Why is my dog coughing?
Coughing is a natural response by the body to any irritation or abnormality of the airway. All dogs will naturally cough from time to time. A persistent cough however can be a symptom of a more serious underlying illness or medical condition but this is not always the case. There are many common causes which may result in your dog coughing. It can be distressing to see your dog coughing so our guide contains expert advice from qualified and registered UK veterinary nurses to help you choose the best course of action for your pet and help to answer any questions you may have.
Symptoms and presenting signs
- Dry, hacking, persistent or barking cough which can be worse on exercise, excitement or in cold air temperatures.
- Coughing up mucous phlegm or fluids – this is known as a productive cough.
- Exercise intolerance or reluctance to go for a walk.
- Weight loss.
- Your dog may be lethargic or seem more tired than normal.
- Other symptoms associated with a cough include, a nose (nasal) or eye (ocular) discharge, snuffles, gagging, retching and occasionally vomiting.
- Unusual breathing (respiratory) noises including snorting and reverse sneezing. Although technically not a cough this can be seen most commonly in breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs (Brachycephalic breeds) in response to an airway irritant.
Common causes – Why does my dog keep coughing?
- Heart disease – Some breeds of dog are more prone to heart conditions and inherited abnormalities than others. There are many different dog breeds that are prone to heart disease. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are a breed known to be susceptible to a heart condition called acquired mitral valve disease, meaning it develops over time and it is not obvious when the dog is young. Regular check-ups are an important part of your dog’s health routine and can help to identify any problems early on.
- Lung disease – Pneumonia. A cough which sounds wet or is productive can mean there is a build of fluid in the lungs, often caused by infection. If the infection is bacterial your dog may be given a course of antibiotics by the vet.
- Kennel cough – this is one of the most common causes of coughing in dogs. Also known as infectious canine tracheobronchitis, it causes inflammation of the trachea and bronchi in your dog’s upper respiratory (breathing) system. Kennel cough can be caused by a variety of different viruses and pathogens. It is possible to minimize the possibility of your dog catching kennel cough by having them vaccinated.
- Canine Distemper – Persistent coughing is a symptom associated with this infection. It is a highly infectious and serious viral disease which affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous system in dogs. This infection can prove fatal but can be fully prevented with yearly vaccinations.
- Swallowing a foreign body which becomes stuck in the airway – this is especially common in puppies and dogs which like to scavenge or chew toys and bones.
- Cancer – Cancers affecting the lungs, either primary or secondary in nature can be a cause of dogs coughing.
- Canine influenza virus (dog flu) this illness is still quite rare in the UK but is associated with a moist cough, sneeze, runny nose and high temperature. Just like flu in humans the virus is highly contagious between dogs and currently there is no vaccine available.
If you are concerned about your dog, our experienced nurses at PetGP will be able to help assess your dog and let you know if we think you need to contact your vet. Contact PetGP here
- Chronic bronchitis, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The mucous membranes (lining) of the bronchi become inflamed leading to a dry, chronic, or long lasting cough. It is not always easy to identify the cause of the irritation and some small breeds, such as West Highland White Terriers and Cocker spaniels can be more susceptible to this condition.
- Parasitic infections such as Lung worm, round worm and hookworm – Larvae of these intestinal parasites can trigger coughing (known as a verminous cough) when they migrate from the intestine (guts) into the respiratory tract of the dog.
- Environmental allergens – All breeds of dogs can be sensitive to allergies. Reactions towards pollens, grasses and air fresheners are quite common.
- Fungal infections – A fungal infection such as Aspergillosis can result in irritation in the nose and upper airways triggering a cough in dogs. You may notice a discharge from the nose, nosebleed, swelling and pain in the area around and above the nose.
Diagnosis of coughs (tussis) in dogs
This very much depends on the nature of your dog’s cough and for how long it has been present. Diagnosis will often start with a thorough clinical examination where your vet will take a detailed history and ask you several questions. They will examine your dog and listen to the heart and lungs. Sometimes it may be necessary to run a few tests or carry out an MRI or CT scan or take an x-ray or ECG (Echocardiogram) if the cause of your dog’s cough is not immediately obvious. Blood tests may be taken as part of the clinical examination or faecal screens to check for the presence of internal parasites such as worms. Some procedures may need to carried out under sedation or anaesthetic and your dog will usually stay with the vet for a few hours and come home that same day depending on the diagnosis. Your vet will be able to advise you on this and explain any procedures they feel are necessary in order to make a diagnosis. If the cough is sporadic or infrequent in nature then recording the episodes on a mobile phone or tablet can be prove really useful in helping your vet to make an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes your dog may need to be referred to a veterinary specialist, especially if the cough is caused by a heart condition or cancer. Your vet will explain how referrals work and advise you about who would be the best person to treat your dog.
