Coughing in Dogs can be Serious or Harmless: When to Call the Vet

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Coughing in dogs can be a symptom of any number of illnesses and can be upsetting to pet owners. When a pet dog develops a cough, the owner wants to know if a visit to the veterinarian is warranted.

The truth is that coughing in dogs can be caused by a number of illnesses, which can range from as simple as respiratory irritation due to allergies or tugging on the leash to as serious as tumors or heart failure and should not be ignored.

Causes of Dog Coughing

  • Kennel cough
  • Distemper
  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Inhaled irritants such as tobacco smoke, household cleaners, perfumes, or pollen
  • Fungal infections of the respiratory tract
  • Irritated or Collapsing Trachea
  • Tuberculosis
  • Heartworms
  • Heart Failure
  • Tumors

Kennel cough, distemper, and heartworm disease is unlikely in dogs that are up to date on vaccinations and preventives. Coughing can sometimes be due simply to a household irritant and will subside when the irritant is removed. In some dogs, tugging on the leash can irritate the trachea and cause coughing which can be alleviated by using a harness instead. According to Mike Richards, DVM of, coughing in older dogs should be suspected as a symptom of heart disease.

When to Call the Veterinarian

Coughing in dogs should be taken seriously, especially in puppies and older dogs. In any dog, if the coughing lasts more than a day or two or produces blood, is accompanied by labored breathing, a discharge, or any other symptoms such as fever or loss of appetite, consult a veterinarian. Prompt treatment is important for a good outcome.

Be prepared to give an accurate description of the cough. Other information such as whether the dog coughs more at night, or when excited, or when tugging on the leash will aid the veterinarian in making an accurate diagnosis and administering appropriate treatment.

Veterinarians often classify coughs as purposeful, warning, or nuisance. A purposeful cough helps rid the respiratory system of a foreign body or expels bacterial infection. A warning cough may be due to heart problems causing fluid in the lungs. Causes of a nuisance cough may be allergies, tracheal irritation, or bronchitis.

Cough suppressants may be a part of the treatment but should be used only under the supervision of a veterinarian as they can mask symptoms and allow an underlying condition to worsen.

Coughing in dogs can be serious to harmless but should not be ignored. Keep in mind also that some conditions are contagious and the dog should be kept away from other pets in the household.