Dog coughing is no fun. If your dog has experienced it, you know how it goes: coughing, gagging, discomfort, helplessness…
At first glance, it could’ve even looked like your dog was choking on something. And the thought of that happening is terrifying.
But don’t panic! We have good news for you and your canine. As frustrating and distressing as it can be, dog coughing is usually not a big deal. And it’s not necessarily a life-threatening situation, even though it does require your attention.
So what’s actually going on when your dog starts coughing, sneezing and making choking noises? Keep on reading to find out what the causes might be, how to recognize different kinds of coughing, and how natural treatment can help you keep your pup comfortable and healthy.
COUGHING IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
Coughing is actually beneficial, though you have probably never thought of it that way.
Defined as a reflex action, coughing is an automatic protective mechanism present in many species. And, as an involuntary action, it works similarly to other reflex-like functions, such as blinking or sweating.
Blinking protects the eyes at a superhuman speed. Sweating regulates body temperature. While coughing actually protects and clears the throat, lungs, and airways from irritating agents, the same way that sneezing does it through the nasal passages.
These irritating agents include dust, smoke, germs, bugs, pollen, viruses and bacteria. And, like humans, many species have respiratory reflexes similar to coughing. For example, hairballs are a common reason for cat coughing.
As for dogs, keep in mind they explore and get acquainted with the world by using their wet noses, which, research has shown, can do mind-blowing things.
Dogs’ extraordinary sense of smell allows them to tell time, predict weather changes, notice imminent diabetes complications, anticipate when a pregnant woman is going into labor, and even detect some types of cancer.
But all that sniffing, apart from making these amazing things possible, it’s also the source for respiratory problems resulting in an annoying, and sometimes alarming, cough. Whenever your dog starts making weird noises, think about the following variables; they are the starting point to help you determine what might be wrong with your coughing pooch…
Dog Coughing What do I need to keep in mind?
Obviously, this is not a medical guideline for an official diagnosis, since you should probably leave that up to your vet. But you should also be able to make his or her work quicker by pinpointing what’s been going on.
So, when you notice the beginning of a persistent cough in your four-legged friend, you should first make 100% sure there are no items stuck in their throat. And then keep an eye on these details to give a more accurate description to the vet:
Watch when coughing occurs. Does it happen mostly at night? Is it after drinking water or eating? What about when he gets overly excited? Is it after exercise? Maybe when pulling at the leash? All of these scenarios are significant clues on what might be causing the problems.
Evaluate the nature of the cough and track the evolution of it. Is it chronic? Is it recurring? Does it get progressively worse? Did it happen last year around the same time, and does it seem to be seasonal? Is it occurring several times per day?
All of these factors can also shine a light from the get go when you talk to the vet.
Identifying the type of cough you’re seeing and hearing is probably the trickiest part. But it’s also a crucial one.
The type of sound your dog makes tells you the story that they can’t. So pay close attention and use these general descriptions based on usual types:
- Is it a deep, dry, hacking cough?
- Is it a high-pitched, gagging cough?
- Is it a wet, phlegmy, moist cough?
- Is it a deep, honking cough?
It’s like a mix and match game, so take your time…
You should also, take note of what happens between coughing episodes. See if they result in difficulty breathing, gasping, lethargy or lack of appetite. In any case, your pet’s vet will appreciate every piece of information, in order to come up with one of these diagnoses:
KENNEL COUGH: A Shared Disease Among Dogs
Kennel cough is a respiratory infection usually caused by a combination of bacteria and viruses. It’s a highly contagious disease in places where a lot of dog converge. Its name comes from the places where it’s more commonly transmitted: kennels, animal shelters, doggy daycare, grooming salons, veterinary waiting rooms, training classes, as well as dog shows.
The sound of it is dry, loud, strong, and hacking, and recognizing it is pretty straight forward: it gives the impression of something being stuck in your dog’s throat. Other symptoms might include a runny nose, sneezing, or eye discharge. But, apart from coughing, your dog shouldn’t have any other signs of illness.
