Why is my dog coughing?

Just like us, dogs cough to get rid of things they have breathed in (such as dust and germs), but dogs explore the world by sniffing and this means they can easily pick up bacteria, parasites and viruses and pass them on to other dogs.

There are many possible reasons why your dog might be coughing. Some causes of coughing in dogs may resolve themselves while many require veterinary treatment. If you are concerned about your dog’s cough contact your vet or find your nearest emergency.

Possible causes of coughing in dogs include:

  • Kennel cough
  • Something stuck in their throat
  • Lung problems
  • Collapsing trachea (windpipe)
  • Heartworms
  • Lungworms
  • Heart disease/heart failure

Here, we explain more about these possible causes of dog coughing and what to do to help your dog.

When should I call the vet for my dog's coughing?

You know your dog best and if you’re worried about their health you should contact your vet or your nearest emergency vet right away.

Contact your vet immediately if:

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Dog coughing causes

Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection which causes dogs to have a persistent hacking cough. It usually isn’t serious and often clears up on its own within a few days. However, it can become more severe in some cases, particularly for dogs that are very old, very young or have other health issues. Our in-depth advice article on kennel cough tells you everything you need to know.

Something stuck in their throat

If a dog swallows a foreign object such as a bone or a small toy this could get stuck in their throat and cause them to choke.If you suspect your dog is coughing as a result of something stuck in their throat you should call your vet or your nearest emergency vet immediately. Find out more about dogs swallowing foreign objects here.

Lung problems

Coughing could be a sign of an airway infection, bronchitis (inflammation of a dog’s airways) or pneumonia. In rare cases, it could be a sign of cancer. Your vet is best placed to make a diagnosis and discuss treatment with you depending on your dog’s individual circumstances.

Collapsing trachea (windpipe)

This is a fairly common condition in which the rings of cartilage which make up the windpipe begin to collapse, making it difficult for air to pass through from the nose and mouth to the lungs. An obvious symptom is a honking cough when excited, often likened to a goose honking, among other symptoms. There is no single cause of tracheal collapse but factors may include a congenital defect and environmental factors. Small dogs are most susceptible to the condition.

Heartworm disease

Heartworms are not found in the UK but dogs can be at risk if they have travelled abroad. Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal condition which dogs can catch by being bitten by an infected mosquito. The parasitic worms can cause serious lung and heart problems.

Lungworm disease

Lungworms are found in the UK, and can be picked up after eating snails or via contact with foxes. They are becoming increasingly common throughout the UK and can cause serious disease, such as clotting disorders.

Heart disease

When a dog’s heart muscle isn’t as strong as it should be, the additional pressure put on the lungs and airways can cause coughing. Fluid in the lungs caused by congestive heart failure can also cause a dog to cough.

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My dog keeps coughing, what should I do?

If your dog keeps coughing or can’t stop coughing they might need urgent veterinary treatment and you should contact your vet or your nearest emergency vet right away for advice.

Treating your dog's cough

Before deciding on the best course of treatment, your vet will need to identify the underlying cause of your dog’s cough. They may ask you some questions to understand how your dog developed the cough and conduct a physical examination, as well as consider the clinical signs your dog is displaying. In some cases, they might wish to conduct other tests to help diagnose the problem. Given the many possible causes of coughing, treatment varies widely, from rest to medication or surgery.

How can I prevent my dog from getting a cough?

As there are so many possible reasons for a dog coughing it’s difficult to completely prevent the risk of them developing a cough at some time in their lives. However, there are some basic steps you can take to minimise the risk, such as keeping them up to date with vaccinations and parasite control, avoiding contact with dogs that have kennel cough or other illnesses and ensuring any choking hazards are kept well out of their reach.