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11 Reasons for Dog Coughing and Gagging

There are many reasons for a dog to be coughing and gagging. Irritants, disease, parasitic infections, and tracheal collapse are all risk factors to consider.

Coughing is always a concern, but one way to tell the difference between a concern versus a crisis is to assess your dog’s appetite and energy. Dogs with Kennel Cough, for example, will maintain a good appetite and energy.

If your dog is coughing and gagging while coughing up blood, stop reading this post and call the veterinarian right away.

Reason #1: Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough is something like the common cold in humans. You or I are more susceptible to influenza or the common cold when we are run down, tired, or recovering from other illness.

The same holds true for dogs. Common pathogens that leave your dog susceptible to kennel cough include:

  • canine distemper
  • canine adenovirus
  • parainfluenza virus
  • canine coronavirus
  • Influenza H3N8

Animals in close quarters (like boarding kennels) tend to be more susceptible to kennel cough. Kennel cough breaks down the mucus lining of the larynx and trachea.  The inflammation creates the dry cough common to the virus. Other symptoms include:

  • retching
  • gagging
  • vomiting
  • heaving
  • vomiting

Treatment of Kennel Cough

Veterinarians will typically treat kennel cough with a dual-purpose antibiotic to treat the bacteria along with the underlying virus. Common prescription medications include:

  • Baytril
  • Doxycycline
  • Claymox

To supplement prescribed treatment, you can also feed your dog a tablespoon of honey twice a day to ease his throat.

Reason #2: Collapsing Trachea

Middle-aged and older small dog breeds (the Yorkie in particular) sometimes inherit something called “collapsing trachea syndrome”.

The trachea is a round tubelike structure in the throat that is held open by bands of cartilage. In some toy breeds, this cartilage weakens over time, causing the structure of the trachea to collapse.

This syndrome is inherited at birth or the result of an underlying condition like heart disease.

If you own a toy dog, weight management is particularly important.  The smaller the windpipe becomes, the less air the dog is able to bring in. Surgery is recommended in severe cases.

Symptoms of tracheal collapse in small dogs include:

  • retching
  • attempts to vomit
  • rapid breathing
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • dry cough (honking sound) – most common sign
  • cyanosis (blue tissues), which is caused by lack of oxygen.

Treatment of Tracheal Collapse

  • Management of symptoms through weight loss. The closer your dog is to the ideal weight for the breed, the easier it will be for your dog to breath.
  • Medications including cough suppressants, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and sometimes antibiotics.
  • Surgery in severe cases.

Collapsing trachea is a chronic, progressive disease. Dogs with tracheal collapse need to be removed from smoke-filled atmospheres. 

Mild exercise performed with extreme caution and building a strong immune system can help.

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Reason #3: Chronic Bronchitis (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

I suffered with chronic bronchitis as a child and into my early adult years. Months of violent coughing and gagging had me completely worn down.  I’m sure it feels the same way for our dogs.

Chronic bronchitis, a condition caused by an underlying disease like kennel cough, can last for months and could get worse if not treated.

Dogs (typically toy breeds) will exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or other abnormal lung sounds
  • Hard to breath
  • Throwing up
  • Gagging
  • May lose consciousness

Always bring your dog to the veterinarian if your dog develops a cough that lasts more than a few days.  Pay attention to your dog’s signs and symptoms to report to the vet.

Treatment of Chronic Bronchitis

Clean toxins from the air (air purifier).

Avoid perfumes, hairspray, etc. around your dog.

Humidifiers can help soften the air with moisture.

No smoking around the dog.

Maintain a healthy weight for your dog.

Reason #4: Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis comes on suddenly but usually only lasts a few weeks. The dog’s inflamed airways fill with mucous making it hard for the dog to get adequate oxygen intake.  Acute bronchitis can be caused by:

  • allergies
  • heart worm and other parasites
  • asthma
  • environmental toxins
  • inherited condition

Treatment of Acute Bronchitis

Clean toxins from the air (air purifier).

Avoid perfumes, hairspray, etc. around your dog.

Humidifiers can help soften the air with moisture.

No smoking around the dog.

Maintain a healthy weight for your dog.

Reason #5: Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure results in the inability of the heart to pump blood effectively.  Blood ends up backing into the lungs where fluid accumulates.  Signs and symptom of congestive heart failure in dogs include:

  • persistent cough
  • exhaustion
  • unable or unwilling to play, go for walks, etc.
  • coughing that becomes worse at night (may contain blood)
  • difficulty breathing or faster breathing
  • swollen belly
  • excessive panting

Treatment of congestive heart failure in dogs include:

medications to remove the fluid from the body (i.e., diuretics)

oxygen therapy

medications to make the heart beat more efficiently (e.g., pimobendan, digoxin)

medications to treat the heart arrhythmias

heart monitoring (i.e., electrocardiogram)

blood pressure medication (e.g., enalapril, benazepril, etc.)

blood pressure monitoring

symptomatic supportive care

sometimes, removal of fluid from the chest cavity or abdomen (via a procedure called a thoracocentesis or abdominocentesis) may be necessary.

