Why Is My Dog Coughing?

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Most dogs develop a cough at some point in their lives, and it can be difficult to determine if your dog is responding to an irritant from the environment or a serious health concern. Dogs navigate the world with their nose, and because of this, your dog’s nose comes into contact with a variety of things like dust, germs, and dirt, all of which can lead to a cough.

A cough can be a symptom of a number of different problems in dogs. The type of cough and your dog's breed, age, and environment can all be helpful to your veterinarian in diagnosing the cause of the cough. While a cough could be minor due to obvious causes like an allergen or irritant in the throat, some causes could be more serious, and if left untreated, could lead to infection or pneumonia. Find out more about the underlying causes for coughing, how a diagnosis is made, and how this condition may be treated.

Why Do Dogs Cough?

A cough is a reflex that is stimulated by irritation or foreign matter in the trachea or bronchi. It is a protective mechanism to keep the airways and respiratory tract clear of secretions and foreign material. A cough consists of a sudden, forceful expiration of air. There are many reasons why a dog will cough, but there will always be an underlying cause. All dogs cough sometimes, but only a veterinarian can help you rule out some of these causes to pinpoint why your particular dog is coughing and give you a plan for treatment. Here are a few of the more common reasons why dogs cough.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease, is a contagious respiratory disease transmitted between dogs. Your dog can be infected if they spent time in a kennel, at the groomer, or anywhere there are other dogs. A dry, hacking cough that is sometimes followed by a gag and retch is a common symptom.


A deep, wet cough can be a symptom of pneumonia. This cough can often be accompanied by a fever, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and nasal discharge. Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites.

Foreign Object

A cough that is acute and sounds more like gagging, especially when accompanied by lip licking or attempts to swallow, could be a sign your dog has a sore throat, or something stuck in their throat. Grass, seeds, dirt, and other things can be inhaled, and dogs can get small pieces of sticks or toys stuck in their trachea. If coughing doesn’t eject the foreign object after a few coughs, you should take your dog directly to the vet and have it examined and the foreign body removed as soon as possible. Foreign objects can lead to potential infection and pneumonia in some cases.

Heart Disease

Dogs with heart problems, including an enlarged heart, heart murmur, and congestive heart failure, can all experience bouts of coughing. Some dogs with a chronic heart murmur will develop progressive enlargement of the upper chambers of their heart. This enlargement can eventually result in congestive heart failure, a condition in which fluid leaks into the lungs and causes a cough.

Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse is most common in overweight toy and miniature breeds of dogs, but can occasionally occur in large breed dogs as well. Dogs with this condition will often have a honking, chronic cough that worsens when the dog is excited, pulls on the leash, or is picked up. Strategies to prevent episodes include keeping your dog at a healthy weight, using a harness instead of a collar, teaching your dog to not pull on the leash, and avoiding excitement when possible.

Other conditions that can cause coughing in your dog include chronic bronchitis, canine influenza, heartworm disease, and some types of cancer.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Coughing

If your dog is coughing abnormally, it's a good idea to reach out to your vet. Your description of the kind of the cough (moist, dry, hacking, etc.), when the cough occurs (during rest, activity, night, day, etc.), and if anything brings on coughing are all important information to note, as it can help your veterinarian make a more informed decision about your dog’s care.

Types of Coughing in Dogs

  • Wet coughs, also known as productive coughs, help an animal clear mucus and other matter from the lower respiratory passages. Moist coughs often produce phlegm, mucus, or foam.
  • Dry coughs, also known as non-productive coughs, are coughs with little to no fluid produced and are often caused by irritation in the upper airway.
  • A dry, hacking cough is commonly seen in dogs with kennel cough and sometimes in dogs with tracheal issues.
  • A sneeze is similar to a cough, but the irritation originates in the nasal passages. A reverse sneeze is commonly mistaken as a cough, and is commonly seen in small and brachycephalic dogs. In a reverse sneeze, the air is pulled forcefully in through the nose rather than pushed out and sounds like snorting.
  • Acute coughing: occurs suddenly and for a short time.
  • Chronic coughing: occurs again and again for an extended period of time.


If your dog's cough doesn't resolve quickly on its own or if your dog is coughing violently, get them to the veterinarian. Most coughing-related issues are treatable or manageable, especially if caught early.

Article Sources
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