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Why is My Dog Coughing?

Just like humans, your pup may occasionally cough to clear their throat after eating too fast or investigating an irritating smell at the park. 

Why is My Dog Coughing?

Just like humans, your pup may occasionally cough to clear their throat after eating too fast or investigating an irritating smell at the park. 

By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli

Coughing is a common reason humans and pets may schedule a doctor's visit. Just like humans, your pup may occasionally cough to clear their throat after eating too fast or investigating an irritating smell at the park. While the occasional cough in your dog may not be a cause for concern, regular coughing may indicate a more serious underlying illness.

There are numerous reasons why your dog may be coughing, and some may be easily cured, while others, like cancer, can be deadly. Understanding the signs, risk factors, and common causes can help pet parents recognize or prevent coughing in their four-legged companions. 

Respiratory Infections in Dogs

Dogs explore the world with their noses, mouths, and paws, making it challenging to resist taste-testing all the temping smells during their daily walks to the dog park or visits with friends at doggy daycare. Numerous bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites can lead to an infection-causing cough in your pet. Dogs suffering an infection-related cough typically have a continuous cough that may be accompanied by other signs, depending on the underlying cause

Some of the most common infections that may cause your dog to cough are as follows.

Kennel Cough (a.k.a. Tracheobronchitis or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex)

Kennel cough is the most commonly diagnosed infectious cough in dogs. It is primarily caused by exposure to the highly contagious bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. However, it can also occur from various other infectious bacteria or viruses. Without treatment, affected dogs are at risk for severe bronchitis or pneumonia in the lower respiratory tract, which can be life-threatening.

Dogs with kennel cough may exhibit a raspy, dry cough that sounds like a good honk. Fortunately, a vaccine is available to prevent severe kennel cough in dogs. 

Canine Influenza

Similar to the flu in humans, canine influenza (CI) is a highly contagious virus affecting dogs and cats. It is spread through respiratory secretions, contaminated objects, or direct contact with an infected dog. Signs are similar to human flu, including a persistent cough lasting more than three weeks, a runny nose, and a fever.

Infected dogs may have a cough similar to kennel cough. Additionally, dogs with CI are also at risk for secondary bacterial infections. A vaccine is available to decrease the chances of dogs becoming sick.


Heartworm infections occur when an infected mosquito bites a dog. Although heartworm disease is more prevalent in warmer climates, it can happen in any location where mosquitos are present, and it has been diagnosed in all 50 states. Affected dogs may show no signs early in the disease. However, many will have a mild persistent cough.

Other signs may include lethargy, weight loss, exercise intolerance, and loss of appetite. The disease can be fatal, and dogs with chronic or severe disease are at risk for heart failure.

Pneumonia and Bronchitis

Bacteria, fungi, or viral infections, like distemper or CI, can lead to lung inflammation or pneumonia in dogs. Dogs with metabolic disease or swallowing problems are also at risk for aspiration pneumonia. Pneumonia signs include a moist and soft cough, fever, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Chronic airway inflammation can cause bronchitis, resulting in a dry, hacking cough

Physiological Reasons for Dog Coughing 

Breed factors, including genetics and a dog's overall health and weight, can result in coughing. Some more common causes of coughing include:

Tracheal Collapse

Middle-aged, small, or toy dog breeds, including Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, and toy poodles, have an increased risk of collapsing trachea. This occurs when the windpipe becomes soft and flattened, resulting in a dry, hacking, goose-honk-like cough. Coughing fits often occur with heat, allergens, excitement, or when pulled on a leash. Obesity can also exacerbate this condition by putting added pressure on the windpipe.

Laryngeal paralysis

When the laryngeal muscles that support the voice box weaken, the cartilage can collapse inward, resulting in laryngeal paralysis. This condition can occur at a young age, and some breeds, including Dalmatians, Siberian huskies, and bull terriers, have a genetic predisposition for the disease. Laryngeal paralysis can also develop or be acquired as a result of a variety of factors, including trauma or hormonal diseases. Labrador retrievers are the most commonly affected breed of acquired laryngeal paralysis. Affected dogs will often cough after exercise or a meal. Other signs include noisy breathing, excess panting, and changes in bark sounds. 


More than 50% of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese, which increases the risk for a variety of health issues, including coughing. Excess fat can cause pressure on the respiratory tract, including the trachea, making breathing difficult and often resulting in a cough, similar to dogs with tracheal collapse.  

Heart Disease

Like humans, dogs are also at risk for heart disease, and more than 10% of pets will be diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease. Numerous heart abnormalities can lead to heart disease in pets. A malfunction in the heart's ability to properly pump blood throughout the body can cause an accumulation of fluid in your dog’s lungs (pulmonary edema), which can cause a pet to cough. Coughing is also a common sign of mitral valve disease and congestive heart failure. Coughing from heart disease may be soft and continuous and often exacerbated when an affected dog is resting on their side, and can worsen at night. Other signs of heart disease include lethargy, exercise intolerance, and an increased respiratory rate.  


Environmental irritants, including smoke, insects, dust, pollen, and dander, can lead to immune system sensitivity in some dogs. Chronic exposure to these substances and buildup within the airway may result in inflammation, which can cause coughing in sensitive dogs. Other allergy signs may include sneezing, itching, runny eyes, and clear nasal discharge. Dogs with seasonal or year-round allergies may benefit from an immune system-supporting supplement, like Native Pet Allergy Chews, to help decrease signs. 

Foreign Objects in the Respiratory Tract

Enthusiastic chewers, sniffers, and toy-loving canines are especially at risk for inhaling foreign bodies in their airways or upper gastrointestinal tract. The natural response is to attempt to cough it out. Something as small as a blade of grass can lead to aspiration pneumonia and lung infections, which may result in chronic coughing. Dogs who have inhaled a foreign object should receive immediate veterinary care. 


In some cases, coughing may be the first sign of cancer in the trachea or larynx because the ability to breathe correctly has been impeded. Primary lung cancer or metastatic lung cancer can also lead to coughing from decreased lung function or an airway blockage. Dogs who are coughing as a result of cancer will often have a chronic cough lasting two or more months. Other signs may include weight loss, lethargy, and a decreased appetite. 

How to Prevent Coughing and Support a Coughing Dog

The occasional cough may not be a cause for concern; however, chronic or progressive coughing in your dog requires a veterinary examination. Take a video of your dog's cough to show your veterinarian during their examination. Additionally, dogs with difficulty breathing or who cannot stop coughing require immediate veterinary care, as some cough-causing conditions can be life-threatening, like airway obstruction or heart failure.  

Although coughing may not always be preventable, there are ways to support your dog's health and decrease the chances of them developing an illness-related cough, including:

  • Bringing your dog for regular veterinary checkups to ensure they remain healthy
  • Ensuring their vaccinations are current to prevent common infectious diseases, like kennel cough
  • Giving them veterinary-approved parasite prevention medication
  • Keeping your dog a healthy weight by ensuring they receive regular exercise and a complete and balanced diet   

The multiple causes of coughing can appear similar, so bringing your dog for a veterinary examination is critical if they constantly cough. An early diagnosis and treatment will increase your pup's chances of a more positive outcome. For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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