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Coughing in Dogs: Causes and Treatments

Foreign Body in the Lungs

Grass seeds and food particles are the most common foreign materials inhaled by dogs that are big enough to lodge in the smaller breathing tubes. Most of these are quickly coughed up. If the object becomes fixed in the airway, it causes intense irritation and swelling of the air passage. Mucus collects below the obstruction and forms an ideal medium for bacterial growth and infection. Objects that remain in the lungs for several weeks can cause pneumonia.

Sudden attacks of coughing that occur immediately after vomiting or after a dog has been running in tall grass and weeds suggest inhalation of a foreign body. Lungworms in the bronchi also cause severe coughing spasms.

Treatment: Unexplained coughing should be investigated by a veterinarian. Avoid cough medicines, unless prescribed by your veterinarian, since they delay treatment. Bronchoscopy is usually successful in locating and removing bronchial foreign bodies, particularly if the procedure is done within two weeks of inhalation.

Collapsing Trachea

This condition occurs primarily in older dogs of the toy breeds, particularly Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Toy Poodles, and occasionally in young dogs as a congenital defect.

Collapsing trachea occurs because the C-shaped tracheal rings do not possess normal rigidity. As a result, the involved wall of the trachea collapses as the dog inhales. Obesity is a predisposing factor, as is chronic bronchitis.

The principal sign of collapsing trachea is a characteristic goose-honk cough. The cough is made worse by stress and exertion, including pulling against a collar. Coughing may also occur when the dog eats or drinks. Respiratory insufficiency develops as the disease progresses.

Treatment:Examination by a veterinarian is the first step. Diseases of the heart and lungs should be ruled out before making the diagnosis. Dogs with mild to moderate symptoms respond to proper nutrition and a low-stress routine that avoids situations that trigger episodes of coughing. Moderate exercise is beneficial. Using a harness or head halter instead of a collar is important.

Overweight dogs should be put on a weight-loss diet. Eliminate cigarette smoke and other atmospheric pollutants that can trigger coughing.

Bronchodilator drugs such as aminophylline, theophylline, or albuterol are beneficial for many small dogs. Mild low-dose sedatives during stressful periods also are helpful. Cough suppressants and corticosteroids may be prescribed when the coughing is particularly severe. Respiratory infections require prompt treatment with antibiotics.


WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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