My dog has a cough, what can I give him? – Treatment for coughs in dogs
The aim of any treatment will be to deal with the underlying cause of the cough as diagnosed by your vet. Treatment may include a course of antibiotics if the cough is due to presence of a bacterial infection. Viral infections often have to run their natural course but your dog can be supported with other helpful measures to reduce symptoms such as exercise modification, rest and encouragement to eat and drink fluids regularly. Keeping your dog in a calm relaxed state, away from extremes of temperature may also help to minimise symptoms.
If the cause of your dog’s cough is diagnosed as a parasitic infection such as lung worm or round worm then your dog will be prescribed a course of appropriate worming treatment and they will require regular check-ups to ensure the infection has completely cleared.
If an allergy (air pollution, pollens, cigarette smoke, air fresheners) has been diagnosed as the cause of your dog’s cough, the symptoms will often subside once the dog has been removed from the source of the problem.
Others causes of coughs, such as serious infections may require more specific treatments which could result in your dog staying at the vets for in-patient treatment. Your vet will be able to explain the reason for this to you and you will receive regular updates on your dog’s progress. Most cases will be treated at home.
Preventing coughs in dogs
- Coughs caused by infectious viruses such as distemper can be prevented by a vaccination programme starting from when your dog is a puppy. Yearly booster vaccinations will be required. Your dog’s vaccination programme may also include the kennel cough vaccine. This is recommended especially if you are planning to put your dog into kennels or doggy day care.
- Regular parasite control is an important part of your pet’s preventative health care programme to guard against infection from internal and external parasites.
- Routine health checks, often carried out at the time of your dog’s annual vaccination can help to pick up any underlying medical issues which may otherwise go unnoticed.
- Keeping your dog’s weight within normal ranges can help to reduce the risk of your pet developing a disease or condition which may result in your dog coughing.
- Keep any dangerous items which your puppy or dog may be tempted to chew or swallow well out of harms reach.
My dog has a cough and is having difficulty breathing. What should I do?
If your dog is having difficulty breathing (associated with their cough) you may see them open mouth breathing or gasping for air. You may hear unusual respiratory noises or wheezing and their breathing rate or rhythm may look abnormal, either rapid (tachypnoea) or very slow and laboured (dyspnoea). Your dog may extend their head or neck forwards in an effort to get more air and you may also notice their gums are grey or blue tinged in colour compared to the normal pink.
If your dog is having difficulty breathing, is wheezing or you can hear unusual respiratory noises OR if they have coughed up a significant amount of blood you should consider this an emergency and contact your vet immediately.
Why has my dog suddenly started to cough?
If your dog suddenly develops a persistent, distressing or acute cough, check first for any obvious airway obstructions. Has your dog recently had a bone or were they playing with or chewing a toy which is now missing?
If you believe your pet may have an airway obstruction you should contact your vet immediately.
Why is my dog coughing and how can I tell if it is serious?
A cough is a natural response to an irritant in your dog’s airways. If your pet is bright and lively and only has a mild cough without any other clinical symptoms then the cough may not be serious.
Our experienced UK veterinary nurses at PetGP will be able to help assess your dog and let you know if we think you need to contact your vet.
What to do if my dog has a cough?
If your dog has developed cough it is best to keep them calm and avoid any situations where they could become excited or anxious as this could make the cough worse. Keep exercise to a minimum and contact one of our experienced nurses at PetGP will be able to help assess your dog and let you know if we think you need to contact your vet.
My dog has heart disease but why does that make him cough?
The first sign that most owners notice when there dog has a heart condition is a cough. Some heart conditions can result in the heart becoming enlarged along with a build- up of fluid in the lungs which can put pressure on the airways, triggering a dry and unproductive cough. The cough can become worse on exercise when the heart and lungs are working harder and may also be worse during the evening when your dog is lying down for extended periods of time.
What is kennel cough?
