A canine cough here and there is pretty standard. Just as people “get a tickle in their throat” or swallow something “down the wrong tube,” so can dogs.

While an infrequent cough is probably nothing to worry about, a persisting canine cough could very well be a sign of a more serious illness or infection in your beloved pooch.

Let’s figure out why your pup’s under the weather and how to get him back to his playful, happy self.

What is Canine Cough?

What is canine cough?
Canine cough is a general term used to describe a dog’s cough. It’s like saying “human cough”. That’s keywords for ya.

Just imagine how many possible reasons a human may be coughing. It’s almost as vague as that. Canine cough simply refers to a dog’s cough—no need to overcomplicate things.

What Does A Canine Cough Sound Like?

What does canine cough sound like
Deciphering the sounds of canine cough can be a helpful tool when a veterinarian is narrowing down the possible causes.

Here are some useful words to use:

When describing what does canine cough sounds like, specific terms can articulate just what Type of cough a dog may be experiencing when discussed with the family veterinarian. The easiest way to describe a cough is with four broad categories.

Here are some useful words to use:

  • Dry
  • Unproductive
  • Wet
  • Productive

Canine Dry Cough

A dry cough in dogs can sound like hacking, “honking,” or gagging. One may think a dog is choking or trying to dislodge something from the airway.

Canine Dry cough is often also unproductive. Unproductive, meaning a dog coughs and coughs, and nothing comes up no matter how hard they try.

Dogs with dry, unproductive coughs may sometimes cough so hard they produce white foamy saliva or vomit. However, the cough is still considered unproductive.

Canine Wet Cough

A wet cough may sound like gurgling, rattling, or bubbling deep in the chest. Wet coughs are often productive, meaning the cough results in mucousy secretions.

Wheezing

Both wet and dry coughs may be accompanied by wheezing. Wheezing is a general indicator that something is irritating or damaging the lungs.

We’ve gathered different types of canine cough and the diseases they might implicate in this handy table:

Dry CoughWet CoughWheezing
  • Kennel Cough/CIRD/Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis
  • Sore throat
  • Airway Obstruction
  • Distemper
  • Pneumonia
  • Heartworms
  • Parasites
  • Fungal infections
  • Lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Heartworm
  • Parasites
  • Distemper

Canine Flu vs Kennel Cough

Canine flu vs kennel cough
Canine Influenza is an infection caused by particular Type A influenza viruses. It manifests much like the flu in humans, but don’t worry, the viruses are not zoonotic and do not transfer between species.

Please note that Canine Influenza and Parainfluenza and two completely different viral infections.

Although both contribute to a kennel cough infection and cause upper respiratory distress, Canine Influenza is typically less severe.

As for kennel cough, it’s more of an umbrella term for several viral and bacterial infections working together to compromise the immune system. So, canine Influenza can be included in the mash-up of culprits causing kennel cough. More on this later.

Canine Cough After Drinking Water

Canine cough after drinking water
Ever seen an excited dog cough while drinking water? It’s pretty normal. However, if a dog is coughing more often than not when drinking, it could be a more pressing issue. Consult a veterinarian.

Aspiration can happen anytime, but dogs may be more likely to aspirate for one reason or another. Frequent aspiration will eventually prompt fluid to build up in the lungs causing aspirational pneumonia.

Aspiration pneumonia can occur in some dogs for a few reasons.

  • Birth abnormality
  • Force-feeding
  • Misguided administering of medications

If one must feed a dog with a dropper or syringe, it is imperative to use caution.

Be sure that the dog can swallow before pushing more through the applicator. 

Force-feeding or administering meds incorrectly may cause the liquid to go down the bronchial tubes to the lungs instead of the belly, like intended. Use extra care and attention.

6 Most Common Causes of Canine Cough

Canine Cough Causes

  1. Kennel Cough
  2. Heartworm Disease
  3. Heart Disease
  4. Tracheal Collapse
  5. Distemper
  6. Pneumonia

Kennel Cough

This incredibly contagious and complex disease has many different names, yet they all refer to the same thing.

