The only way to protect your dog from kennel cough is by giving them timely vaccinations. 

3. Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)

Dog flu or canine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that causes respiratory tract infection in dogs. While it is prevalent among shelter and streetside dogs, direct contact can make pet dogs vulnerable to canine flu as well. 

Sadly, canine influenza (dog flu) vaccines aren’t yet available in India. So, the veterinarians typically treat the dogs with dog flu according to their symptoms. Canine influenza can take between 7 days and 30 days to resolve. 

4. Canine Parainfluenza

Canine parainfluenza has symptoms similar to influenza. It can be a reason why your dog is coughing, especially if they are unvaccinated. It is a viral lung infection and has no specific treatment. Vets have to offer symptomatic treatment to the affected dog. 

However, parainfluenza in dogs can make a dog or pup more susceptible to bacterial infections, such as Kennel Cough. Always vaccinate your puppy or dog against the common contagious diseases including parainfluenza and Kennel Cough. 

5. Heart Disease(s)

Image of a Shih Tzu lying belly up on the examination table. Only two gloved hands of a person wearing a white lab coat is visible. One hand is cradling the dog's head and the other has a the head of the stethoscope placed at the center of his chest. Physical examination is the first step to knowing why your dog is coughing.

Coughing in dogs is one of the most common signs of heart diseases in dogs. If your dog has a persistent cough with difficulty in breathing it can be a sign of congestive heart failure

However, with modern diagnostics and medication, it is possible to improve the quality of a dog’s life. In case your dog is coughing a lot, you need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

6. Pneumonia (lung congestion)

Pneumonia in dogs is not a disease in itself. It can be a result of infection(s) of the lower respiratory tract. In the cases of pneumonia in dogs the lungs and airways are inflamed. It causes difficulties in breathing leading to chronic cough. 

Pneumonia in dogs is treatable and curable if the cause is identified on time. So, it’s very important to consult a veterinarian if you notice your dog coughing. 

7. Allergies and strong room fresheners 

Just like us dogs can cough due to allergies. Environmental allergens including dust, mites, pollens and strong air fresheners can make your dog cough. 

Allergic cough is typically accompanied by a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. However, these are also common signs of the beginning of a viral infection. You need to consult a vet even if your dog has a history of allergic cough. 

8. Foreign objects stuck in throat

Dogs explore the world through their noses. They often inhale small amounts of dust, grass particles, pollen and inorganic particles. When these irritate their throat, they try to hack and cough. 

In some cases, your dog can cough the irritants out. However, if the cough persists for longer than 24 hours, you should take your dog to a pet clinic that has complete in-house diagnostics. Your dog might need the help of a veterinarian for the removal of the foreign object. 

9. Heartworm

Heartworms are more common than you think in a tropical country like India. Infected mosquitoes transfer heartworm larvae to a dog’s bloodstream and these worms enter the dog’s heart. 

When a dog coughs due to the presence of heartworms they have a loud, honking cough which is somewhat similar to the cough due to Kennel Cough. If your dog is coughing immediately after mild to moderate exercise, there’s a chance your dog has heartworms. 

Heartworms in dogs are treatable depending on the level of infestation. Thankfully, heartworm infection is preventable. 

10. Tracheal collapse

Two people visible on either side of a corgi sitting on the examination table. One is a veterinarian, apparent from their white lab coat and the other one is a veterinary assistant or nurse, apparent from their bright blue scrub. the doctor is holding a chest x-ray of the dog. it is one way to investigate why your dog is coughing.

Tracheal collapse (collapse of the windpipe) is an emergency in dogs. Coughing due to tracheal collapse is persistent, dry and harsh. Coughing almost always leads to wheezing due to difficulty in breathing. The dog’s gums and tongue may turn blue due to the lack of enough oxygen. 

Although it is an emergency, correct and timely treatment for tracheal collapse can save a dog’s life. Hence, never take loud “honking” cough combined with breathing difficulties lightly in any dog irrespective of breed, age and size. Always take them to an emergency veterinary clinic. 

11. Laryngeal paralysis

Larger breeds, such as the Labrador Retriever are more prone to laryngeal paralysis as compared to others. The most common initial signs include coughing after exercise, wheezing, excessive panting and a change in the barking sound. 

Thankfully, it is more common in senior dogs and the dogs with laryngeal paralysis live their expected lifespan without any compromise in their quality of life. However, it’s only possible with proper diagnosis and professional medical help. 

12. BOAS

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) is a lifelong disorder that affects most dogs with brachycephaly. Brachycephalic or flat-faced breeds include the Pug, French Bulldog, Chow Chow, Boxer, English Bulldog, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and Chihuahua.

Coughing is a sign of BOAS, which often progresses to breathing difficulties, exercise intolerance, chronic snoring and gagging while eating. There are a few corrective surgeries to reduce the discomforts including coughing. However, it is not very common in India. 

Lifestyle adjustments and keeping your dog at a healthy bodyweight can help you reduce coughing in your dog. 

Your dog is coughing: Here’s what you should do!

You need to keep a close eye on your dog’s coughing frequency and triggers. 

1. Taking a video of your dog while they cough can also help the veterinarian reach a conclusion. 

2. Make notes of the fluids coming out of your dog’s mouth during a coughing episode. The fluids can be plain water, foam, mucous and/or blood. (Take videos)

3. You should NEVER use human cough syrups and anti-allergic for your dog’s coughing without consulting a veterinarian. Human cough and cold medicines can be very harmful for dogs.

4. Always seek the advice of a veterinarian on an emergency basis even if you are sure it is nothing but a mild cold. 

Diagnosis: How will the vet know why my dog is coughing?

The veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination including checking the colour of your dog’s gums, pulse rate, capillary refill time and pain response. 

In almost all cases, your veterinarian will recommend blood tests, biochemistry tests and/or imaging tests to find the exact cause of your dog’s coughing. 

The recommended tests will depend on the veterinarian’s observation and your dog’s health condition. 

Since a dog’s coughing can be a sign of more than one illness or disorder, your veterinarian will likely cover all grounds before giving a confirmed diagnosis.

Treatment for coughing in dogs

The treatment for coughing in dogs will depend upon the diagnosis. Different diseases and conditions will have different treatments. 

Never try to medicate your dog on your own even if you think it’s just an allergy or a minor infection. Human medication can have several unwanted side-effects, which may make your dog sicker. 

When should you see the vet? 

You should consult a veterinarian near you if –

  • Your dog has been coughing for longer than 24 hours
  • Coughing is keeping your dog from playing and exercising
  • Coughing is interrupting your dog’s sleep 
  • Your dog is having breathing problems 
  • Your dog is throwing up mucous and/or blood while coughing 
  • The dog has a fever as well
  • You notice your dog’s gums turn pale or blue 

Changing colours of the mucous membranes and breathing difficulties are not situations where you wait and watch. These are all signs of emergencies in pets that you must attend to immediately. 

Contact your emergency veterinary services for immediate attention if your dog’s cough is sudden and not going away.

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