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Why Is My Dog Coughing and What Should I Do About It?

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Have you ever heard your dog cough? It's something that nearly all of our canine companions do every now and then. Similar to sneezing or scratching, it's one of those things that your dog does that you likely don't think about until it seems like a problem.

The occasional cough isn't something to worry about. Just like you, your dog might emit a cough every once in a while if something is tickling their windpipe or if they just feel the need to clear their throat. 

But when coughing becomes persistent or sounds like something more than the standard throat-clearing cough, there might be cause for concern. To find the solution, you need to learn about the different types of canine coughs you might hear, what causes them, and how to deal with the problem. 

Do you find yourself asking "Why is my dog coughing?" Read on to find out why and what to do next. 

Types of Dog Coughing

When your dog is coughing and it catches your ear, pay attention to exactly what you're hearing. When you can describe your dog's cough to your veterinarian in detail, it makes diagnosing the problem and treating it far easier. Plus, you'll be able to make a quick determination at home about whether or not your dog's cough is just a quick throat-clearing or is something that might indicate a more serious health problem. 

There are few common types of coughs that you might hear from your canine friend:

  • Honking coughs. You'll hear a throaty "honk" sound, almost like the noise a goose makes. 
  • Wet coughs. This sounds like a moisture-filled cough, as if your dog is coughing up phlegm.
  • Hacking coughs. Hacking coughs sound like your dog is trying to emit something from their throat or mouth, but there isn't any moisture involved. 
  • Gagging coughs. This is when your dog emits a gag or multiple gags during the coughing episode.

Also be sure to make a note of the consistency and duration of your dog's coughing. That way, you can inform your veterinarian about whether your dog is experiencing a persistent cough or a few random coughs here and there, whether the cough happens only after physical exercise or occurs at any time of day, etc.  

Once your veterinarian is told about your dog's coughing symptoms and performs a physical examination of your pet, he or she will probably be able to tell you what's causing your pup's coughing spells. Let's take a look at some of the most common causes. 

Common Causes of Dog Coughing

Why is my dog coughing outside

Most of the time, the occasional cough is just that: Your dog coughing in the same way that you do, perhaps to clear your throat or get rid of a bit of dust, saliva, or other irritants tickling your windpipe. 

But sustained or problematic coughing in dogs always has some kind of explanation. Here are some of the most common causes of coughing in dogs.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, known medically as infectious tracheobronchitis, is one of the leading causes of coughing in dogs. It causes the telltale "honking" cough that sounds almost goose-like. Kennel cough is caused by a number of bacteria or viruses, including the common Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, and it's very contagious. That's where kennel cough gets its name — it can spread easily in areas where multiple dogs congregate, like kennels or dog parks.

Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse is another common cause of the honking cough. It's just what it sounds like: The trachea collapses in on itself, occurring when the rings of cartilage that surround the trachea weaken. This phenomenon most often affects small breed dogs and toy breeds, but it can occur in other dogs as well. It's especially likely to occur if your dog pulls against their collar during walks, and it can be more likely to occur in obese dogs or during hot and humid weather. 

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a serious viral disease that affects a dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. A persistent cough is one of the most common symptoms. While it's a very serious disease, it can be easily prevented with the canine distemper vaccination, which your dog should already get with their regular vaccines. 

Foreign Bodies in the Esophagus 

If you get something stuck in your throat, you cough. So does your dog. Foreign objects stuck in your dog's throat will, of course, make him or her cough in response. A foreign body stuck in the esophagus can be a very serious issue because it can block airflow. 

Heart Disease

Various conditions are included under the "umbrella" term of heart disease, including dilated cardiomyopathy, heartworm disease, and congestive heart failure. These conditions sometimes cause a cough, usually on the "wetter" end of the sound spectrum. These are serious health concerns, so it's important to report a wet cough to your veterinarian right away. 

Pneumonia 

Pneumonia is a respiratory infection of your dog's lungs and air pathways, usually caused by a bacterial infection. It's also possible for pneumonia to be a symptom of another disease, like kennel cough or canine influenza. Be aware that older dogs are at a higher risk for pneumonia than most dogs, although any dog can be affected.  

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis refers to an inflammation of the bronchi, or mucous membranes, in your dog's lungs. While an exact cause of chronic bronchitis can't always be determined, it can cause serious problems for dogs, including a persistent, dry, hacking cough.

Allergies

Did you know that allergies can also be the underlying cause of your dog's coughing? Environmental allergens like pollen, dust, grass, mold, or even something like cigarette smoke could cause your dog's body to react in various ways, including coughing.

How To Respond to Your Dog's Cough

You've probably guessed the best course of action to take when you hear your dog coughing: Let your veterinarian know. It's always better to play it safe than be sorry. 

Again, it's important to pay attention to the type of cough your dog is emitting, and what (if any) circumstances surround the episode of coughing. Ask yourself:

  • What does my dog's cough sound like? Is it a hacking cough? A wet or dry cough? A goose honk? 
  • How long does my dog's coughing last? Is it one cough every now and then, or a persistent cough that won't quit? 
  • When does my dog's coughing happen? Does it occur after vigorous exercise? Only when Fido comes in from the outdoors? At any time, seemingly for no reason? 
  • Are there other symptoms present? Are you noticing things like sneezing, runny nose, weight loss, loss of appetite, or refusal to exercise in addition to coughing? 

Armed with the answers to these questions, you and your veterinarian can work together to go about treating your dog's coughing problem. 

Treating Fido's Cough

Coughing puppy lays down

As you might imagine, the treatment for your dog's cough will depend on what's causing it. 

When an illness is caused by a bacterial infection, as might be the case with kennel cough, chronic bronchitis, or pneumonia, your vet will prescribe antibiotics. Viral infections usually have to run their course until your dog is healthy again, but supportive measures — like fluid replacement to prevent dehydration and replenish electrolytes — can help them feel more comfortable. 

A parasitic infestation like heartworm disease will require a deworming regimen and then preventative medications to stop the same thing from happening again. Tracheal collapse might require surgery to correct it in severe cases, or medications may help your pooch experience this phenomenon less often. And if your dog is coughing because of allergies, medications or allergy supplements can help reduce the symptoms your canine friend experiences.  

No matter the cause of your dog's coughing problem, cough suppressants can usually help your dog cough less often. 

So, Why Is My Dog Coughing, Exactly? 

We've seen that a great variety of medical issues could be the root cause of your dog's coughing. Or, it might be something as simple as your dog clearing their throat. 

If your dog's coughing sounds problematic or if it won't stop, it's time to call the vet. As soon as you're concerned with your dog's behavior, getting in touch with your veterinarian is the right move. That way, you know your dog will be safe and healthy. 

Visit the PetHonesty blog for more great tips on your dog's health and wellness needs.