Kennel cough is a highly contagious but common upper respiratory infection. The most common causes of canine kennel cough are the bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica and two viruses called Parainfluenza virus and Adenovirus. Symptoms can be mild or severe and can last from a few days up to a few weeks. The infection often results in a dry, hacking and relentless cough which can be markedly worse following exercise or when your dog is excited. The cough can sound like your pet has something stuck in its throat. Other symptoms may include, sneezing, runny nose, eye discharge, reverse sneezing and in some cases loss of appetite and lethargy. Most dogs will not feel particularly unwell with kennel cough but occasionally dogs can become ill and require supportive treatments. Kennel cough is easily spread and transmission is airborne or via direct contact between dogs.
How can I stop my dog from getting kennel cough?
It is possible to vaccinate your dog against kennel cough. You will need to have this done at your vets and is usually given as a nasal spray, which is suitable for puppies over two weeks old. An injectable vaccine is also available for dogs and can form part of their yearly vaccination programme. Some kennels and doggy day care providers insist that your dog has received this vaccination before going to stay with them. This will need to be done 7-10 days before your dog goes into kennels and often the kennels will ask to see proof that this has been done. Your vet will sign a vaccination certificate for you.
What does kennel cough sound like?
The cough associated with kennel cough infections can often sound dry, hacking or barking in nature and can be quite distressing for your dog and for you the owner to witness. Your dog may sometime gag and retch in response to the airway irritation and the cough can sound like your dog has something stuck or is trying to clear something from their throat.
How long does kennel cough last?
Kennel cough can last for anything from a few days up to a few weeks.
If you are concerned about your dog’s health please contact one of our friendly and professional nurses at PetGP will be able to help assess your dog and let you know if we think you need to contact your vet.
Can kennel cough be passed to humans?
Yes it theory kennel cough can be passed to humans and is classified as a zoonotic disease. Transmission between dogs and humans is extremely rare and generally only affects people with a compromised or undeveloped immune system.
If you are concerned about your own health you should contact your GP who will be able to advise you about this further.
If my dog has kennel cough should I keep him away from other dogs?
Yes. Kennel cough is highly contagious and transmission is either by direct contact or airborne routes so it is best to keep your pet away from others dogs until they are symptom free. Avoid sharing food and water bowls between dogs and if possible try to walk your dog in areas where you are unlikely to meet other dogs and avoid busy times of the day. Dogs with suspected cases of kennel cough are often asked to wait away from the main waiting room at the vets. So, if your dog has been coughing please inform the vets prior to your arrival and they will find you an alternative waiting area. This is to stop the infection spreading to other dogs.
If you are concerned about your dog our experienced and friendly nurses at PetGP will be able to help assess your dog and let you know if we think you need to contact your vet. https://pet-gp.co.uk/telephone-veterinary-nurse-service
My dog has a cough, what can I give him/her?
A cough suppressant may sometimes be recommended by your vet to help with the symptoms of a cough, however it is not advisable to administer any human cough preparations or suppressants to your dog without consulting with your vet first. Some human cough preparations contain ingredients such as xylitol, caffeine and ibuprofen which are all extremely toxic to dogs. Some cough preparations also contain high levels of anti-histamines and decongestants which can also be unsafe for your dog to have.
Finding the cause of your dog’s cough – why does my dog cough?
As noted above, the causes of coughing in dogs can be wide ranging.
At PetGP our UK based veterinary nurses follow strict guidelines laid out by our veterinary director and ask a series of questions that determine the relative seriousness of your pet’s condition.
These will hopefully rule out the more serious cases (which must be dealt with by a vet) and leads to advice on what you should do next for your pet. If appropriate, our experienced and knowledgeable veterinary nurses will give advice relevant to your pet’s condition based on your answers.
- Our UK based Registered Veterinary Nurses will ask you several questions designed to assess (triage) the condition.
- You will need to be with your dog as we will ask you to check a few things while you are on the phone to us.
- We will ask if you how long your dog has had a cough for and any other symptoms you have noticed such as tiredness, reduced appetite and if the cough is productive.
- We will ask if your dog is currently on any medication or has any diagnosed medical conditions as this information could also be relevant.
Call us at PetGP or visit https://pet-gp.co.uk/ if you are unsure or worried and our expert nurses will advise you on what to do next. If the situation does not merit a trip to the vet, we will give you suitable advice for managing the situation at