It can undoubtedly be alarming when you hear your dog cough. When your pup starts hacking, you want to do whatever you can to make them feel better. Just like with humans, however, there are many causes of canine coughing.
Here is a rundown of the most common reasons why dogs cough, and what you should do to address it.
There are several reasons why your dog may be coughing, and it takes keen observation and a consultation with a vet to get to the bottom of it.
“The first question we ask when we see a coughing dog in practice is whether it is cardiac or respiratory in origin,” explains Dr. Yui Shapard. “These two categories are the primary differentiator of how to initially approach this type of case and help us diagnose the cause and treat or manage the underlying problem.”
Coughing is often a secondary symptom if your dog has a heart problem. If your dog’s heart is enlarged, for example, your pup’s lungs may be affected as well. Heart failure can also cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs, which also results in a cough.
Fluid in the lungs (and the associated cough), however, can also be caused by other things such as upper airway obstruction, which is a common ailment for breeds like bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, and frenchies. Chewing on electrical cords can cause fluid in the lungs as well.
Kennel cough is one of the most common reasons why your dog may be coughing, especially if your pup goes to dog parks regularly or has recently been groomed or boarded. If your dog has a wet-sounding cough, they might have a chronic case of kennel cough that has worsened over time, or possibly pneumonia.
Allergies can also be the cause of your pup’s respiratory problems, especially if your dog lives in a home with someone who smokes or has an air diffuser.
“Depending on the region you live in, there are also respiratory fungal disease such as Aspergillosis or Blastomycosis that can turn very serious if left untreated,” adds Dr. Shapard.
Other possible causes for your dog’s cough include cancer (your vet can take an x-ray of their lungs to rule this out), a collapsed trachea, laryngeal paralysis, and having a foreign body like a foxtail embedded in their throat (something that is commonly seen in California).
Finally, if your dog recently had surgery with general anesthesia you may notice your dog coughing post-surgery.
“This is due to irritation from having an endotracheal tube placed into their trachea to aid in breathing while they are asleep during surgery,” says Dr. Shapard. “Usually a few days of recovery time is all they need for the cough to resolve.”
If your dog is coughing, you should make a vet appointment as soon as you can so a veterinarian can assess the severity of the cough as well as its underlying cause. It’s also important to keep your pup away from other dogs until then in case they have a virus like kennel cough that is contagious.
If your dog has heart disease, your vet will manage this cardiac condition as well as prescribe a diuretic medication to remove any fluid build-up. In cases where the fluid build-up is severe, your vet may need to physically remove the fluids in the hospital.
“If it is a mild kennel cough, then for the most part all we usually recommend is a wait-and-see approach with perhaps a cough suppressant to keep your dog comfortable,” says Dr. Shapard. “Antibiotics are not necessary unless a secondary bacterial infection is suspected since kennel cough is a viral disease and antibiotics are not effective in treating a virus.”
Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria or a fungus, and the treatment varies accordingly.
“For pneumonia that are bacterial in origin, the treatment is usage of appropriate antibiotics,” explains Dr. Shapard. “It is important for us to know what bacteria we are dealing with, so ideally a sample is extracted from the airway so we can figure out what antibiotics to use. Some antibiotics penetrate the lungs better than others, so it is important that appropriate antibiotics are used to not only effectively treat the underlying problem, but also to avoid further antimicrobial resistance, a significant global concern that affects not only animal health, but human health as well.”
If your dog’s pneumonia is caused by a fungal infection, your vet will prescribe antifungal therapy.
If your vet determines your dog’s cough is a result of allergies, they may prescribe immunotherapy shots to help make them more immune to the allergen.
Your vet can treat a collapsed trachea either surgically or medically depending on the severity, though prescribing medication like cough suppressants is the more common approach.
Your vet may recommend surgery if your pup has laryngeal paralysis, as the condition can lead to emergency respiratory failure if left untreated. It’s also possible, however, that small changes like using a harness instead of a collar can significantly reduce your dog’s symptoms.
Whatever the cause of dog coughing may be, the good news is that your vet and Pawp are here to support you. The experts at Pawp are available 24/7 to answer any specific questions you may have. No wait times or appointment necessary.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS and Medical Director at Pawp