  • CIRD or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease
  • Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis
  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica

Kennel Cough is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in dogs throughout the world. The reason is not difficult to understand with a bit of explanation.

First, Infectious tracheobronchitis or kennel cough is usually a combined effort of several different viral and bacterial culprits.

Second, all of these viral and bacterial infections can be transferred from dog to dog through the air by sneezing, coughing, or sharing toys, water, or food bowls.

Because all of these culprits are airborne, one may deduce that the probability of infection is much higher when dogs are near each other, particularly in shelters and boarding facilities.

Although Kennel Cough is common in dogs, with prompt attention and treatment, it’s rarely severe or fatal.

The Many Causes of Kennel Cough

Viruses Bacteria
  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica
  • Mycoplasma
  • Pasteurella multocida
  • Streptococcus Equi zooepidemicus
  • Klebsiella Pneumoniae

*All of the above can cause infection alone or under the kennel cough umbrella

Heartworm Disease

Summer is great, except for the mosquitos! Those little vampires not only cause itchy, annoying red bumps, they also carry heartworm!

When an infected mosquito bites a dog, they leave the heartworm larvae behind. Over the next six months, the larvae develop into worms that inhabit the pulmonary artery connecting the heart and lungs.

Is heartworm treatable?

Yes, a heartworm can be treated with a series of injections to kill adult worms, but sometimes permanent damage may occur. This is more likely for small dog breeds that may suffer more damage than larger breeds from a heartworm infection.

Heartworm diagnosis will require chest x-rays, possible hospitalization, and quite a bit of time and money.

Luckily, the medications for prevention from heartworm are readily available and effective. Most are given monthly and prescribed by a veterinarian in 6 month or one-year bundles.

A little-known fact about heartworm preventatives – they work backward.

A pet parent would assume that one would administer the medication to prevent future infection, but that’s not how it works.

When the dog takes the heartworm medication, it actually kills the last month’s larvae. There is a window of about 40 days where the larvae are susceptible to the medication. Pet parents must administer heartworm medication every month; for this reason, no exceptions!

Heart Disease

Heartworm can lead to heart disease with a severe or untreated infection, but many things can contribute to the development of heart disease in dogs. Breed, age, and weight can all play a part.

Heart Murmurs in Dogs

Valve diseases like mitral regurgitation cause heart murmur in dogs. Heart murmurs are graded on a scale of one to six. The higher the number, the worse the murmur.

Before you worry too much, know that dogs can lead completely regular, happy lives with a heart murmur. The family vet will keep a close eye on the sound of the heart, and if they don’t, remind them.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy or DCM is the most common heart muscle disease in dogs. A heart affected by DCM will wear thin and stretch out, caus=ing it not to pump blood as it once did.

Beware of Grain-Free Food!!

Many dog owners probably remember the grain-free craze a few years back. It was all the rage! Well, studies have shown that grain-free, legume-rich dog food causes heart disease in dogs!

That’s right; it was all a marketing ploy! Humans are obsessed with extreme diets like Keto, Atkins, and Paleo, so why not transfer that obsession to our dogs?! Bad idea.

In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration started investigating the claims, and veterinarians have been advising against it throughout its popularity.

Though this terrifying information is available to the public, grain-free foods are still available. Don’t buy it into the hype!

Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse causes a “honking” cough and is more likely seen in small and toy breeds than large ones.

Yorkies are at an exceptionally high risk of developing tracheal collapse. Many small dog breeds are born with the gene for weak tracheal cartilage.

For a dog experiencing a tracheal collapse, a stent may be placed to reinforce the weakened cartilage. The surgery is said to be minimally invasive, but there is some risk involved. With a mortality rate of about 11% 60 days post-stent, it’s not perfect, but it’s an option.

Distemper

Distemper is an incredibly contagious and dangerous disease that negatively affects the respiratory and nervous systems and, eventually, the entire body.

