When Your Dog Can’t Stop Coughing

It's normal for your dog to cough every now and then. It's part of everyday life for an animal that can sniff 4 to 6 times per second. But if your dog does it a lot or can’t seem to stop, you may have a sick pup, and he may need treatment.

What’s Behind the Cough?

Like us, dogs cough to get rid of dust, germs, and other stuff they breathe in.

Also like us, they sometimes get infections or viruses.

Dogs are social creatures that naturally sniff and slurp. This is why bacteria and viruses – including a canine form of the flu -- quickly spread from dog to dog. Germs also can land on floors, furniture, food bowls, toys, and other surfaces where the next dog to come along picks them up.

Kennel cough is the common name for a deep, honking canine cough. Is your dog having bouts of hacking, followed by gagging? Think back a week or so. Was he at the groomer, dog park, obedience class, shelter, or playground? Chances are, he was around another sick dog.

Kennel cough is highly contagious, but it's not a serious problem on its own. As long as your dog is eating well and acting like himself, he'll probably feel better in a week or so. Your vet should make sure that he doesn’t need antibiotics or cough suppressants.

Less common causes of coughing include:

  • Fungal infections. Yeast and other fungi can be picked up in dirt or through the air. There are prescription medications that can help.
  • Heartworms. Mosquitos spread this disease. Monthly medication or an injection that lasts 6 months can prevent it. Treatment is hard on your pet, and expensive.
  • Distemper. This virus spreads through the air. It's serious but can be prevented with a yearly vaccine.
  • Heart disease. Leaky valves and other problems can weaken and thicken the heart muscle. This puts pressure on the lungs and airways. Medication along with the right diet and exercise can bring relief.
  • Lung problems Sometimes dogs get bronchitis or pneumonia. They also may suck in dirt, grass seeds, or food, which can lead to an infection of the airways. Antibiotics can help. In rare cases, lung cancer is the diagnosis. Your vet will help you decide if medication or surgery is the best course.

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When to See the Vet

Make an appointment with your dog's doctor if:

  • His cough lasts more than a week, or worsens
  • He seems extra tired
  • He has a fever
  • He won’t eat
  • He has other health problems

Your vet may ask you some questions like:

  • Does your dog have trouble breathing between coughing fits?
  • When does he do it? (At night? After eating? After drinking water? After exercise? When he’s excited?)
  • What does it sound like? (A goose? A seal?)
  • Is the cough dry or moist?
  • Does it sound like he's about to vomit?
  • Where has your dog been lately? (In a place with other dogs? With you on a family vacation? Around a smoker?)
  • Have there been any changes to his daily routine?
  • Is he up-to-date on his shots, and heartworm prevention?
  • When did he last take his medication?

Your vet will examine your dog and run tests to find out if the problem is due to a virus, an infection, an allergy, or a different problem. The treatment will depend on the cause.

Puppy Love

Just like any other sick member of the family, your dog deserves a little TLC until his cough clears. Make sure he has plenty of water, healthy dog food, and rest. Steer clear if he wants to be alone. Tell kids to let sleeping dogs lie, and keep him away from other dogs until he's well.

The best way to keep your dog healthy is to prevent problems before they start. Make sure your dog gets his shots every year and gets heartworm prevention as directed. Don't let him play with other dogs who are coughing or sick.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on 5/, 014

Sources

SOURCES:

Thesen, A. Journal of Experimental Biology, March 11, 1993.

Craven, B. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, published online Dec. 9, 2009.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

American Veterinary Medical Association.

Purdue University Cooperative Extensive Service: “Common Dog Diseases and Health Problems.”

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Borde, D., Calvert, C., Darien, B., Guerrero, J., Wall, M. The Merck Manual Pet Edition, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., 2014.

Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine Baker Institute for Animal Health: “Heart Failure in Dogs.”

National Center for Homeopathy.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine: “Best to Prevent Kennel Cough.”

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