AKC is a participant in affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to akc.org. If you purchase a product through this article, we may receive a portion of the sale.
All dogs cough from time to time — and it’s no surprise with how much as they use their mouths and noses to explore the world. But how do you know if it’s something more and you need to call the veterinarian? While the occasional cough is probably nothing to be concerned about, if your dog is coughing often or in a specific way, it might be worth talking to a vet to rule out something more serious.
Why Do Dogs Cough?
Dogs can cough for something as minor as a tickle in their throat, and unless you’re noticing that your dog is constantly coughing or is having a coughing fit, it’s not always concerning. The cause of your dog’s coughing ranges, and in severe and rarer cases, coughing could be caused by something more serious, like distemper, chronic bronchitis, or cancer in dogs.
Types of Dog Coughing
There are several causes of dog coughing, ranging from something mild to a more serious illness. Each of these coughs can indicate a different issue, but it’s important to have this information to share with your vet. There are four main types of coughs that you might hear from your dog:
- Deep and dry: A deep, dry cough in dogs can be related to dog allergies. In more serious and consistent cases, it could be a sign of chronic bronchitis.
- Deep and honking: This kind of cough could point to an issue in your dog’s upper respiratory system and upper airway.
- Wet and phlegmy: This is often the sign of phlegm in your dog’s system, and could indicate something like pneumonia in serious cases. Wet coughs come from the moisture buildup, often bacteria, in the lungs and lower airways.
- High-pitched gag: If something is stuck in your dog’s throat, they might make a coughing sound similar to this one.
Possible Causes for Dog Coughing
If for any reason your dog’s coughing is out of the ordinary or persistent, you should consult with your veterinarian. While coughing is normal to remove dust or unwanted things they’ve breathed in, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition. Coughing is a sign of all of the following conditions:
Just like humans, dogs can cough if dust or another irritant gets in their throat. While uncommon for dogs, they can get a sore throat, a throat infection or tonsillitis. This can also be the cause of dog allergies, so if coughing continues, take your dog to the vet to get allergy tested.
If something is stuck in your dog’s throat and blocking their airway, they will likely cough to get it out. You’ll usually hear high-pitched gagging if they are trying to remove a foreign object. If you suspect your dog might be choking, you should take your dog to the vet immediately. If the situation cannot wait and you need to remove the object immediately, you should practice emergency choking responses, like CPR for dogs.
Kennel cough is another common cause for why your dog might be coughing, especially if you’re hearing a deep, dry, honking cough. The illness is highly contagious and can move into the lungs and cause pneumonia, so if you have other dogs in the home you’ll want to have them checked as well. Your vet will likely prescribe an antibiotic and cough suppressant, and can often be prevented with the Bordetella vaccine.
Most often seen in young puppies or senior dogs with compromised immune systems, pneumonia is characterized by a wet and phlegmy cough. It can be caused by everything from a bacteria or virus to aspirating something they’ve inhaled. The difference between pneumonia in dogs and other causes on this list is that your dog will likely have difficulty breathing even when they are not coughing if it’s a lung problem.
Dogs can also get the flu, but don’t worry — it’s not the same as humans. Though it’s contagious between dogs, it isn’t transferrable between humans and canines. Your dog will need medication, but the cough can last for up to a month. Some vets also offer a flu vaccine.
If your dog is honking like a goose, they may have a collapsing or collapsed trachea. This occurs when the rings in the trachea or windpipe start to get soft and collapse, blocking the airway. It’s more common in toy breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, and Shih Tzus. If this is what’s going on, you may notice that your dog exhibits the honking if they pull on their collars during walks or when they get excited. Your dog may also have difficulty with exercise, especially when it’s hot and/or humid. Treatments are available and surgery may be recommended in some cases.
Heart Disease or Heart Failure
Heart disease in dogs causes coughing because the heart valves or muscle isn’t pumping blood properly so fluid builds up in the lungs. You’ll typically hear a soft, continuous cough when your dog is on their side or at night, and they will also have decreased energy and stamina throughout the day.
Heartworm is a potentially deadly disease that is spread by mosquitos. The larvae, or microfilaria, get into the bloodstream and can cause lasting damage to the dog’s lungs, heart, and arteries. A mild cough is the first sign of a heartworm infection, followed by a persistent cough and difficulty exercising or running around. It is treatable if caught in time, but the treatment is lengthy, highly restrictive, and expensive. The best way to avoid this is to make sure your dog is on heartworm prevention year-round.
When to Call the Vet
Many of the underlying issues that lead to coughing are treatable, but some can be life-threatening. If you’re concerned about your dog, definitely call the vet if the cough gets worse or lasts longer than a week, if your dog seems more tired than usual, has a fever, or has stopped eating.