Every dog or puppy coughs from time to time — and it’s no surprise as 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.
Causes of Dog Coughing
There are several causes of dog coughing, ranging from something mild to a more serious illness.
But first, let’s look at the four main types of coughs that you might hear from your dog:
- Deep and dry
- Deep and honking
- Wet and phlegmy
- High-pitched gag
Each of these coughs can indicate a different issue, but it’s important to have this information to share with your vet.
Irritated Throat or Choking
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, but a bigger concern is that something is stuck in your dog’s throat and blocking their airway. You’ll usually hear high-pitched gagging with irritation or foreign object and you should take your dog to the vet immediately.
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 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 and isn’t transferrable between humans and canines (it is contagious from dogs to dogs, though). 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 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.
Less common causes of dog cough include:
- Chronic bronchitis
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 puppy or dog, definitely call the vet if the cough gets worse or lasts longer than a week, your dog seems more tired than usual, has a fever, or has stopped eating.