Coughing in Dogs
- There are many different causes of coughing in dogs – some mild and some more serious.
- It’s perfectly normal for your dog to cough occasionally, but if they have been coughing regularly for more than a few days, or seem unwell with it, you should contact your vet for advice.
- Contact your vet immediately if your dog is having breathing problems or is having a coughing fit and can’t stop.
What does coughing in dogs sound like?
Dog coughs sound similar to human coughs but if you are unsure, video an episode to show your vet. They will be able to tell you whether it’s a cough, or something else, such as sneezing, reverse sneezing, or gagging.
Causes of coughing in dogs
Common causes of coughing in dogs include:
- Pulling on the lead – can often be fixed by using a harness instead of a collar
- Airway infections – such as kennel cough
- Heart disease
- Chronic bronchitis – a condition that causes long term inflammation in the airways, common in middle aged to older small breed dogs
- Passive smoking – if you smoke, they smoke
- BOAS – breathing problems caused by having a flat face, common in breeds such as Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus
- Irritants – such as dust, air fresheners, deodorants, hairspray
- Tracheal collapse – a condition that causes the trachea (windpipe) to collapse and trigger a cough. It’s common in toy breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers and tends to be made worse by excitement and exercise.
- Westie lung / Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – a condition that causes progressive scarring of the lungs, common in West Highland White Terriers
- Laryngeal paralysis – a condition that stops the entrance to the windpipe opening and closing properly, causing a cough and noisy breathing. Most common in older, large breed dogs, such as Labradors
- Cancer – of the throat or lungs
- A foreign body in the airway – such as a stick or grass seed
It will help your vet if you can show them a video of your dog coughing so they can see exactly what it looks and sounds like. They will also want to know how often it happens, whether it happens more at certain times of the day, and whether your dog has any other symptoms.
Your vet will then examine your dog by checking their temperature and listening to their heart and lungs. If they need more information, they may suggest further investigations such as:
- Blood tests
- Endoscopy (a small tube with a camera on the end into the lungs)
- An ultrasound scan of their heart
- A tracheal wash (taking a sample of the fluid from your dog’s lungs)
The treatment your dog needs will depend entirely on why they are coughing – i.e. if they have inflammation, they might need anti-inflammatories, if they have an infection they might need antibiotics, and if they have heart disease they might need heart medications. Follow the links above for more details about treating the different causes of coughing.
When to contact your vet
Contact your vet for a check-up if your dog has a cough that:
- Makes them feel unwell
- Lasts for more than a few days
- Keeps them awake at night
- Causes them to collapse
- Causes them to bring up blood
Contact your vet immediately if your dog is struggling to breathe, has pale gums, is breathing very loudly, quickly, or you think they might have something stuck in their throat.
Published: 12th July 2022
Did you find this page useful?
Tell us more
Please note, our vets and nurses are unable to respond to questions via this form. If you are concerned about your pet’s health, please contact your vet directly.
Thank you for your feedback
Want to hear more about PDSA and get pet care tips from our vet experts?Sign up to our e-newsletter
Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.