Causes of Dog Cough

What is a cough? 

Canine coughing involves a sudden noisy explosion of air through an open mouth. It is often accompanied by an exaggerated effort to breathe in. Coughing is not the same as sneezing which occurs with the mouth closed, or reverse sneezing where the dog makes a lot of noise breathing in and out but doesn’t seem to actually get to the explosive sneeze. Physically, coughing results when something irritates nerves in the throat, windpipe or smaller airways. Canine coughs are characterized as dry and hacking or moist, and as wheezy, harsh or weak. The cough may be chronic or intermittent. Coughing itself dries the throat and leads to more coughing.

Why is my dog coughing? 

Dogs may cough for a variety of reasons ranging from something as simple as drinking water to serious diseases. Kennel Cough or bronchitis, internal parasites like roundworm or heartworm, distemper, fungus diseases, or tuberculosis can cause coughing. Allergies and pollutants such as cigarette smoke may also bring on a cough. Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection. It often strikes dogs in kennels or those who have visited dog shows or veterinary hospitals. 

A dog with kennel cough will typically have a dry, hacking cough but may appear to feel fine otherwise. Treatments may involve antibiotics, rest, and monitoring the dog’s temperature. A humidifier may help the dog to breathe more easily, thereby reducing inflammation and coughing. Herbal supplements may also be used to help the lungs and sinuses to function better. Kennel Cough in puppies and toy breeds can be accompanied by thick secretions that lead to pneumonia. Any dog suspected of Kennel Cough should be isolated to avoid infection of other dogs. Chronic Bronchitis is a cough that has lasted two months or more without any known cause and frequently manifests as a dry or harsh cough – but can also involve gagging or retching to clear the airways. Corticosteroids and cough suppressants may be prescribed. 

Dogs also can be supported with herbal supplements to help rebalance bodies thrown out of balance by the disease or steroid use. Distemper is a serious disease that shows many of the same symptoms as a head cold in humans – dry cough, fever, thick yellow discharge from nose and eyes, and general listlessness. It can be mild in very healthy dogs or fatal in puppies or weakened animals. Vaccines can prevent distemper. Coccidiosis carries symptoms similar to distemper but is a protozoan disease most common among dogs kept in dirty kennels. 

Roundworms cause coughing in puppies from an infected mother or in dogs infected by licking or eating roundworm contaminated soil. Roundworms living in the dog’s intestine migrate through the bloodstream to the lungs, where they crawl up the windpipe and cause coughing. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes and heartworm disease is often fatal to dogs. Once wheezing and coughing appear, the dog already may be severely infected. Heartworm prevention is available. Treatment of heartworm disease is difficult and will involve several weeks of rest along with veterinary treatment, but can be successful if the dog is otherwise in good health. Some dogs respond well to herbal supplements to strengthen and balance the system during treatment. 

A variety of diseases can produce coughing. Tuberculosis is not common in dogs, but can cause a moist and sometimes bloody cough and labored breathing. X-rays will be required for an accurate diagnosis. Fungal disease symptoms are similar to those of tuberculosis but may show up in kenneled dogs where they can inhale fungus spores from bird dung. Congestive Heart Failure may cause a soft cough at night. A dry, honking cough may signal an enlarged heart. In toy breeds, tracheal collapse is common and leads to a dry, honking cough. Tonsillitis can result in dry cough. Pneumonia symptoms can include a soft, productive cough. Pulmonary disease can result in coughing up blood, as can lung cancer or severe inflammatory diseases.

Allergies don’t just affect humans. Dogs too can be allergic to pollen, house dust, molds, insect bites, and foods. Suspect allergies if your dog has been exposed to perfumes, new bedding, recently installed carpeting, or a new type of food. If your dog is experiencing coughing, sneezing, and general itchiness, talk to your veterinarian about possible allergies. 

What should I do about my dog’s cough?

Notice what else is going on with your animal. For example, if your dog only coughs when drinking water, he may be tossing the water toward the back of his throat and triggering a cough response. Watch his other behaviors to determine if there is a need for concern. Mild coughing may be helped by gently massaging the dog’s throat. A humidifier may help a dry cough. Herbs may help to bring the dog’s body back into balance so that it can heal itself more effectively. 

If you have concerns about your dog’s cough, consult your veterinarian. Veterinarians may ask these questions about your pet’s cough to try to determine the specific cause:
  • How old is your dog?
  • How long has he been coughing?
  • Is the cough getting worse?
  • Is the cough harsh and dry or is it moist and productive?
  • Does your dog cough more when it is up and active or when it is lying down?
  • Is your dog having trouble breathing or breathing rapidly?
  • Does your pet sneeze or have a runny nose?
  • Is your pet listless?
  • Does the problem occur seasonally?
  • Has the pet been boarded or groomed recently?
  • Have you noticed any other changes in your pet?