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Is Your Dog Coughing? Our Vet Explains Possible Causes & Solutions

Dec 10, 2020
AUTHOR Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian with a passion for providing reliable veterinary insight & expert advice to help pet parents better care for their pups.


  • Dog coughing is a symptom of many different diseases including mild diseases such as allergies to life-threatening conditions like heart failure or lung cancer. 
  • Only your veterinarian will be able to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s cough by listening to the lungs and possibly performing x-rays.
  • Dog coughing treatments will vary depending on the cause of the cough, but this article will describe a few of the most common treatments for dog coughing.
  • Anytime your dog has a cough, it is important to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian quickly.

I get this question frequently as a veterinarian. Dogs cough for a variety of different reasons. A cough in a dog is a symptom that there is an underlying condition occurring. If your dog keeps coughing and gagging, this means that there is some type of irritation or inflammation in the airways, lungs, or throat. There are multiple different causes of lung and throat irritation ranging from serious illnesses such as cancer or heart disease to milder conditions like allergies. Anytime your dog has a cough, you should consider consulting with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s cough.

Different Types of Dog Coughs – What Do They Mean?

The way the cough sounds may give us a small clue as to what is causing the cough. Although, the sound of the cough is only a very small piece of the puzzle and does not give us a definitive answer as to the cause of the cough. These are a few different types of coughing that you may hear from your dog:

  • Dry hacking cough: This may be a sign of allergies or kennel cough. A dry cough sometimes indicates that there is an issue with the throat and upper airway.
  • Deep, moist, wet cough: This may indicate issues in the lungs. A wet cough might indicate that your dog has pneumonia, cancer, or heart failure. If your dog has a wet cough, you should get your dog to the vet quickly.
  • Coughing while asleep: This indicates a severe cough that should get assessed by a vet immediately.

Common Causes of Dog Coughing

Is a dog cough serious? Yes, dog coughs can be a sign of serious illness. There are many different causes of coughing in dogs. Here are a few of the most common conditions that I see as a veterinarian.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is an infectious disease seen in dogs that causes a dry, hacking, or honking cough. This condition is especially common in dogs that go to dog parks, doggy daycare, or grooming and boarding facilities. Some causes of kennel cough can be prevented with the Bordetella vaccine.

Allergies

Another common cause of dog coughing is allergies. Typically allergies will present as a hacking dry cough; although, dogs with chronic allergies and chronic bronchitis may have a deeper sounding cough. Veterinarians will typically prescribe steroids or antihistamines for this type of cough.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a serious cause of coughing. This potentially fatal condition occurs when the heart is not working like it should, the heart enlarges, and fluid builds up in the lungs causing a cough.

Cancer

Unfortunately, cancer is another common cause of cough, especially in older dogs. If your dog is over the age of 6, it is especially important to rule out cancer as a possible cause of the cough. If your dog is older and has been having a difficult time getting around, consider a vet-recommended dog ramp to help your dog into the car or next to you on the couch.

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite carried in mosquitoes. This disease will cause coughing and may even potentially result in heart failure and death if left untreated.

Collapsing Trachea

When the trachea collapses on itself, this can cause a honking cough, especially in smaller dog breeds. This condition can be especially bad in overweight dogs, so it is important to keep your dog at an ideal weight to reduce the symptoms from this condition.

Diagnosing a Dog Cough

Your veterinarian will listen to your dog’s lungs with a stethoscope to check for a heart murmur which may be a sign of heart failure. Next, they will listen to the lungs to check for the presence of any abnormal lung sounds that might indicate an underlying disease. Depending on their exam findings, your vet may recommend doing an x-ray of your dog’s chest. The x-ray will help rule-out serious conditions like cancer, heart failure, and pneumonia.

Treating Your Dog’s Cough

Some of my clients ask, “what home remedy can I give my dog for coughing?” Unfortunately, there are no effective home remedies available for dog coughing. To administer the appropriate treatment for your dog’s cough, your vet will need to examine your pet to determine the underlying cause of the cough. Below are some of the common dog coughing treatments.

Dog Coughing Treatment

Various treatments exist for dog coughing depending on the underlying cause of the cough. If your dog’s cough is caused by heart failure, your veterinarian will start them on medications to try and move the fluid away from the lungs so they can breathe easier. When the cough is caused by cancer, your veterinarian may recommend medications to control the cough, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe steroids or antihistamines if your dog’s cough is caused by allergies. If you are interested in learning more about Benadryl and other types of allergy medications that may be recommended by your veterinarian, visit this complete guide to allergy medications in dogs.

Dog coughs caused by bacteria are typically treated with antibiotics. If you are interested in learning more about kennel cough and prevention for kennel cough, be sure to check out this Alpha Paw article on the Bordetella vaccine.

When To See a Vet About Your Dog’s Cough

Don’t delay getting your dog to the vet for a cough! Anytime your dog is coughing, I recommend visiting your veterinarian. Because it is difficult to differentiate between minor causes of dog coughing and more dangerous causes of dog coughing, it is vital that you visit your veterinarian promptly. It is especially important to visit your veterinarian quickly if your dog is older than 6 years of age or if your dog has a wet cough, a persistent cough, a frequent cough, or a history of a heart murmur. These may be signs of more serious illness.

Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian who lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and currently practices in the central Kentucky region. Dr. Addie has special interests in preventative care, dermatology, and diseases, and she enjoys creating helpful educational resources related to these topics to help pet parents keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. We love Dr. Addie’s passion for providing reliable veterinary insight and medical advice to help pet parents like us give their pups the happy & healthy lives they deserve!

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