Why does my dog keep coughing? Here are 5 reasons

Dachshund coughingWhy do dogs cough?

Why does my dog keep coughing? Keep in mind that dogs explore the world with their noses and mouth. So as you might imagine, they come in contact with all kinds of stuff like dust, grass and germs. All these can cause coughing, and this might make it hard for you to tell if something more serious is going on. Thus, occasional coughing is probably normal. However, persistent coughing might be a more serious matter, particularly if there are changes in breathing sounds or patterns.

Types of Coughs

Kennel Cough

Chihuahua coughingThis is a deep, dry honking cough, is highly contagious and can be exacerbated by excitement or exercise. Bacterium or viruses cause this and dogs often pick it up at places where other dogs congregate like kennels and parks. It usually takes 2 to 14 days for symptoms to appear and these usually last from 10 to 20 days; longer with older dogs and those with suppressed immunity. The symptoms can also recur during periods of stress. Recovery may be longer for puppies. Kennel cough is normally considered a minor problem unless it finds its way into the lungs. Then, it can cause more serious problems such as pneumonia or chronic bronchitis.

Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics for this condition and ask you to isolate your dog so she won’t expose others. Some veterinarians will not immediately give your dog medication and will suggest that she heals naturally. Most cases will be resolved in this way.

In any case, if your dog isn’t recovering, this may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Blockage Cough

A high-pitched gagging might indicate an upper airway irritation, infection or even a partial blockage. Obviously, objects lodged in her throat are potentially dangerous especially if they find their way into the esophagus. In some cases, it may just be something small like a grass seed but you must be absolutely sure that it’s not something more serious.


Does her cough sound wet? This usually indicates a build-up of fluid in her lungs. Fluid or phlegm in the lungs is a symptom of pneumonia and it has a variety of causes.

Bacterial Pneumonia is caused by a pathogen. Your dog will have a high fever, difficulty breathing, tiredness and coughing. There may also be nasal discharge, loud or rapid breathing, weight loss, anorexia and dehydration.

If your veterinarian suspects this condition, your dog will need a bacterial pneumonia diagnosis. Your veterinarian may conduct blood or fecal tests to rule out other conditions like heartworm or lungworm. He may also take a chest X-ray. In addition, he might use a bronchoscope to examine the inner surfaces of the airway and take samples of cells for bacterial cultures. If it’s this kind of pneumonia, your veterinarian will usually prescribe antibiotics, rest and immune support.

The prognosis for this disease is usually good if there are no complications. For dogs that are young, geriatric or with immune deficiencies the prognosis is more guarded.

Fungal Pneumonia is the result of a deep fungal infection and is more serious than the Little dog laying down with IVbacterial form. Your dog can pick this up by sniffing organic material such as bird droppings and other feces that contain fungal spores. If left untreated, it can seriously affect other parts of your dog such as the bones, liver and brain. Some types of dogs such as German Shepherds are more prone to this disease than others. Additionally, male dogs are up to 4 times more likely to develop this than females. Besides coughing, look for symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, lethargy and breathing difficulty.

The primary treatment is an anti-fungal taken through an IV or orally. It’s a long-term treatment that can last up to a year. Your veterinarian may also use a nebulizer to loosen the mucus and allow your dog to cough it up. A warm, dry environment and oxygen therapy can also help.

Aspiration Pneumonia happens when a dog breathes in gastrointestinal contents like vomit, regurgitated gastric acid or food. Excessive fluid and mucus accumulate in the lower airway and this causes breathing difficulty. Some signs of this disease to be aware of are coughing, fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, panting, increased breathing rate, open mouth breathing, noisy breathing, wet breathing, blue-colored gums, weakness, stretching out the neck to breathe, exercise intolerance and collapse.

If you suspect your dog has this condition, take her to the vet immediately. Some treatments he might use are oxygen therapy, IV treatment, antibiotics, anti-vomiting medication and nebulizers. After this, he may use more diagnostic tools such as blood work and X-rays. The prognosis for this disease is good with a survival rate at around 80%.

Tracheal Collapse

tracheal collapse xray of dogA recurrent cough that sounds like a goose honk can be a sign of a collapsing trachea or windpipe – especially in small breed dogs. This is a progressive disease that can be either congenital or acquired. Your dog will typically show signs of exercise intolerance, respiratory distress and gagging while eating or drinking.

So, why does this condition occur? Well, unfortunately, we humans are the culprits. We have bred smaller and smaller dogs such as Chihuahuas and Teacup Poodles and as a result, these dogs have weak cartilage in their windpipes. Most of these breeds are born with cartilage that is sufficiently strong to hold the trachea open. However, as they age, the trachea weakens.

The first symptom of this condition is usually coughing. As the windpipe narrows, dogs appear to feel a tickle in their throat. Then, if they get excited or exercise, they will breathe harder and the coughing starts. These coughs may be in clusters or by themselves. They can also be triggered when a dog pulls on her leash.

Severe cases of trachea collapse can be fatal. However, life-threatening cases are not common and most dogs with the condition do not advance to respiratory distress.

The symptoms of a collapsed trachea can be identical to those of Kennel Cough. A veterinarian can diagnose it in two ways. X-rays are the most common method. They can also diagnose it with endoscopy. An endoscope is an instrument with a camera on its end and the veterinarian inserts it into the trachea.

Treatment starts with lifestyle changes. For example, leashes should be attached to a harness instead of a collar to avoid pressure on the windpipe. I personally think it’s a good idea for all dogs to wear harnesses for this reason. Obesity can add to the problem and so you should pay special attention if your dog is gaining weight. Dogs with a collapsed trachea should avoid strenuous activity on hot days because they need to move more air through their windpipe.

Treatment can include cartilage building supplements and possibly surgery. It’s possible your veterinarian will even prescribe cough suppressants and medications that will open the airway. He may also use sedation, supplemental oxygen and steroids. In severe cases, dogs can use breathing tubes.

There is no cure for this condition. However, dogs can benefit from a procedure called tracheal stenting where the doctor places a rigid structure inside or even outside of the windpipe to hold it open.

Congestive Heart Disease

cutaway of dog heartWhen the heart is not pumping properly, fluid may start to accumulate in the lungs. This is called Congestive Heart Failure. Certain dog breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are more prone to this disease.

Other symptoms you should look for are trouble breathing, tiring easily, pacing before bedtime, difficulty in settling down and increased breathing rate.

As the disease progresses your dog will cough because of fluid buildup, You may also notice a swollen belly as a result of this buildup. Your dog might also faint because of restricted blood flow to the brain. Furthermore, look for a change in gum and tongue color to bluish gray because of poor oxygen flow. Your dog might also lose weight.

Many conditions can lead to congestive heart failure and one of the more common causes is chronic valve disease. The valves of the heart start to degenerate and this results in an increased burden on the heart. Other causes include:

  • Defects in the heart walls
  • Fluid in the sac surrounding the heart
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tumors
  • Heartworm Disease

Your veterinarian can diagnose congestive heart failure by listening to the heart through a stethoscope, blood tests, urine tests, biochemical panel, heartworm test and urine sampling. Further, testing may include X-rays, ECG, ultrasound and blood pressure measurement.

To treat the condition, most dogs require medication for the rest of their lives. A low sodium diet can help as well.


If your dog is coughing, don’t panic. Occasional coughing from an irritant like grass is normal. But, when coughing is persistent, your dog may have a problem and that’s when you need to take action.

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