Dog Coughing: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Dog Coughing: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Though a dog’s cough is often harmless, it can sometimes signify something more serious. Read on to learn about the causes and treatment options for dog coughing.

When your dog coughs, it’s normal to be alarmed. Especially if it’s not a common behavior. Some coughs are harmless, whereas others could point to illness. 

Finn has compiled a complete guide to help out pet owners (like you) when their pups start coughing.

First Signs: Did My Dog Just Cough?

Was that even a cough?!

If you are not sure whether your dog is coughing, pay close attention to the sound. Sneezing, gagging, and even growling may sometimes be mistaken for a cough, and it can be tough to differentiate between all of your pup’s vocalizations. 

Coughing, however, has a distinct sound to it. Try to pinpoint the following sounds to determine if your dog is really coughing:

  • Deep and dry - think of a hacking sound
  • High-pitched and gagging, almost like a choke
  • Wet and phlegmy moist
  • Deep and honking

Start taking notes and monitoring your dog’s activities if coughing rears its head and becomes persistent.

Are there patterns to the cough? Start a medical journal and record:

  • When the first symptom started, and how long it has been present
  • The texture of the cough, wet or dry
  • Are there additional symptoms accompanying the cough?
  • Since the symptoms began, has your dog been exposed to other dogs?
  • How is your dog’s behavior? Has it changed, or are there signs of lethargy?

Any answers you gather from these questions will help our vet make a firm diagnosis later on.

Reverse Sneezing

The medical term for a reverse sneeze is paroxysmal respiration. It is a harmless condition where a dog inhales the air swiftly through the nose to sneeze instead of exhaling it. 

The reverse sneeze more commonly occurs in small dogs, breeds with flat faces (brachycephalic), and dogs with long snouts. During a reverse sneeze, your dog may make a snorting sound, as if they are trying to clear their nose or their throat. 

Don’t be alarmed as they may also freeze in their stance for a moment, making rapid and long inspirations. It should only last several seconds or a couple of minutes.

Any nose, throat, or sinus cavity irritation can bring on a reverse sneeze. Irritants include mites, secretions, an elongated soft palate, or foreign bodies such as grass, pollen, smoke, etc. 

Why Do Dogs Cough?

There is a multitude of reasons why your dog might be coughing; from benign behaviors to more serious conditions. 

Respiratory Infection

Does your dog have a respiratory infection? Upper respiratory infections attack the lungs, airways, respiratory tract, or a combination of all three. The culprit? It could be from a virus, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. 

Kennel Cough

A highly contagious respiratory infection, known as kennel cough, is common. And no, a dog doesn’t need to be boarded or literally in a kennel to contract it. It is transferred dog-to-dog by inhaling air through the nose or sniffing contaminated surfaces. 

Kennel cough is most recognizable by its sound, similar to a baby or child diagnosed with whooping cough. It sounds like a dog has something stuck in its throat that they try to force out. There’s constant motion, meaning dogs will repeatedly have that dry cough followed by a swallow.


Canine chronic bronchitis affects the airways that stretch from the trachea. These airways, known as the bronchi and bronchioles, are responsible for moving air to and from the alveoli. The body reacts when oxygen cannot move due to irritations or secretions that plug the airways. 

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term infection lasting months. Its sister, acute bronchitis, is more short-term. Under this diagnosis, dogs experience constant, daily coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. At times, the coughing may resemble vomiting. The cause of bronchitis cannot be easily identified, but allergies, parasites, and irritants are a few to blame.

Canine Influenza

The canine flu is another highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza A. It also appears in two types of strains: H3N8 and H3N2. H3N8 is related to equine flu, and H3N2 is related to avian flu. 

Mild forms of canine influenza result in a soft, moist cough. The cough may last for 10 to 30 days and come with additional symptoms such as a fever, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. 

Severe forms of canine influenza may result in pneumonia. Dogs experience the same symptoms in mild and severe forms, except that the fever will spike between 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Collapsed Trachea

A tracheal collapse is often found in small breeds such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pomeranians. It is a chronic, irreversible disease that affects a dog's airways. 

The trachea is a flexible tube. Small, C-shaped rings of cartilage along the tube keep it open, allowing air to flow when a dog breathes, moves, or coughs. Over time, the cartilage may begin to weaken, causing the opening to close and flatten slowly. 

When this happens, dogs often experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Dry coughing or honking
  • Fainting
  • Wheezing

Depending on its severity, keeping a dog’s weight under control can help with this condition. Keeping irritants away can also help reduce induced stress and anxiety for your dog. 

