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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 your veterinarian right away.

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

Treating 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

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 tube-like structure in the throat that is held open by bands of cartilage. In some toy breeds, this cartilage weakens over time, causing the structure to collapse. This syndrome can be inherited at birth or could be the result of an underlying condition like heart disease.

If you own a toy dog breed, weight management is very 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)
  • cyanosis (blue tissues) caused by lack of oxygen.

Treatment of Tracheal Collapse

Management of symptoms can include:

  • weight loss – the closer your dog is to his ideal weight, the easier it will be for him to breath.
  • medications including cough suppressants, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and sometimes antibiotics.
  • Surgery in severe cases.

Collapsing trachea is a chronic, progressive disease. Dogs with this condition need to be removed from smoke-filled atmospheres. Mild exercise performed with caution along with maintaining a strong immune system may help.

Chronic Bronchitis

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

Dogs with bronchitis will have the following symptoms:

  • coughing
  • wheezing or other abnormal lung sounds
  • difficulty breathing
  • vomiting
  • gagging
  • may lose consciousness

Always bring your dog to the veterinarian if your dog develops a cough that lasts more than a few days.

Treating Chronic Bronchitis

There are some things you can do around the house to help ease your dog’s airway. These include using a good quality air purifier to clean your air. You might be surprised at the level of micro-contaminants in your home.

Be sure to avoid using heavy perfumes or using aerosols around your dog. This could include hairspray, room fresheners, etc.

Humidifiers can help soften the air and, of course, avoid smoking around your dog.

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. Bronchitis can be caused by:

  • allergies
  • heartworm and other parasites
  • asthma
  • environmental toxins
  • an inherited condition

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 symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs include:

  • persistent cough
  • exhaustion
  • unable or unwilling to play
  • coughing that gets worse at night
  • swollen belly
  • excessive panting

Treatment of congestive heart failure in dogs include:

  • medications to remove fluid from the body (diuretics)
  • oxygen therapy
  • medications to make the heart beat more efficiently
  • medications to treat heart arrhythmias
  • heart monitoring
  • blood pressure monitoring
  • medication to treat blood pressure
  • supportive care

Heart Worm

Heart worm appears in dogs just as the name implied…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 whether they are male or female. Male worms average about four to six inches while the female counterpart can grow as long as 12 inches.

Symptoms tend to occur six months or later and include:

  • cough
  • fatigue
  • trouble breathing

Keep in mind that symptoms gradually become worse over time. Heart worms are fatal if left untreated.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia causes a buildup of fluid in the lungs causing a wet cough in dogs.

Symptoms include:

  • lack of appetite
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • fatigue

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 and rest. The veterinarian may suggest over-the-counter products to help ease the cough.

Inhaled Grass Seeds

It’s always a pleasure to see a dog with his head stuck out of a car window. 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.

Unfortunately, removing them might not be as easy as offering 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
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing

Treatment Options

Embedded grass seeds must be removed. The veterinarian will want your dog sedated and will use tweezers if needed. If the veterinarian suspects something is lodged in the airway, surgery may be required.

A course of antibiotics will reduce the risk of infection.

Lungworm Infection

Puppies can get lungworm through the excrement or saliva of another dog. Slugs and snails carry the larvae which leave 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 including:

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

Treatment of Lungworm in Dogs

Treatment involves the application of a prescribed anti-parasitic medicine. The outcome is excellent and the continuation of this medication is recommended to prevent recurrence.

Canine Flu Virus

Canine flu is extremely contagious. 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 common and dangerous complications of the flu. Dogs can contract the flu from other dogs and are more susceptible if they frequent doggy day cares, dog parks, etc.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough

Treatment of Canine Flu

To prevent complications, the veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic. They may also suggest various medications to thin the dog’s mucus and ease cough.

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 thing to do.

If irritants cause your dog to cough and gag, you will have to remove those irritants. Spider plants are thought to help remove toxins from the air. Air purifiers are also very popular among dog owners.

Summary

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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