11 Reasons for Dog Coughing and Gagging

The first time I heard my dog coughing and gagging, I was a little alarmed. I jumped up and looked around the corner where Emma, my lab, was sitting in the hallway looking perfectly fine. She did it a few more times later and, at one point, I actually pried her mouth open to see if there was something stuck in his throat.

It turned out to be nothing. The veterinarian suspected her immune system was low and suggested a few good dog food brands to help.

If you are worried about your dog’s coughing and gagging, read the rest of this article.  Irritants, disease, parasitic infections, and tracheal collapse are all risk factors to consider. If your dog is coughing and gagging while coughing up blood, stop reading this post and call the veterinarian right away!

I am going to describe the more common reasons for persistent cough in dogs, along with available treatment options.  Check out the viral video at the bottom of this post before you leave! These are serious issues we’re talking about, but I wanted a chance to give you a laugh. I mean…dogs are seriously funny.

Make sure to read through the post so that you don’t miss an opportunity to grab a free copy of 25 Compassionate Ways to Nurse Your Dog Back to Health.

So, here we go:

11 Indispensable Tips on The Reasons Behind Dog Coughing and Gagging

  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

The dry “honking” cough is the most distinct symptom of the illness. If your dog has recently been in close contact with other dogs, under stress, or recovering from another illness, bring him or her to the veterinarian if the dog develops a persistent cough.  Don’t expect your dog to be listless and tired because that is not always the case.

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.

  1. Coughing and Gagging in Dogs with a Collapsing Trachea

Middle-aged and older small dog breeds inherit collapsing trachea syndrome. Weakness to the trachea causes the slow collapse, resulting in a variety of symptoms including coughing.



 This syndrome is inherited at birth or the result of an underlying condition like heart disease. Weight management is extremely important over the dog’s lifetime.  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

Small dogs with tracheal collapse may suddenly lose consciousness.

Treatment of Tracheal Collapse

  • management of symptoms through weight loss
  • medications
  • sedation

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.

  1. 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. It can 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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


  “Not All dogs with heart failure cough, and not all coughs are associated with heart failure.”  -Dr. Sonya Gordon, Associate Professor of Cardiology, Texas A&M University.






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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1.  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.

  1. 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.

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.

  1. 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.

If you missed your opportunity to sign up for a free copy of 25 Compassionate Ways to Nurse Your Dog Back to Health, just click on this word:  Compassion.

Look, I know that dog health is a serious topic, but the BEST thing about dogs is their ability to make us laugh and BOY do we need a lot more laughter these days! I loved this video so much I wanted to share it with you.  Somebody needs to be neutered in this video! Can you figure out which dog?





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The Biography of Lisa Theriault

Dogs are Lisa’s passion, and blogging is the means to direct her energy towards their well-being on a global scale.  Lisa is not a veterinarian. Click here to read our privacy policy and disclaimer.

Lisa is dedicated to writing a high-quality blog based on professionally researched data. Her time is spent writing and researching balanced with enjoying family life with her husband and two dogs.

Lisa’s writing skills emerged at an early age. Over time, her fiction has been published in various literary magazines. She has also written for non-fiction journals internationally.



To find out what Lisa is really about…click here.