For that reason, kennel cough treatment its simple: let the disease run its course. The risk of it developing into pneumonia is present in puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with underlying conditions. But, usually, kennel cough resolves by itself without any treatment. And, if the cough doesn’t go away in about ten days, you should consider checking for other diseases.
Nonetheless, when taking your dog to the vet before this time-frame, chances are you’ll get a cough suppressant prescription. The most common is Robitussin-DM, an over-the-counter medicine used to treat dog and cat coughing. And while it can help reduce the coughing frequency, it can also have dangerous side effects, especially for dogs with other lung and heart conditions.
And how about vaccination?
Well, a vaccine is a possibility too. It’s called the Bordetella vaccine, named after the main bacteria causing kennel cough (Bordetella bronchispetica). The problem is that there is a wide range of agents that can also cause the disease. And the vaccine is not guaranteed to protect your dog from all of them.
TRACHEAL COLLAPSE: The Sometimes Fragile Toy Breeds
Canine tracheal collapse is a debilitating and progressive disease. Labeled as a congenital condition, it affects the cartilage rings supporting the trachea, leading to inflammation and excessive mucus secretion. The sticky result is an obstruction in the airway to the lungs, causing coughing and breathing difficulties.
The condition affects middle-aged and small dogs, particularly Yorkshire terriers, Poodles, Pomeranians, and Chihuahuas. The coughing sound you’re looking for in this case is dry, harsh, noisy, and “goose-honking,” which can be even more significant when pulling at the leash.
Obese dogs are at a higher risk. And, while breathing can be difficult while at rest, excitement and distress usually make it worse, and so can humid and hot weather, especially after exercising.
Now, as far as treatment goes, tracheal collapse management involves antitussive medication for coughing reflexes, bronchodilators, sedation, and weight loss regimes. Surgery for ring prosthesis is also an option. But, as it happens with many delicate surgeries, complications can be life threatening.
Other Coughing Related Diseases
Obviously, this is not the place for an in-depth review of every condition that makes dogs cough. However, there are other respiratory diseases you might want to keep on your radar. Even though they are less frequent, they can also be more threatening, leading to severe respiratory complications. Here they are in case you want to dig deeper:
- Laryngeal Paralysis. It can be a hereditary or acquired condition, typically seen in older Labrador and Golden Retrievers. Its symptoms include exercise intolerance, breathing distress, fatigue, changes in their usual bark, coughing and gagging.
- Chronic Bronchitis. It can be caused by bacterial infections, allergies, parasites, and airway irritants like smoke or dust. Its most common symptoms are coughing episodes mimicking vomiting.
- Canine Distemper. This virus is passed through fluids from dog to dog. Its symptoms include sneezing and coughing. But the main clue is excessive thick mucus coming from the eyes and nose.
- Lungworm disease. In the outdoors, a dog can eat almost anything. Including larvae found on infected snails, slugs, or frogs. They stay alive, and remain in blood vessels, causing heart and breathing problems.
These are the most common conditions associated with dog coughing.
How do I Keep my Dog Naturally Healthy?
Educating yourself to understand what might be happening to the furry member of the family is crucial. But it’s never enough to get an online diagnosis and give them over-the-counter medication. Always give your veterinarian a visit (or call). And, in general, when managing your dog’s health, try to keep it as natural as possible.
Of course, drugs and vaccines come into play at some point. But over-vaccination is an issue on the rise. And drugs can come with counterproductive and aggressive side effects. So, as a rule of thumb, try to look out for more dog-friendly alternatives that can minimize the risk of further afflictions.
Natural herb remedies, using astragalus, inula, Althea, mullein, licorice root, and Oregon grape, are known to help treat cough in dogs. And, interestingly, alternatives like CBD hemp oil have also shown some promising results in relieving pain. So maybe, *cough, cough*, you should give these natural solutions a try.
Your dog will surely be more than happy to taste and sniff the green…