What does it mean if my old dog is coughing?

Old pug dog advice
© Pixabay

An occasional cough is simply your dog’s way of clearing out his airways. But what happens if you notice old dog coughing becoming excessive? The causes of canine coughing are varied, but thankfully, most aren’t caused by anything serious.

By Alice Lang

Updated on the 19/12/2019, 15:27

If we walk down a dusty street, we cough - and it’s no different for your dog! Most of the time, an odd cough from your dog is nothing to worry about. But if you’ve noticed your old dog coughing all day and night, it might need some investigating.

Coughing in itself isn’t a disease - but it could be a symptom of one. Let’s take a look through the causes of old dog coughing, and what it might mean for your pooch.

Causes of old dog coughing


Senior dogs are prone to developing seasonal allergies which can give them a nasty, irritating cough. If your pooch coughs for a few weeks of the year but otherwise seems fine, allergies are quite likely to blame.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from allergies, simply try a dog allergy medication. 

Respiratory diseases

As your pup gets older, their lungs will lose elasticity and their immune system will become less effective. This leaves in danger of developing respiratory diseases, caused by chronic inflammation of the airways. Most of the time, this first shows up as a stubborn cough.

A dog with a respiratory disease will have a cough which is very dry and worsens over time and/or with exercise. A vet will need to take a look over your pooch if they suspect bronchitis or another respiratory disorder, and will probably prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication.

If left untreated, bronchitis can cause pneumonia - so get your dog checked over as soon as you can.


old dog coughing
If your dog is displaying other symptoms, coughing could be a sign of an illness © Pixabay

Is your old dog’s coughing accompanied by gagging? They might have kennel cough or another infection. If your elderly dog has recently been in kennels and is coughing, keep a very close eye on them and head to the vet if it doesn’t clear up, as kennel cough can lead to pneumonia.

There are many other viral, bacterial and fungal infections which your pooch could have picked up, too. Unfortunately, the older a dog, the more prone they are to these infections.

Other symptoms of infections include sneezing, a fever, loss of appetite, a runny nose, and extreme fatigue. In these cases, your dog should be encouraged to rest to speed up their recovery and medication from the vet may be needed to clear up the infection if it doesn't clear up on its own.


If your dog is elderly, they’re even more prone to parasites due to a weakened immune system. Parasites make their way into a dog’s body, invading the blood vessels and heart.

Parasites have the potential to make your pup very poorly if left untreated. As well as a cough, keep an eye out for tiredness, vomiting and diarrhoea and inform your vet if you’re suspicious.

Laryngeal paralysis

Commonly seen in older, large breed dogs, laryngeal paralysis is a condition which means dogs can’t properly open the passageway to their windpipe. It’s caused by weakened nerves and restricts a dog’s airflow, causing a persistent cough and noisy, difficult breathing. A trip to the vets is in order if your dog is struggling to breathe.

It’s not a pleasant condition, but there is hope. Surgery is available to help dogs with the condition with their breathing by opening up the larynx, allowing more air in. These days, the results are good - but the operation isn’t without its complications.

Heart problems

When dogs grow older, the risk of heart disease increases drastically. Veterinarian cardiologist Dr John E. Rush says that the incidence of chronic valve disease occurs in 30 to 35% of dogs over 13 years old, and explains that “Coughing is a common but nonspecific sign of developing heart failure in dogs”.

Dr Ruth Macpete, DVM, said to Pet Network: “As heart disease progresses to congestive heart failure, which occurs when the heart is unable to meet the body’s demands, a dog may develop more obvious symptoms such as fatigue, reduced willingness to walk or exercise, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, weight loss, a distended abdomen, trouble sleeping or coughing."

"If you see any of these symptoms, you should have your pet seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Unfortunately, old dog coughing is characteristic of lung cancer. It’s most commonly seen in dogs over 10 years old. If you’ve had smokers within your house, your dog will be even more prone to lung cancer, due to second-hand smoke they've been exposed to.

Symptoms include difficulty breathing, reduced eating, rapid weight loss, fatigue and coughing up blood. The only way to know for sure that your pup has lung cancer is to get them checked by a vet. The sooner it’s detected, the better chance your pooch has of recovery.

What to do if your old dog is coughing

old dog coughing
If your dog's cough doesn't clear up in a week or so, it's time to head to the vet  © Isabela Kronemberger on Unsplash

As we’ve already seen, old dog coughing has many causes. If your dog has only coughed a few times but otherwise seems fine, there’s no need to worry. Just like us, dogs can get a little bit under the weather - it doesn’t always warrant a trip to the vet.

Likewise, if you suspect allergies and try an anti-allergy medication which solves the problem, a trip to the vet isn’t needed. Just make sure you inform them of the allergies and any medication you're using during your next check-up.

However, if your dog has a cough which develops rapidly and is especially severe or the cough fails to clear up on its own, make an appointment with your vet to see what’s going on.

And remember, if your dog’s cough is accompanied by serious symptoms such as severe breathing difficulty or extreme lethargy, it could be an emergency - get to the vet immediately.

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