Reasons Your Dog Might Be Coughing

Coughing in dogs is often more than just a simple discomfort. The reasons behind it can be simple to manage, or they can indicate progression of deadly disease. Any time your dog starts coughing regularly (theoretically, any more than once a week), you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. However, we can provide more context to help you interpret the reasons and better understand treatment options.

Are Allergies Making My Dog Cough?

Allergies in dogs typically present in other forms. Even humans don’t often cough as a result of allergies, but there’s a common misconception that coughing is just because of an allergic irritant. Dogs’ allergic reactions are more likely to present as gastrointestinal signs (like diarrhea), skin disease (scratching, reddened skin, frequent infections), or occasionally sneezing and runny eyes.

Is a Common Cold Making My Dog Cough?

“The Common Cold” is not so common in our dogs. Colds in humans are caused by viruses that mutate regularly and are passed by people in home or social settings. This doesn’t happen in dogs- if they end up with a viral respiratory infection, it’s root typically much more specific.
Dog Coughing

Causes of Dog Coughing

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is one of the most common causes of sudden cough in dogs- the term applies to coughing that can be caused by a variety of viruses, including Bordetella, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and canine coronavirus (not the same as COVID-19 which is currently affecting the human population). The cough shouldn’t last any longer than a couple of weeks, but if your dog has frequent exposure to other dogs they could be at risk. It can be transmitted in boarding kennels, dog daycare, groomers (even if it’s only for an hour or two), dog parks, dog shows, and even dogs owned by friends or family.

Your veterinarian will likely prescribe an anti-tussive to ease symptoms, but there is no “cure” except time. Some dogs may develop a fever, and sometimes get a secondary infection that causes pneumonia. Otherwise, it is treated symptomatically until the virus runs its course and the dog recovers.

There are vaccines available that can reduce the likelihood of your dog contracting kennel cough. These include Bordetella and the Distemper Combination vaccine (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza). Canine coronavirus is relatively rare so not all distemper vaccines include it. The symptoms are often minor and transient, so symptomatic treatment is all that’s required.

Tracheal Collapse

This condition is most commonly seen in small breeds like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and others. It’s believed, since there are breed correlations, that there is a genetic link. In these dogs, the cartilage rings that help keep the trachea (windpipe) open don’t stay as rigid, so the trachea becomes like a crushed straw- there’s a lot of air resistance coming in and going out.

There is no cure for it, though helping dogs maintain ideal body weight (and helping obese dogs lose weight) can help. Your veterinarian may also prescribe exercise limitations, recommend you switch from using a collar, to using a secure harness, and might send home medications to manage the symptoms. Dogs with tracheal collapse can still live long, happy lives, but owners must be careful not to let dogs overexert, get excited, or be in environments where are quality is compromised (if you or a member of your family smoke indoors, secondhand smoke can cause symptoms to appear more frequently, and could cause avoidable discomfort for your pet.)

Laryngeal Paralysis

This condition occurs when cartilage flaps at the top of the throat (that are meant to open and close at will) don’t function as well as they should. They’re meant to protect the trachea and lungs from foreign material like food, water, and other objects that might find their way to the back of the mouth. When the larynx stops working, those flaps tend to stay closed. Imagine pinching off the end of a straw- air or liquid can’t pass through with the same ease as they would through an open straw.

This condition is common in large breed dogs such as Labradors, huskies, and Irish setters, though technically it can happen in any dog. There is a surgical procedure available that might help improve quality of life called a laryngeal tie-back, however the success rate for this surgery is low. As with Trachea Collapse, there is no cure for this condition. Helping dogs maintain ideal body weight can help, as can exercise limitation, prevention of exertion, and ensuring ideal air quality can help.

It is not uncommon for dogs with this condition to experience respiratory distress on a regular basis. It’s also not uncommon for a terminal quality of life decision to be made as a result of the diagnosis- these dogs frequently have difficulty breathing and there isn’t really any temporary treatment that can ease symptoms. It may be necessary to talk to your veterinarian about an end-of-life decision so your dog doesn’t suffer in his or her last days.

Foreign Material

It is possible for coughs to be a result of foreign material in the throat. Dogs that “snuffle” in the grass, catch bugs, dig in the dirt, or run around with sticks in their mouth can end up with objects in their throat that cause irritation. Even grass awns or other plant material can cause issues. As with all the conditions above, it’s imperative to get your dog to the vet for an evaluation and diagnosis.

Trauma

Injuries involving the throat or chest can cause coughing too. Something hitting or squeezing either area can cause local irritation, and more serious traumatic events can cause tissue to tear or lacerate, and even broken bones (like broken ribs) can puncture.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is perhaps the most secretive and sinister cause of coughing, that often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late. Even an intermittent cough can be an early indicator. The cough is a result of fluid build-up in the lungs, and it will be minor and intermittent at first. The heart isn’t pumping efficiently, and causes a back-up of blood flow, resulting in fluid accumulation in the lungs. Sometimes the cough starts so intermittently that owners don’t really recognize it. Especially if the cough has been present for an extended period of time, it’s essential to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. There is no cure for congestive heart failure, but it can be treated with medications to manage symptoms and help maintain your dog’s quality of life in the short-term.

Talk to Your Vet About Your Dog’s Cough

In truth any sign of a cough in dogs is concerning and warrants a physical exam sooner rather than later. If your dog’s cough has been ongoing for an extended period of time, it’s essential to deal with it as soon as possible. Call 312-421-2275 and talk to your vet at West Loop Veterinary Care today so you can get your dog back to their normal, happy, healthy self!