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Key takeaways

Coughing is a common symptom observed in dogs. It can be caused by a multitude of conditions.

  • Common causes include bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, heart disease, and structural problems with the breathing apparatus itself
  • Coughing ranges widely in severity and may be acute, intermittent, or chronic
  • Coughing may occur as a single symptom or be associated with a multitude of other symptoms
  • A cough that is observed alongside symptoms of distress such as choking or collapse is an emergency and immediate veterinary attention is required
  • Since coughing can be associated with various conditions, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the root cause and choose the best course of action
  • Coughing can be confused with other symptoms like regurgitation, gagging, sneezing, or anything that changes the character of a dog’s bark
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A closer look: Coughing in Dogs

Coughing in dogs may be characterized by:

  • Frequency: how often is the dog coughing? Is it regular or occasional?
  • Development: did this symptom suddenly arise (acute), or has it been present long-term (chronic)?
  • Severity: is the cough mild, moderate or severe?
  • Origin: is it coming from the upper airways or lower?
  • Moisture: is it moist or dry? Is it producing phlegm or mucus?

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Possible causes

Risk factors

An occasional cough is not necessarily something to be alarmed by. When accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek emergency care:

Coughing can affect any dog at any age, but some higher-risk groups include:

  • Brachycephalic breeds (Pug, Boxer, Bulldogs)
  • Immunocompromised dogs
  • Dogs living in areas where certain fungal infections are endemic
  • Dogs with heart disease

Whether a cough is associated with other symptoms or not, seek nonurgent veterinary attention if it becomes more frequent or persistent. If a cough is the only clinical sign present, seek veterinary care if it lasts for more than two weeks.

Testing and diagnosis

A dog presenting with a cough usually requires the following diagnostics to determine the best course of action:

  • Physical examination: the veterinarian will focus on the mouth and throat by palpation (feeling) of the throat and visualization of the mouth and airway. They will also listen to the heart and lungs to identify any abnormalities.
  • Blood work: this provides useful information about the pet’s overall health and can provide clues about potential sources for the cough.
  • Diagnostic imaging: may include a combination of x-rays, CT scan or MRI imaging to reveal the root cause of the cough.
  • Endoscopy: a procedure in which a small, flexible tube is used to visualize the esophagus, trachea, or bronchi to determine the cause of a cough.
  • Parasitology: fecal testing and heartworm testing to determine if the cough is related to a parasitic infection.
  • Fluid analysis: microscopical analysis of fluid and cells collected from the trachea and bronchi can provide evidence of the underlying cause, like infectious agents, inflammatory cells, or cancer cells.

Similar symptoms

Other symptoms that might be mistaken for coughing:

  • Reverse sneezing: sudden, rapid inhalation through the nose, often accompanied by gagging
  • Barking: a dog with laryngeal paralysis may have a deep, hoarse bark that may be mistaken for a cough
  • Regurgitation: it can be difficult to determine if a dog is coughing up small amounts of fluid/foam from the respiratory tract, or regurgitating fluid from the stomach

Associated symptoms

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