Why Dogs Cough
Why is my dog coughing?
It is completely normal for your dog to cough occasionally. Coughing is the body’s natural way of protecting the respiratory system. The purpose of the reflex is to expel unwanted material from the airways. Like humans, dogs cough to remove foreign objects, mucus or debris from their throat and lungs so that they can keep breathing normally.
There are multiple reasons why dogs may cough. They may simply be trying to clear their throat. However, if your dog has a persistent cough, it could be the sign of something more serious. A recurring cough is a good reason to make an appointment with your veterinarian. The earlier a diagnosis is made and treatment started, the better the prognosis for your dog’s recovery.
What are some of the common conditions that will cause a dog to cough?
Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is one of the most common reasons for a dog to develop a cough. This condition is a combination of a bacterial and viral infection that results in inflammation of the windpipe and lower airways.
Dogs of any age may be affected. Since kennel cough is contagious, meaning it is spread by direct contact from dog to dog, those dogs that socialize with other dogs at dog shows, boarding kennels, groomers, training classes or doggy daycares are at higher risk of contracting the infection.
The incubation period for kennel cough is approximately 10 to 14 days. Dogs with kennel cough will have a dry, hacking, raspy cough that sounds worse when pressure is applied to the throat, such as pulling on the collar when walked on a leash. In some cases, the coughing is so severe it can lead to retching and vomiting.
Kennel cough usually resolves on its own, but antibiotics and cough suppressants are often prescribed to reduce the coughing and potential secondary problems, such as pneumonia. The infectious agents are usually parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica, for which there are vaccines. These vaccinations can be administered subcutaneously, orally or intranasally. While vaccination is not 100 percent effective in preventing infection, it does generally lessen the severity of the disease.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It may be caused by bacteria, viral or fungal infection, regurgitation, metabolic disorders or swallowing difficulties. The coughing sounds produced by dogs with pneumonia will sound wet and soft. There may be other symptoms present, such as a high fever, lack of appetite and lethargy.
If you suspect your dog has pneumonia, you need to get him to your veterinarian ASAP. Radiographs and bloodwork, along with possible ultrasound, culture/sensitivity and throat swab for cytology, will help your veterinarian determine the cause of the infection and provide the appropriate treatment.
Heart diseases that affect the valves or muscles of the heart reduce the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. These cardiac conditions will cause the heart to enlarge and lead to compression of the major airways in the lungs. This compression causes fluid to build up in the lungs, and the body will attempt to clear the fluid by coughing. The coughing, however, is not effective since the fluid is in the lung tissue and not in the airways.
Cardiac diseases will result in a soft continuous cough that gets worse at night or when the dog has been lying down. Your dog may also show decreased energy or stamina. Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the cardiac disease, medications including diuretics, blood-pressure stabilizers and drugs to strengthen the heart will be prescribed. Diets containing taurine and those that are low in sodium may be recommended.
Collapsing trachea is a condition that affects the rings of the trachea, or windpipe. These rings are formed of cartilage and are normally circular. In the case of tracheal collapse, the rings become soft and floppy, as if you were to squeeze a straw. The narrowed opening of the windpipe makes it difficult for air to pass through the nose and into the dog’s lungs.
This condition is more often seen in small and toy breeds, as well as dogs that are overweight. Dogs with collapsing trachea have a dry, hacking, spasmodic cough that sounds similar to a goose honking. If the trachea has collapsed completely, the cough can sound asthmatic. Dogs can become agitated, which increases their breathing rate and makes the condition worse.
The diagnosis of tracheal collapse is made by taking X-rays of the chest and neck area. The location of the tracheal narrowing is usually at the base of the throat where the windpipe enters the ribcage. Treatment involves sedatives, cough suppressants, bronchodilators, steroids and, in some cases, antibiotics. Severe cases may require surgical placement of a stent, or mesh ring, to maintain an open airway.
Heartworm disease can be a cause of coughing in dogs, depending on where you live. While heartworms are more prevalent in warmer, wet areas, the risk of heartworm disease exists anywhere there are mosquitoes that will transmit the disease. As the disease progresses, long, spaghetti-type worms grow inside the heart and cause eventual heart failure and death.
Dogs with heartworm disease may have a cough or they may show no signs at all. It depends on the size of the dog, the number of worms living in the heart, and the dog’s overall health and condition. When dogs do show signs of the disease, they may have a mild, persistent cough, low energy, weight loss and a decreased appetite. A severe heartworm infestation could result in heart failure, and dogs may develop a swollen abdomen from fluid buildup.
Your veterinarian would diagnose heartworm disease by taking a blood sample from your dog. The current treatment is a series of injections with fewer side effects than the previous arsenic-based treatment protocol. The good news is that heartworm disease is easily preventable with monthly medication.
Environmental allergies are substances such as dust, pollen, cigarette smoke or anything else in the environment that your dog’s immune system perceives as an invader and overreacts to. If dogs are sensitive to dust or a certain ingredient in their food, their immune system may react as if it is being attacked by a foreign virus or bacteria. Coughing is one of the body’s responses to an over-stimulated immune system.
How do I know when should I contact my veterinarian about my dog’s cough?
If you are worried about your dog’s coughing or if any of the following apply, you should contact your veterinarian:
• If the coughing doesn’t seem to get better or is getting worse.
• If your dog doesn’t seem to be able to stop coughing.
• If your dog seems tired.
• If your dog is having trouble breathing.
• If your dog coughs up blood.
Dogs cough for many reasons, ranging from a simple throat clearing to a life-threatening illness. If you are concerned at all, take your dog to your veterinarian. A simple check-up could make all the difference.