Dogs cough for a wide variety of reasons, and knowing what to do for your coughing dog requires understanding the potential causes of this problem and being able to assess the severity of the situation. For example, a mildly ill dog coughing and sneezing is likely to be suffering from a contagious upper respiratory infection and may recover with supportive care at home. A dog coughing and having difficulty breathing, however, requires emergency veterinary care.
Common Causes of Coughing in Dogs
Coughing in dogs is usually a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as respiratory or cardiovascular disease, but it can also be caused by irritation due to a foreign body, an anatomical abnormality, parasites or a tumor. In young dogs, the most common cause of coughing is a highly contagious complex of bacterial and viral infections called kennel cough. Other common infectious causes of coughing in dogs include canine influenza virus and canine distemper virus.
What to Do When Your Dog is Coughing
It can be difficult for owners to distinguish gagging or sneezing dogs from coughing ones, so consider all three possibilities when your dog starts making a coughing sound. Try to make sure there is nothing stuck in its mouth, nose or throat, and make sure the dog is not having difficulty breathing. If the dog’s gums are pale or blue, the dog is coughing up blood, the dog collapses or seems to be having difficulty breathing, get the animal to an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible.
If the sneezing or coughing dog does not seem to be in immediate distress, take some time to further assess the situation. It is normal for a dog to sneeze once or twice after waking or when dust gets into its nose. It is also normal for a dog to cough when something irritates its throat or gag when it is having difficulty swallowing something. A dog sneezing a lot, coughing regularly or continuously gagging, however, may be ill. If your dog keeps sneezing gagging or coughing, develops a chronic problem or displays these symptoms in combination with other symptoms, such as fever, lethargy or appetite changes, the animal needs veterinary care. Because many causes of coughing in dogs are contagious, you should also keep the sick dog away from healthy animals until it has been assessed by a veterinarian.
Unless your dog is a healthy adult with fairly minor symptoms that resolve quickly, home care is not an appropriate treatment for a cough. Coughing in puppies, senior dogs, animals with unknown or nonexistent vaccination histories and animals with chronic illnesses is particularly concerning and should be taken seriously.