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If you've noticed your dog coughing and your curious about all the different reasons why dogs cough, know that many different conditions, ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening, can lead your dog to cough. Fortunately, though, most conditions that cause a dog cough are easy to treat.
Here are five common conditions that cause dogs to cough:
1. Heart Disease
One of the most common reasons for a dog cough is a disease of the heart valves or heart muscle; this prevents a dog's heart from pumping blood efficiently. Coughing results when parts of the heart enlarge and compress the major airways in the lungs, or when fluid backs up into the lungs.
You can usually tell if a dog cough is caused by heart disease if their cough is soft and continuous. If your dog is coughing due to heart disease, their cough will likely be worse at night or when they're resting on their side and may be accompanied by a decrease in energy and stamina.
If your dog's veterinarian diagnoses that the cough is the result of heart disease, they may prescribe a heart medications.
Pneumonia is another common condition that pet parents often worry about when they notice their dog coughing. Dog pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) can be the result of bacteria, a preexisting viral infection (such as canine influenza or distemper), swallowing difficulties, regurgitation or certain metabolic disorders.
With pneumonia, a dog cough sounds moist and soft. If your dog has pneumonia, they'll likely have a high fever, poor appetite and low energy. They'll need veterinary treatment, lots of fluids and rest, and they might even need hospitalization to recover.
3. Kennel Cough
Kennel cough — another one of the most common causes of coughing in dogs — is a catchall term for tracheobronchitis, inflammation and infection of the windpipe and the main lower airways. While kennel cough is more common among younger dogs, dogs of any age can be affected. Dogs in group settings — whether at obedience training, doggy day care or boarding — are at higher risk of contracting the infection. So, if you find yourself noticing that your dog is coughing after they've been at day care, there's a chance they could have a case of kennel cough.
Dogs with kennel cough have a hacking, dry and raspy cough that sounds worse if they pull while being walked on their leash. Kennel cough can even lead to retching and subsequent vomiting.
Kennel cough may resolves on its own, but antibiotics and cough suppressants are often prescribed to reduce coughing and the likelihood of secondary problems, such as pneumonia. Dogs with kennel cough are very contagious to other dogs. Kennel cough is a form of Bordetella bronchiseptica, for which there is a vaccine that can help protect your dog from getting kennel cough in the future. Talk to your vet about vaccinating your dog to reduce the chance of getting kennel cough.
4. Tracheal Collapse
Tracheal collapse is a condition that causes the trachea, or windpipe, to become soft and floppy; it affects small and toy breeds most often, including Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, pugs and shih tzus. The official name for the condition is tracheal chondromalacia.
Dogs with tracheal collapse have a dry, hacking and spasmodic cough. They cough repeatedly and have a hard time calming down. Their coughing will worsen if they pull while they're on a leash.
If your dog's trachea has collapsed completely, their cough can sound asthmatic. The cough is also worse in obese dogs, dogs who are hot or excited and dogs exposed to irritants or allergens in the air. Dogs with tracheal collapse often have bronchitis and/or heart disease as well, so they might have several different types of coughs.
Treatment for tracheal collapse includes weight loss as well as medicines including cough suppressants, bronchodilators, steroids and antibiotics. In severe cases, your dog's vet may recommend surgery.
5. Heartworm Disease
Depending on where you live, heartworm disease may be a more or less likely cause of coughing in dogs. While heartworms are more prevalent in warmer areas, such as Florida and California, the risk of heartworm disease exists anywhere there are mosquitoes transmitting the disease.
Dogs with heartworm disease may have a cough or they may exhibit no signs at all — it depends on the dog's size, how many worms they're harboring and the dog's overall health. If your dog does show signs of the disease, they may have a mild, persistent cough; low energy; weight loss and reduced appetite. A severe heartworm infestation could result in signs of heart failure, including a swollen abdomen from fluid buildup.
6. Canine Influenza
Dogs, like humans, are subject to contracting the flu, known in dogs as canine influenza. The cough exists as the result of the respiratory infection that can last anywhere from ten to thirty days.
Your dog will likely be prescribed medicine as a course of treatment. If you have other pets in the home, it is best to quarantine your sick dog to their own area of the home, as canine influenza is contagious between animals — but lucky for you, it cannot be transmitted to or from humans.
What to Do If My Dog Is Coughing
The best thing you can do for a coughing dog is to bring them to the vet. Many causes of coughing in dogs are completely treatable, but they need to be properly diagnosed in order to be treated. When you bring your pup in to see their vet, be sure to describe their cough in detail and to tell the vet about any other signs your dog has had (such as coughing blood, mucus, white foam, etc.). With the right care from your veterinarian, your dog will be back to howling and barking in no time.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.
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