When your dog coughs, it can signal a sense of alarm but often there’s no need to panic.

Dogs, like humans, can cough for any number of reasons, from inhaling some dust to getting a bit of grass stuck in their throat. We can often tell what might be causing it from the context or environment they’re in. But if the cough persists and you’re generally very concerned, it might be time to see the vet.

Is it something obvious making my dog cough?

The first step is to check if something is irritating them. Is there excess dust around? Could they have inhaled some irritant like a chemical, smoke, or even an air freshener or incense? It might also be a simple case of changing their collar to a harness if they’re pulling on the lead. This can also cause them to cough. Check their airway – there could be something stuck down there. This is especially important if your pup is prone to snaffling up ‘tasty’ morsels on their walk, or eating grass or seaweed. 

What kind of cough is it?

Being observant about the kind of cough your dog has can help the vet determine what the issue might be. Try to make a mental note of what it sounds like. Is it wet and moist/phlegmy, dry and hacking, high pitched, gagging, coming from the throat or chest and is it a day or night cough? This will help your vet to decide whether your dog needs emergency help or not.

Most common reasons why your dog is coughing

  • Kennel Cough: This isn’t usually serious and the cause is a virus or bacteria, usually picked up from other dogs. So if your dog spends a lot of time at boarding kennels or daycare, ask your vet about the kennel cough vaccine.
  • Sore throat: Dogs can get a sore throat from an infection or something irritating their airway. This could manifest as a higher pitched cough.
  • Pneumonia: pneumonia is fluid on the lungs so listen for a watery, moist cough. Look out for other symptoms like low energy, reduced appetite and fever.
  • Heart Disease: If your dog’s heart isn’t pumping effectively this means fluid will get stuck in the lungs and they’ll cough. With heart disease, it’s more likely you’ll notice this when your pooch is at rest or lying down.
  • Tracheal Collapse: This condition is associated with certain smaller breeds and essentially means the windpipe becomes too soft (the cartilage rings collapse). The characteristic of this kind of cough can be described as a ‘honking’ sound.

Rarer causes for your dog’s coughing

  • Canine influenza
  • Heartworm
  • Distemper
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Cancer

When to see the vet if your dog is coughing

Sometimes the cough itself is enough to warrant a trip to the vet, especially if it keeps them awake at night, persists for days, is making them really ill, makes them pass out or is bringing up blood. As well as the cough, it’s best to be vigilant about other symptoms too, like fatigue, loss of appetite, low mood, fever, breathing problems or other health woes.

The bottom line if your dog is coughing is to check their airways are clear, check for irritants and if you think it’s an emergency contact your vet. If you feel it’s not urgent, observe the cough and other symptoms so that you can give your vet all the information when you call. You know your dog best and have the best sense when something isn’t right. 

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About the author

Vaila Erin is a writer, lover of animals, and a bit of a nomad. For her, life is about stories — observing yourself and others so that you can laugh, cry and entertain each other with its absurdities. Connect with her at vailaerin.com or via LinkedIn.