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Why is my dog coughing?

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If your dog keeps coughing or gagging then something isn’t right. It could be a sign of an underlying health issue, but, once you've identified the source, most are easily treatable. Here's everything you need to know about why your dog is coughing.

By Ashley Murphy

Why does my dog keep coughing?

Just like their human owners, dogs are susceptible to common coughs. Known as a Kennel cough, it's a dry and hacking type of a cough. It will also be aggravated by exercise and is often spread when dogs have been kept together in a concentrated space, such as boarding kennels.

Your dog can also suffer from a sore throat, and other related conditions like tonsilitis. In these cases, a cough is likely to be high-pitched. You’ll also notice uncomfortable looking swallowing motions and your dog may start licking their lips excessively.

If the dog's cough sounds wet, or you hear gagging or gurgling noises, they may have a build-up of fluid or phlegm in the lungs. This could mean a few different things, including a bacterial infection, pneumonia, or even parasites. Anything like this is going to require attention from a local vet.

Certain breeds are susceptible to certain kinds of coughs. Toy breeds, such as Yorkshire terriers and Pomeranians, are prone to developing a condition called collapsing trachea. It’s a genetic condition caused by a softening of the cartilages around the windpipe, and it often gets worse after periods of excitement or activity. Breathing becomes much more difficult as the trachea begins to collapse, and it's accompanied by a distinctive cough; it’s been described as sounding like the honk of a goose!

If you have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or another breed prone to heart disease then watch out for them coughing whilst lying down; this can be an indication that the disease worsening.  

What can I do if my dog keeps coughing?

Don't worry about an occasional cough; It’s perfectly normal and most will clear up after a few days. In the meantime, there are a few natural remedies that can ease your dog's discomfort. The Dog People recommend steam treatment as it helps clear your dog's airways. Steam up the bathroom by running a hot shower and keeping the door closed. Then sit in there for 10-15 minutes with your dog. You can also place a humidifier near your dog's favourite sleeping spots. Or how about a few drops of essential oils for a little bit of doggy aromatherapy? But remember to go easy on the drops; a dogs nose has up to 300 million receptors (to put that into context, we humans have a measly  6 million!)

Certain herbs can also help relieve symptoms. Try elderflower and kali bichromicum - check out Homeopet Nose Relief for more information. Honey is another good option, but never give it to a diabetic or obese dog. For others, slip a teaspoon of honey into their food. K9 Honey has produced a range of honey-based produced specifically for dogs.

If you have a breed that is susceptible to a collapsing trachea then here are a few things you can do to limit its chance of progressing. First of all, watch your dog's weight - an obese dog is much more likely to suffer tracheal collapse. But also try and stick to moderate walks and exercise, and use a harness instead of a leash as it puts much less strain on the dog's throat.

How can a vet help a coughing dog?

On the other hand, if your dog's cough persists, or appears particularly violent, then get to a vet sooner rather than later. To figure out what's making your dog cough, the vet will perform a brief examination. He or she will listen to your dog's heart and lungs, and will also take their temperature. They may also do some diagnostic test like x-rays or ultrasounds.

For things like kennel cough and tonsillitis, your vet will probably prescribe a course of antibiotics and the cough will be gone within a few weeks. In the meantime, keep your pooch isolated so it doesn't infect other dogs.

If your vet notices any fluid in your dog's lungs then medication can ease the symptoms. However, as it could indicate the presence of something more serious, the vet may refer your dog to a cardiologist (coughing is an early sign of congestive heart failure).  

It’s natural to show concern whenever our dogs show signs of sickness. But as we can see, not all coughing dogs require medical treatment. The best thing to do is keep an eye on them. If they continuing coughing, or their condition deteriorates, then, by all means, get them the care they need. And remember that most conditions are treatable. So it shouldn't be long before your dog is back to their normal self.