Coughing Dog

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The Coughing Dog


Cough is a common problem in dogs. Cough is caused by
irritation of the throat, airways or the lungs. The main
airway to the lungs known as the windpipe or trachea
branches into smaller airways called bronchi which branch
several more times as they travel to the deeper parts of
the lung.

Some  coughs occur more commonly at night.


Anatomy of the lungs and airways

There are many causes of cough. A thorough history
and physical examination help the veterinarian decide which
causes of cough are most likely in your pet and helps him
or her decide which diagnostic tests to recommend and which
therapies are most likely to be effective. Cough
originating from the trachea may be stimulated by lightly
squeezing the trachea. Cough due to heart disease may be
accompanied by a murmur or abnormal heart rate or

Your description of the nature of the cough, when the cough
occurs, and if anything brings on coughing can be very
helpful in pinpointing the cause of coughing in your pet.
Some causes of cough result in difficulty breathing between
coughing episodes whereas with other diseases, the pet
breathes normally between coughing episodes. 

Some types of cough occur more commonly at night when the
animal (and human family members) are trying to rest.
Animals with heart failure, collapsing trachea and lung
edema cough more at night than during the day.

Cough caused by tracheal irritation or tracheal collapse
often occurs when the pet is excited or is tugging on its
collar.  Cough caused by heart disease may follow
exercise or excitement. Cough due to tracheal collapse may
be stimulated by drinking water. Coughing  that occurs
during or shortly after eating may be due to disease of the
larynx or esophagus. The larynx normally closes when food
is swallowed to prevent food from entering the trachea. If
the larynx is diseased it may not close when food is
swallowed resulting in food entering the trachea. Food may
pool in an abnormally dilated esophagus. The food then may
pass to the mouth and down the airways into the lungs
causing pneumonia and cough. 

Some coughs sound moist and others are harsh and dry. Moist
coughs indicate the accumulation of fluid (water, blood or
pus) in the airways or lungs. 

The environment and habits of your pet  influence
which causes of cough are more likely.

environment and habits

environment and habits of the pet can influence which
causes of cough are more likely. Dogs that hunt or spend
time outdoors may inhale grasses, seeds or other foreign
materials through the nose into the airways. In addition to
causing coughing, foreign materials can travel down the
airways and through the lung causing an infection with a
large amount of pus to develop in the space surrounding the
lung. This disease is called pyothorax. Animals that have
exposure to other animals in a shelter or boarding facility
are more likely to have an infectious cause for coughing.

The region of the country in which you live or to which you
and your pet have traveled, influences the likelihood of
some diseases like heartworm disease and fungal infections
of the lung (histoplasmosis, coccidiomycosis and

Heartworm disease occurs in
both dogs and cats and is most common in parts of the
country that have lots of mosquitoes.

The age and breed of the pet also influences what causes of
cough are most likely. Young animals are more likely to
develop a cough due to infections with bacteria or viruses.  Middle aged to
older, small breed dogs are more likely to have heart
disease due to leaky valves. Middle aged to older, large
breed dogs are more likely to develop paralysis of the

Tracheal collapse
occurs most commonly in middle to aged overweight small
breed dogs . Tracheal collapse is rare in cats. The cough
is often described as sounding like a goose honking.
Treatment for tracheal collapse includes weight reduction
and intermittent use of cough suppressants and sedatives.
Surgery can be performed in dogs with severe collapse that
don’t respond to weight reduction and cough suppressants
but often surgery is not effective.

Kennel cough or
infectious tracheobronchitis is caused by several
infectious organisms, including bacteria and viruses.
Vaccinations are not 100% protective against the agents of
kennel cough. Coughing due to kennel cough usually becomes
apparent within a few weeks of exposure of your dog to
other dogs in a kennel or show environment. Kennel cough
usually resolves itself without any treatment.  If the
cough is severe enough that the pet has difficulty sleeping
or people in the house have difficulty sleeping, cough
suppressants can be given to suppress the frequency of
cough, allowing the pet and human members of the household
to get rest while the disease runs its course. If the cough
does not subside in a week to ten days, your pet should be
evaluated for other diseases of the lungs or airways. 

Cough can be caused by heart disease, which is diagnosed by
a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram which measures the
electrical activity of the heart, and often by a heart
ultrasound which allows the veterinarian to view the inside
of the heart, including the valves and the thickness of the
walls of the heart muscle. Heart disease may cause
heart enlargement that  puts pressure on the airways
causing cough or the heart may fail and lead to edema of
the lungs.

Allergies to particles
in the air including dust, pollens, and smoke can cause
allergic lung disease and coughing. 

In older
patients, lung cancer
has to be considered. The lungs receives a large amount of
blood that flows through the rest of the body. Lung cancers
in dogs cats most often originate from other organs and are
transferred from those organs through the blood to the
lung. Some cancers may be controllable with anticancer
medication. Single lung tumors that originate within the
lung may be surgically removed in some cases.


Tests that may be recommended to identify the
cause of a cough include a blood profile to screen multiple
organs, a stool exam to look for parasites or their eggs
that are coughed up and swallowed, chest x-rays or x-rays
of the trachea. The larger airways can be examined using a
flexible scope called a bronchoscope in a procedure called

Sterile fluid can be flushed into the airways to collect
samples for culture or microscopic exam.  Large
foreign bodies in the airways can be removed by
bronchoscopy. Specific tests may be performed if heart worm
disease  or an infectious cause for the cough are

Treatment of coughing patients depends upon the
disease diagnosed and may include cough suppressants,
antibiotics for bacterial infections, and steroids for
allergic lung disease. Avoid self medicating your pet as
the treatment for one cause of cough may be very wrong for
the treatment of another type of cough.