Why Is My Dog Coughing?

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When humans cough, it’s usually to clear our throat or perhaps because we have a cold. A persistent cough can sometimes signal something more serious, such as pneumonia or lung cancer.

In dogs, a cough can signal a number of different problems. The type of cough, and sometimes your dog’s breed or circumstances, can be clues to the cause of the cough. Here’s what you need to know when you hear your dog cough.

Coughs and Causes

Dogs with canine cough, more commonly known as kennel cough, tend to have a deep, dry, hacking cough. The cough usually gets worse with exertion. If your dog has been boarded recently or has been in some other situation where he has been in contact with large numbers of dogs, he may have picked up this highly contagious viral or bacterial infection.

Sometimes dogs have sort of a high-pitched gagging cough. If the dog is also making swallowing motions and licking his lips, your veterinarian may diagnose a sore throat or, rarely, tonsillitis. This type of cough can also suggest that something is stuck in the throat.

A wet cough, one that sounds as if the dog is gargling, may mean that fluid or phlegm has built up in the lungs. Usually, this occurs with pneumonia, which can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites. The dogs most at risk for pneumonia are very old, very young or have a weak immune system. Dogs can also develop pneumonia if they accidentally inhale a foreign body or throw up and then inhale some of the vomit. Yuck!

Many tiny toy breeds often make a big sound that resembles the deep honk of a goose. These little dogs are prone to a condition called collapsing trachea. You’ll often hear the characteristic goose honk when the dog is pulling against his collar.

Does your dog cough mainly at night when he’s lying down? If you have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or other breed prone to heart disease, this often signals that the disease is progressing.

What to Do

You can tell that all of these are serious problems. If your dog is coughing frequently or violently, get him to your veterinarian sooner rather than later. Most problems are treatable or manageable, especially if caught early.

Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics for kennel cough, and your dog should be isolated so he doesn’t infect all his buddies. If you’ve ever had a bad cough, you know how painful it can be. Help soothe your dog’s cough by running a humidifier or bringing him into the bathroom with you while you’re taking a shower.

Suspect a small foreign object such as a grass seed lodged in the throat if your dog has been playing in an area with tall grass and suddenly begins coughing. If he doesn’t cough up whatever it is, its presence can cause a bacterial infection and eventually pneumonia. Before it gets to that point, have your veterinarian examine your dog and remove the object if possible.

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