Dogs may occasionally cough to relieve irritation in their airways, lungs, and throat. This reflex protects the respiratory system from germs and foreign particles like dust, dirt, food, or water. While the occasional cough is normal, persistent coughing is not. Frequent or recurring coughing, like something is stuck in your dog’s throat, may indicate a more serious condition, such as heart or lung disease.
If you believe that your dog has been coughing more than usual or you notice blood or mucus expelled after your dog coughs, it is wise to schedule a veterinary appointment to have them examined as soon as possible.
What Are the Causes of Coughing in Dogs?
Dogs may cough for various reasons, ranging from mild to severe. Here are 10 common reasons that a dog may cough.
1. Foreign Body
If your dog is coughing like something is stuck in their throat, it may be true! Dogs may occasionally inhale a foreign object like a blade of grass or swallow part of a bone, stick, or toy that is too large to pass down the esophagus and subsequently, gets stuck in the throat. Coughing helps dislodge the object.
However, veterinary intervention may be needed if the coughing persists or your dog develops respiratory distress, which can manifest as purple or blue gums and tongue, rapid, shallow, or noisy breathing, collapse, and unresponsiveness. Respiratory distress should always be treated as an emergency.
Grass awns or foxtails can be particularly troublesome because they have spiked and barbed edges that can facilitate their migration deeper into tissues. The awns can travel into the chest cavity and lungs, leading to serious conditions like pneumonia, abscesses, or even a collapsed lung.
Microscopic germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause infection and coughing in your dog. Infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease involving the bacterium, Bordetella bronchiseptica. Kennel cough is usually a mix of bacteria and viruses that causes infection, known as the canine infectious respiratory disease complex.
Viruses like parainfluenza and canine adenovirus type-2 can also contribute to kennel cough. Other viruses, including canine influenza, can cause coughing in dogs too. These infections typically cause coughing due to inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract.
Depending on where you live in the world, fungi can invade and cause disease in your dog’s respiratory tract. For example, various species of fungi live in different regions of the U.S. The fungus responsible for blastomycosis is mostly prevalent in the midwestern, south-central, and southeastern states, while Valley Fever, caused by the Coccidioides fungus, is primarily found in the southwestern United States.
Heartworms, which are parasites transmitted by mosquitoes, travel to the heart and lungs of a dog, where they cause inflammation and damage, leading to coughing as a sign of the disease. Dogs can also become infected with a parasite known as a lungworm if they eat an animal infected with the worm or eat a host of the worm, such as a snail or slug. Lungworms are not as common as heartworms, but they can cause coughing in dogs because they invade the pulmonary artery and right ventricle of the heart.
4. Heart Disease
Heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure, dilated cardiomyopathy, and mitral valve degeneration, can cause your dog to cough. Excess fluid that accumulates in or around the lungs, the inability of the heart to pump blood efficiently, or an enlarged heart that puts pressure on the surrounding organs and tissues, such as the trachea, can lead to irritation that causes coughing.
5. Lung Disease
Infection of the lungs, such as pneumonia, can lead to bacterial overgrowth, inflammation, and coughing. High blood pressure in the lungs, known as pulmonary hypertension, restricts the amount of oxygen that your dog receives, which can lead to shortness of breath and coughing. Conditions causing pulmonary hypertension may include chronic lung disease, heartworms, or a blood clot known as a pulmonary thromboembolism that blocks an artery and restricts blood flow to the lungs.
6. Collapsing Trachea
The weakening of the cartilage rings that partially encircle the trachea can cause it to collapse on itself when a dog inhales or breathes in. This can cause irritation and a honking-type cough, especially in small dogs.
7. Laryngeal Paralysis
The larynx is a hollow tube at the top of the windpipe (trachea) that serves as a passageway for air from the throat to the trachea. It also houses the voice box. For dogs with laryngeal paralysis, nerves that control the muscles surrounding the larynx are weakened and unable to fully open the passageway for air to enter, which can lead to coughing and noisy breathing.
The immune system can overreact or become hypersensitive to substances in the environment known as allergens. Allergens like pollen, dust, dander, or certain foods can trigger an allergic reaction. One sign of an allergy in dogs is coughing, as a result of irritation and inflammation in the respiratory system.
9. Airborne Irritants
Fire or cigarette smoke, cleansers, perfumes, air fresheners, essential oils, deodorants, mold, insecticides, herbicides, or dust can all trigger coughing in dogs, especially if your dog has an underlying respiratory or heart condition. A dog’s acute sense of smell means they are more sensitive to scents and odors than we are.
Maintaining an ideal weight based on your dog’s age, breed, and sex is important for many reasons. Overweight dogs can be susceptible to obesity hypoventilation syndrome. The accumulation of excess fat around the ribcage restricts its movement and puts pressure on the respiratory system, reducing lung capacity and resulting in an oxygen deficiency, which can cause shortness of breath and coughing.
How Can I Help My Coughing Dog?
When Should I Take My Coughing Dog to the Veterinarian?
If your dog continues to cough for more than 2–3 days, it would be reasonable to schedule a veterinary appointment to have them examined. This may include listening to (auscultating) their heart and lungs and obtaining blood work, a heartworm test, and radiographs of their neck and chest. Initial treatments, depending on the severity of the signs, may include antibiotics, cough suppressants, fluid therapy, and supplemental oxygen if your dog has low blood oxygen levels.
If their coughing continues despite treatment, more advanced diagnostics may be needed, such as a transtracheal wash or bronchoalveolar lavage to look for bacteria, inflammatory cells, etc. or a bronchoscopy to rule out foreign bodies, infection, or masses. Certain conditions, such as collapsing trachea and laryngeal paralysis, may require surgery to improve your dog’s quality of life.
Emergency signs to watch for include difficulty breathing, fast or slow respiratory rate (normal respiratory rate for dogs at rest is 15–30 breaths/minute), pale/blue/purple gums and tongue, lethargy, coughing up blood or foam, panting or coughing constantly with the inability to rest throughout the night, weakness, pain, belly swelling, incoordination, collapse, unresponsiveness, seizures, difficulty walking, or any other signs/behaviors that you are concerned about.
If you notice your dog’s signs worsening, getting them to the nearest emergency veterinarian for immediate treatment is highly advised.
Tips for Keeping Your Dog Healthy, Happy and Safe
Coughing in dogs can be caused by many conditions, including a foreign object, bacterial or viral infection, fungi, parasitic infections, heart and lung diseases, allergies, or respiratory irritants. Coughing is a normal reflex to protect the respiratory system from harm. However, if it persists or reoccurs, your dog may need to be examined by a veterinarian to determine why they are coughing.
Medications like antibiotics and cough suppressants may be prescribed if they are deemed necessary by your veterinarian. Periodic veterinary follow-up exams and treatment may be needed depending on the severity of your dog’s diagnosis.