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Health & Wellness

Why is my dog coughing?

From mild to serious, lots of things can cause throat irritation.

Coughing is something people can relate all too well to. Whether it’s an underlying issue or something as simple as a piece of unchewed food swallowed too quickly, it’s as commonplace as a sneeze or a yawn. This is certainly true of our furry family members, too, and the reasons why dogs cough can vary wildly.

Whether acute or chronic, aka occurring suddenly or developing steadily over time, there are plenty of things that can trigger throat irritation in pups, and there are also plenty of things that can be done to prevent or treat it.

What causes persistent coughing in dogs? 

Firstly, it helps to determine the type of cough your dog continues to experience. "We break coughs into two categories, cardiogenic and noncardiogenic, or caused by the heart and not caused by the heart," Dr. Brett Shorenstein, the owner and head vet at Abingdon Square Veterinary Clinic in New York City, says. 

Noncardiogenic coughing points to infectious causes, he says. "There's something called CIRDC, canine infectious respiratory disease complex, which is made up of viral and bacterial causes of cough." Dogs typically get this type of cough at boarding, daycare, dog parks or anywhere in a high volume of dogs where the infectious disease can easily spread. The most well-known version of this is otherwise known as kennel cough. 

Dr. Shorenstein notes that other causes for acute coughs in dogs could be chronic bronchitis or if a foreign body enters and obstructs the airway. Collapsing trachea, where the windpipe softens and triggers most breaths to cause a cough, is more common in very small dogs, like Yorkies and the Maltese. 

The most common cause of cardiogenic-induced coughing is congestive heart failure, a case in which a dog's heart isn't pumping enough blood through their body, Dr. Shorenstein says. Another possibility is heartworm caused by mosquitoes transmitting larvae through blood and into the heart. "And we can't forget about lung cancer, which can, of course, also cause a cough."

RELATED: Kennel cough in dogs

How to treat coughing in dogs

Depending on what cough category your furry family member falls under, there are steps you can take to help them feel better. “If you notice your dog has an acute or chronic cough, and they haven’t been evaluated yet, I highly recommend calling your vet,” Dr. Shorenstein says. In case the issue might be cardiogenic, he says that X-rays might be performed to rule out congestive heart failure, which in and of itself would entail its own set of treatments. 

For more common acute causes, such as kennel cough, there’s a vaccine your pup can get. “Dogs can still get kennel cough after getting vaccinated, but it’s an attenuated version and much less serious.” 

Acute or chronic, seeing our loved ones in discomfort can be hard, especially if the cause is unknown. It’s best to leave diagnosing and treating your pup to the experts. That’s where vets come in: “I recommend calling your vet right away because they’ll know the patient’s history regarding their heart, any heart or lung problems in the past,” Dr. Shorenstein suggests. “Typically, for a cough, an in-person exam is recommended so that a vet can look into their heart and lungs, and even take chest X-rays if indicated.” 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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