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Why Is My Dog Coughing?

Dogs cough for a variety of reasons. Learn the common causes of coughing in dogs.

Coughing. It's one of those things that, when your dog does it, gets your attention immediately. That's because it's a clear sign that something's not right. Dogs don't normally cough unless there's a problem.

But how do you know what's causing your dog's cough and what you should do about it?

To determine why your dog is coughing and what the best treatment will be, you will need to take your dog to a veterinarian for a full evaluation. In the meantime, here are the most common causes of coughing in dogs and the types of tests your vet may do to diagnose it.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a common cause of coughing in dogs. It's caused by a family of bacteria and viruses which are contagious between dogs and spread rapidly in kennels, pet stores, and dog parks.

Kennel cough is the common name of infectious tracheobronchitis, and the condition causes a dry, honking type of cough that's based in the dog's windpipe, or trachea.

Most of the time, kennel cough is a mild illness that resolves on its own, especially when the cause is viral. Sometimes, the condition can be worse, especially if the cause is bacterial or there is a secondary bacterial infection.

You can learn more here: "Kennel Cough in Dogs."


A dog may cough if something is caught in their throat. This can range from mild, like a piece of grass, to something that is large and obstructing the airway, which is an emergency.

Some common choking hazards for dogs include sticks, tennis balls, bones, and small dog toys.

If your dog stops and rests between bursts of coughs, breathing normally, the cause is likely not choking. If the dog appears panicked and doesn't rest between coughs, there's a high probability that they are choking. Dogs also may swipe at their mouths with a paw when they have something stuck that is impeding their airway.

Learn more about choking in dogs and what to do if your dog is ever choking: "First Aid for Coughing and Choking in Dogs."


Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs, and it often results in coughing as well as labored breathing in dogs. It can be the result of an injury, some type of irritation to the lung tissue, or an infection. Most cases in dogs are caused by a bacterial infection.

Kennel cough can sometimes result in pneumonia, especially when the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is involved.

Bacterial pneumonia in dogs can be life-threatening and usually requires treatment, sometimes with a stay in a veterinary hospital.

Laryngeal Paralysis

This condition occurs when a dog's larynx muscles, which control the voice box, do not work properly. As a result, some of the cartilage of the larynx does not pull back out of the airway properly when the dog breaths in. The result is sometimes coughing and often raspy, loud breathing.

Dogs with laryngeal paralysis are at higher risk of aspiration pneumonia, which is when a dog breathes food or water into their lungs.

Learn more: "Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs."

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a common cause of coughing in dogs. It's the result of a back-up of fluid into the lung fields. When this happens, the dog is in congestive heart failure (CHF).

You can learn more here: "Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs."

Recently, cases of heart disease and CHF in some dogs have been linked to the feeding of grain-free diets. Learn more: "Are Grain-Free Diets for Dogs Dangerous?"

Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse in dogs is a condition that occurs when the cartilage that makes up the trachea (windpipe) is weak and sometimes collapses into the airway. It causes labored breathing, coughing, and occasionally, emergency levels of difficulty getting air.

Collapsing trachea is most common in small and toy breeds of dog.

Learn more: "Collapsing Trachea in Dogs."

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite spread by mosquitoes. The adult worms live in a dog's heart and lung airways.

Coughing is a major clinical sign of heartworm in dogs, and any dog that is coughing and has not been on regular heartworm preventative will likely be tested for the condition.

Learn more: "Heartworm Disease in Dogs."

Canine Influenza

Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by a family of viruses. Dogs have their own influenza viruses and don't catch ours from us.

Signs of influenza in dogs can range from mild to severe, and recently, there have been outbreaks of serious influenza viruses in dogs.

Learn more: "Canine Influenza."

Irritant Inhalation

Dogs may cough when they inhale something that is irritating to their airways, and that can include smoke, air fresheners, pollen, and dust. Dogs may cough from an allergy to inhaled substances, but that is less common than it is in humans.

Rat Poison Ingestion

If a dog eats rat poison, either directly or by ingesting a rodent that died from it, one of the symptoms that appears may be coughing, and the dog may cough up blood. Rat poison disrupts a mammal's ability to experience proper blood clotting, and all the symptoms are related to that. In the case of coughing, the cause is bleeding into the airways.

Learn more: "Rat Poison Toxicity in Dogs."


Lungworms are a type of parasite that can infect dogs when their larvae are ingested. The adult parasites live in the in the dog's nasal cavity or lungs, causing irritation and coughing. They can also cause sneezing and respiratory distress.


Cancer in the lungs can cause coughing in dogs. Often, lung cancer in dogs is secondary to cancer elsewhere, so dogs often have more symptoms than this one.

Some Intestinal Parasites

Some parasites that affect a dog's intestines, such as roundworms and hookworms, can cause coughing if they migrate from the intestine to the respiratory tract. This is more common in young puppies than older dogs.

Learn more: "Dog Worms: Intestinal Parasites in Dogs."

Veterinary Tests to Help Diagnose Coughing in Dogs

When you take your coughing dog to the veterinarian to be checked out, the first thing the doctor or staff will do is take a complete history from you. You should be prepared to describe the symptoms you've noticed, report on when they began, and answer any other questions about your dog's history, feeding, travel, and medication schedules.

Then, the veterinarian will do a complete physical exam on your dog. That may include taking a temperature, looking at the gums, feeling lymph nodes, and listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

Based on the findings of the physical exam and any pertinent information in the history you have provided, the veterinarian will have a list of rule-outs that he or she is considering as your pet's diagnosis. Some further tests that may be done to confirm or further rule out causes of coughing may include:

Depending on the diagnosis, your dog may have drastically different treatment regimens recommended. For example, kennel cough often doesn't need treatment besides rest and quarantine away from other dogs. Heart disease may require any number of heart and breathing medications. Heartworm is treated by injections. Your veterinarian will walk you through the recommendations, their costs, and any potential side effects.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Kennel Cough: Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs

Rat Poison Toxicity in Dogs

Canine Influenza

Heartworm Disease in Dogs

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