Reason # 6: Heart Worm

Heart worm appears in the dog just as the name implies in the heart. If you have ever seen a pot of cooked fusilli noodles, you will have a good idea what they look like.

 These worms can reach anywhere from four to twelve inches in length, depending on the sex. Male worms average about four to six inches while its female counterpart can grow as long as twelve inches.

Symptoms occurring six months or later could include:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing

Keep in mind that symptoms gradually become worse over time. Heart worms are fatal if left untreated. However, most dogs within Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom remain heart worm free through vaccination. Avoid heart worm by providing year-round flea prevention medication.

Reason #7: Pneumonia

Pneumonia causes a buildup of fluid in the lungs causing a wet cough in dogs. We’ve all had bad colds at one time or another where we have coughed up phlegm.  Pneumonia is a bit like that on a more serious scale. No amount of coughing is going to bring up the fluid from the lungs.

Other symptoms include:

  • not hungry
  • loses weight
  • has a fever
  • tired

Pneumonia in dogs is not a straightforward thing.

There are different types of pneumonia caused by pathogens, bacteria, or underlying disease.  Always bring your dog to the veterinarian when a cough that lasts several days is accompanied by any of the symptoms above.

Treatment for pneumonia is typically a round of antibiotics. The veterinarian may suggest over-the-counter or natural products to help ease the cough.

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Reason #8: Inhaled Grass Seeds

I smile whenever I see a dog with his head poked through the window of a moving car. They look so joyful!  

The problem is that it leaves the dog vulnerable to flying debris. That debris gets into their eyes and throats.  Grass seeds, for example, if blown in the wind, can lodge into a dog’s throat.  

Removing them might not be as easy as offering a glass of water because the seeds hook on the dog with their arrow-shaped fibers.

Symptoms include:

  • Bloody nasal discharge
  • excessive and continuous sneezing
  • pawing at the face
  • breathing difficulty
  • coughing if the seed is lodged in the airway

What are the treatment options?

Embedded grass seeds must be removed. The veterinarian will want your dog sedated and will use tweezers if necessary.

If the veterinarian suspects something lodged in the dog’s airway, surgery may be required. A course of antibiotics will stave off any risk of infection.

Reason #9: Lungworm Infection

Dogs (puppies in particular) can get lungworm through the excrement or saliva of another dog. Round worms cause lungworm infection. 

Slugs and snails carry the larvae, which leaves dogs vulnerable.  Round worms that cause infection live within the dog’s trachea.

Unfortunately, there are often few signs of lungworm infection in the early stages. As the condition worsens, the dog may have symptoms that include:

  • blood in the urine
  • vomiting blood
  • pink spots on the gums
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • fatigue

Treatment of Lungworm in Dogs

Once diagnosed, treatment involves the regular application of a prescribed anti-parasitic medicine.  The outcome is excellent and the continuation of anti-parasitic medication is recommended to prevent recurrence.

Reason#10: Canine Flu Virus

Canine flu is extremely contagious between dogs.  Two viruses (H3NB and H3N2) cause it. Known as the “bird flu”, virus H3N2 causes severe symptoms that can leave your dog dehydrated with a weakened immune system.

  Pneumonia is one of the most dangerous complications of the flu.

Dogs contract the flu from other dogs and are more susceptible if they frequent doggie day cares, dog parks, etc.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough

Treatment of Canine Influenza

To prevent complications from pneumonia, the veterinarian will likely prescribe an antibiotic. He/she may also suggest various medicines to thin the dog’s mucus and ease the cough.

Reason# 11: Exposure to Tobacco Smoke

Tobacco smoke irritates the lining of the dog’s throat causing a cough. Consistent exposure can lead to respiratory diseases like bronchitis.  Avoiding tobacco smoke is the only prophylactic thing to do.

If irritants, including smoke, cause your dog to cough and gag, you’ll have to try and remove the irritants. Spider plants are thought to help remove toxins from the air. You could also try an air purifier.


At the end of the day, the last thing anybody wants to hear is a dog struggling for breath, coughing or gagging.

It’s normal for dogs to sneeze and even cough now and then. However, if the effort seems extreme under the circumstances, or it occurs on a regular basis, your best bet is to get your dog to a licensed veterinarian.

The 11 reasons for dogs coughing and gagging listed here is just the tip of the iceberg. Never let a cough continue for long without seeking medical help.

I hope you were able to find the information you needed today. Please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns.

However, please remember that I am not a veterinarian and only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose or suggest treatment options. Keep your dog healthy and happy!

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