Is your dog coughing?

Is it something to worry about?

When do I call the vet?

Is my other pet going to start coughing too?

We all cough from time to time. Usually it is an uncommon occurrence and there is a tickle in the throat. We cough once and it’s over. Dogs are the same way. If a dog coughs once and then goes on playing or cuddling with you, it’s perfectly normal. A pet should see a veterinarian when the cough continues or there are other signs in addition to the cough, like fever, tiredness, or not eating. These signs are concerning that there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

Upper airway coughs are more common to see in pets after they visit the dog park, groomer, or boarding. Some common causes of cough are Bordetella (kennel cough), an upper airway virus or bacteria. Usually these causes are short-lived in a healthy pet and a little supportive care is all they need. Other, more severe, causes are tracheal collapse, pneumonia, heart failure, heartworm disease, or a foreign body.

If your pet is coughing more frequently than normal he or she should visit a veterinarian.  Your vet will start with a thorough exam and may recommend x-rays, bloodwork and a heartworm test. Once your vet makes the diagnosis treatments will vary.

Bordetella (Kennel Cough)- Bordetella is very contagious and usually starts causing signs 7-10 days after a pet is exposed. This is a bacteria that decreases the function of the mucocilliary apparatus in a pets respiratory tract. Think of the mucocilliary cells as an escalator that moves debris from the lower trachea and lungs out to the mouth. Without these cells, bacteria and debris builds-up and can cause more severe bacterial infections. The good news is that in a healthy pet kennel cough is usually self-limiting and the pet will be just fine. In the older pets or puppies, kennel cough can be life-threatening. This is usually treated by a cough suppressant and sometimes an antibiotic. Bordetella is a part of a pets annual or semi-annual vaccines and can be prevented.

Upper airway viruses and bacteria- Think of this as the common cold for a dog. It may cause some discomfort for a little while, but it is relatively short-lived with no lasting problems. Just like Bordetella a pet may be started on a cough suppressant and an antibiotic. One such virus that is not always short-lived is the flu. Dogs have their own strains of influenza and can be vaccinated for it. If your pet frequents boarding, dog parks, or grooming – bi-strained canine influenza should be a part of his yearly vaccines.

Tracheal collapse- The trachea is supported by cartilage rings that keep the airway open. Tracheal collapse occurs when the cartilage becomes soft and when a pet inhales, the airway closes. This leads to a “Goose Honking” cough that happens more when a pet is excited or stressed. The primary treatment is to keep the pet trim and fit, use of a chest harnesses, and with cough suppressants. If it cannot be controlled with medication, there is a surgery that can be performed, although this is a last case scenario. This is more common in Yorkies and other small breed dogs.

Heartworm disease- Heartworms are small worms that live in the lungs vessels and heart and are transmitted through mosquitos. This often causes a persistent cough. Most noted after exercise. You may also notice the pet panting more than other pets or being exercise intolerant. Heartworm disease will end up resulting in heart failure. This is why heartworm disease is so important to prevent.

Heart disease and failure- When the heart is unable to pump fluid can build up in the lungs and leads to a cough. The heart will also stretch and can cause compression of the lower airways. Often dogs in heart failure will also be tired, get out of breath easily, and have pale gums. Heart failure is managed with medication to minimize the signs associated with heart failure. Often times a pet with heart condition will have a murmur when your vet listens to your pets heart.  Your veterinarian should recommend chest radiographs and a heart ultrasound along with an ECG and blood pressure reading. They may recommend a consultation with a cardiologist.

Most coughs will pass with little or no care in a day or two, but if a cough continues more than a few days then your pet should be seen by a veterinarian. The best way to prevent a cough is to keep a pet up-to-date on vaccines and heartworm prevention. Preventions can go a long way in keeping your pet healthy!

Always here for your questions.

Dr. Todd Smith