Just like us, dogs can have the odd cough every now and then. However, if your dog starts coughing regularly, it could be a sign of more serious underlying problems requiring treatment. In the current pandemic, COVID-19 is at the forefront of our minds. But don’t panic, it is highly unlikely that the cough your dog has is due to the COVID-19 virus.

What is a cough?

Coughing is initiated by cough receptors in the airway as a response to many different triggers. This includes environmental triggers (e.g. smoke), inflammation, foreign objects, mucus or food or water that have gone the wrong way. Coughing results in a sudden expulsion of air from the airways which causes the characteristic “cough” noise.

Could coughing in my dog mean that they have Covid-19?

Since the start of the pandemic, there have only been a small number of cases of dogs that have tested positive for Covid-19. None of these patients have had coughing as a symptom.

There is currently no evidence that pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners or spread the disease. There is the possibility that your dog could catch coronavirus from being in close contact with an infected human. The virus could transiently live on your dog’s fur, (like it can live on any surface). To minimise any risk, it is recommended to practice good hygiene and wash your hands routinely after interacting with your pets. 

What can cause coughing in dogs?

There are many different causes of coughing, including things in the environment such as smoke, airway infections or inflammation, and heart or lung disease. We have listed some of the more common causes of coughs in our canine companions.

Kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis) 

Kennel cough is a common and highly contagious infection causing inflammation of the windpipe (trachea) and bronchi (upper airways). Your dog can get kennel cough from being in a kennel environment or even just from interactions with other dogs in the park. They will usually start to show symptoms within a few weeks of exposure. A kennel cough vaccination is available and this can minimise the risk of your dog catching kennel cough and lessen the symptoms if they do.

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Lung problems

Many lung conditions can cause coughing:

  • Parasitic disease: lungworm, roundworm and hookworm can all trigger coughing and some parasitic disease can be life-threatening. This is why it is important to keep up-to-date with veterinary prescribed worming medications
  • Pneumonia: this can be caused by a bacterial/viral/fungal infection that causes fluid in the airways and results in a moist cough that can be very serious
  • Bronchitis: inflammation of the airways can lead to a dry long-lasting cough
  • Allergies: Smoke, pollens and air fresheners can all cause coughing just like they do in us
  • Foreign bodies: Food or water that enters the windpipe instead of the oesophagus (food pipe) 
  • Cancer: Cancer is uncommon, so don’t panic, but it can cause coughing if present. 

Heart disease 

Leaky valves within the heart, weakened heart muscles and an enlarged heart can all put pressure on the lungs and cause coughing. In severe heart disease, when a dog has entered heart failure, fluid can build up in the lungs and cause a moist productive cough. Heart disease can often be detected by your vet at routine appointments before coughing begins.

My dog has a cough, when should I go to a vet?

If you dog has a persistent cough that lasts more than five days, a cough that is getting worse, or a cough alongside symptoms of being unwell (such as not eating, a runny nose or eyes, sneezing, laboured breathing or exercise intolerance), you should take them to your vet for an examination.

How will my vet find out the cause of my dog’s cough?

As there are so many different causes for a cough in your dog, your vet will need to perform a thorough physical examination and carefully listen to their heart and lungs. A description of the cough can help them to narrow down the cause, so it is helpful to think about the answers to the following questions;

  • When do they cough? (E.g. at night, after eating/drinking, after exercise, after rest)
  • Does your dog swallow after coughing?
  • What does it sound like? (E.g. goose-honking, dry) A video recording of the cough can be really helpful to show your vet exactly what the episodes look and sound like
  • Has your dog been anywhere different in the last few weeks? (e.g. kennels, around new dogs, staying in a different house?)

Depending on your dog’s physical examination findings and the nature of the cough, your vet may either prescribe some symptomatic treatment or they may want to perform some tests. Many of the investigations (such as x-rays and ultrasound examination), will require anaesthetic or sedation. Your dog will need to stay at the vets for the day to have these tests performed. 

Treatment

The treatment given to your dog will depend on the cause of their cough. Some only require symptomatic therapy to help make your dog more comfortable. Other coughs can require specific medications to treat the underlying cause or even life-long medication. 

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Can I give cough syrup or home remedies to help my coughing dog?

If you are worried about your dog coughing, you should always seek veterinary advice. Many human medications contain xylitol, caffeine and ibuprofen which are all toxic to dogs and should never be given.

While you wait for your vet appointment, it is best to keep your dog at home. Only let them out to the toilet in the garden, keep them warm and ensure they drink plenty of fluids. 

How can I prevent my dog from getting coughs?

Vaccinations: Make sure that your dog is up-to-date with their annual vaccinations – these can help to prevent infectious causes of coughing such as distemper and kennel cough.

Weight: It is important to ensure your dog is kept nice and slim and within their normal weight range to avoid excess fat around their throat area and to help to minimise the risks of heart or lung disease. Your veterinary team will be able to advise you on your dog’s ideal weight. 

Appropriate toys and chews: Only give your dog toys, chews and treats that are specifically designed for the size of your dog; this will help to stop items accidentally becoming lodged in their airways.

Routine veterinary health checks: Ensure that your dog attends routine veterinary wellness checks, to pick up any problems early and so that appropriate treatment can be started. 

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For any health concerns, use our free interactive Dog Symptom Checker.

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