Heart Disease

There are different types of heart disease, including dilated cardiomyopathies, congestive heart failure, and mitral valve endocarditis. 

With heart disease, fluid may begin to build up in the lungs. It creates traffic in the body, holding blood away from the lungs and eventually causing fluid to escape from blood vessels and pile up in the lung tissue. This is one reason a cough occurs. 

Another example is an enlarged heart. The heart may press down on the airways, leading to a cough. 

Coughing is one of several symptoms of heart disease. Additional symptoms include:

  • Fainting or collapsing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Change in behavior
  • Fatigue, or lack of interest in exercise and play


Just like humans, dogs can have allergies, too, and that includes food allergies, environmental allergies, and even some irritation to their own dander. 

Most commonly, allergens like dust and pollen, especially during your yearly spring cleaning, can get into your dog’s nose and throat and cause irritation.

The best thing to do here is to keep your pup’s area clean, and if they have a rough time during that March and April bloom, limit their time outside or opt for some extra indoor play. 

Additionally, food allergies and even food sensitivities can cause coughing, sneezing, and itching in your doggo. Chicken and gluten are two common dog allergies, and you can try to identify allergens by utilizing an elimination diet strategy.

If you think your dog is having an allergic response, your best bet is to visit your vet.

You can also take advantage of skin and coat supplements that contain healthy fatty acids that can support immune health and skin health during allergy season. 

Other Uncommon Causes of Dog Coughing 

The onset of coughing can be brought on by numerous infections, diseases, and actions, but here are a few less common causes for dog coughing:

  • Fungal infections - acquired through dirt or from breathing air
  • Distemper - a virus that is transferred through the air and can be prevented with a vaccine
  • Heartworm - watch out for those pesky mosquitoes carrying this disease
  • Cancer

When Is It Time To Visit the Vet?

If you think your dog might have a serious condition listed above, is experiencing a cough greater than one week, or the cough worsens – don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with your vet! 

Watch for other symptoms that may indicate an emergency, such as:

  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

You may have a strong idea of what is causing your dog’s cough, but it’s a good idea to let the experts confirm it so your pup can get proper treatment.

Did you take good notes? Or maybe you decided to take videos of your dog coughing in action? If so, have those ready and available to pass on to your vet!

Here’s what you can expect in the exam room: Your dog will get a thorough physical. They will listen to your dog’s heart and lungs and take their temperature. In addition, the vet may recommend additional tests such as:

  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal exam (bring some recent poop in a Ziploc baggy if you can!)
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Electrocardiogram

Treatments For Dog Coughing

Making your dog comfortable while on the road to recovery is important. Infections, allergies, viruses, and other medical conditions vary in how they are treated.

There are a few home remedies you can try to help soothe your dog's cough. Here are a few examples:

  • Mix ½ a tablespoon to 1 tablespoon of honey with warm water. You can give this to your dog up to twice a day. 
  • Increased fluids. How about chicken soup? Look for broth that is specifically formulated for dogs. Broth is known to have curative qualities, so give it a try.
  • Bring out the humidifier. Humidifiers moisten the air, which helps reduce the irritation caused by respiratory infections.
  • No humidifier, no problem. Use a shower to perform the steam therapy instead and hang out with your pup in a closed bathroom with hot water running to help soothe their airways.
  • Allow your dog to rest. Don’t push your dog to exert themselves. 

Your vet may recommend a prescription medication like a dog-specific cough suppressant to help calm the cough and lessen it. Your veterinarian will prescribe any necessary medications at the time of diagnosis. More severe diagnoses may sometimes call for hospitalization, surgery, intravenous fluids, or oxygen therapy. 

Coughing Dog? Don’t Fret, Call Your Vet!

A dog’s cough is common and is not always a serious risk. Keeping a dog’s immunity in check is key when it comes to keeping their overall health in check. 

No one wants their dog to be sick, so supporting your dog’s immune system is one way to prevent illness. Follow the treatment recommended by your veterinarian and give your dog extra tender loving care (TLC). 

Preventing illness and having a strong wellness routine is your dog’s best option in living a happy, healthy life. 

Visit Finn today and be the hero your dog deserves. Explore the natural supplement options available to your dog. Boost their immune system with multivitamin supplements that may become your best friend’s favorite treat.


Coughing in Dogs | Maddie’s Fund

Dog Coughing: Causes and Treatment Options | American Kennel Club

Kennel Cough | American Humane



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