Usually, when a virus attacks the body, the white blood cells create a macrophage or a blob of cells. Next, the blob envelops the infectious microorganism, digesting it. It is then expelled from the body through excretions from, well, any and everywhere.

However, the distemper cells are unphased by the valiant efforts of the macrophage. Instead, they ride along with the white blood cells, infecting the body on their way.

Distemper is a scary and awful disease that a vaccine can easily prevent.

Pneumonia

Distemper often leads to pneumonia in dogs, as the disease is carried throughout the body and fluid compiles in the lungs. Viral pneumonia can be treated with several days or even weeks of hospitalization and 24-hour care, but the outcome is indefinite.

Keeping up on routine vet visits and core and necessary non-core vaccines can eliminate many potential negative outcomes. Just do it, vaccinate!

Canine Cough Symptoms

Canine cough symptoms
The symptoms of canine cough vary depending on the disease or infection at hand, yet they all share the cough as the number one symptom.

Many other indications of illness may accompany the bothersome cough, some more blatant and obvious than others.

Top Canine Cough Symptoms

  • Persistent Cough
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Gagging and retching
  • Coughing up white foam
  • Sneezing
  • Loss of appetite

Persistent Canine Cough

This is of course the leading symptom of canine cough. A non-stop, super annoying, never-ending, cough or hacking noise coming from your dog. While canine cough is usually not an overly serious condition, it’s best to bring your dog to the vet if the symptoms persist for longer than a few days.

Lethargy

Nobody knows your dog better than you. If he/she is low on energy and being uncharacteristically lazy, it could be related to canine cough.

Fever

Is your dog showing canine cough signs of fever such as red eyes, shivering, coughing, dry nose and more? Make sure to encourage your dog to drink water and consider a visit to the veterinarian ASAP to get checked out.

Intolerance to exercise

Same as lethargy, a persistent cough combined with intolerance to exercise means it’s time to book your best friend for a check-up.

Runny nose & eyes

A runny nose and runny eyes are more symptoms that often go hand in hand with canine cough. As you can imagine, this can be quite uncomfortable for your dog, and so it is important to do everything you can do to provide comfort and relief.

Gagging and Retching

There are many sounds associated with canine cough, including repeated gagging and retching. Don’t be alarmed at this, however, it’s important to take your dog to a medical professional if it lasts for more than a few days.

Coughing Up White Foam

Coughing up white foam is a very common symptom of canine cough. Again, don’t be alarmed, but be sure to isolate your dog as soon as you start noticing these symptoms as canine cough is highly contagious to other dogs.

Sneezing

Constant sneezing is a symptom often noticed with dogs with canine cough. Be sure to isolate your pooch and bring it to the vet ASAP as it’s always good to stay on the side of caution. This is our best friend we’re talking about!

Loss of Appetite

What do dogs love more than eating? Aside from their humans, probably nothing. It should be easy to notice if your dog isn’t as excited about dinner time as usual, and it is important to include this information with the vet when you take him/her for a check-up.

Canine Cough Treatment

Canine cough treatment
Many of the viral and bacterial pathogens previously mentioned will be treated symptomatically—some treatment options were mentioned above for the more harmful infections.

Regardless of the severity of the disease in question, it is always necessary to calm the cough, if only for a comfortable night’s rest.

  1. Canine cough medicine
  2. Cough suppressants
  3. Cough tabs
  4. Cough syrup
  5. Corticosteroids

Canine Cough Medicine

Dog cough medicine can be prescribed by a licensed vet or ordered from a reputable pet site like chewy.com or 1800PETMEDS. A carefully measured dose of Robitussin DM has been known to soothe a dog’s cough, but pet parents must follow strict dosing instructions adamantly.

Canine Cough Suppressants

A Veterinarian can prescribe cough suppressants such as antitussives.

Antitussives like codeine and dextromethorphan turn off the brain receptors that encourage coughing.

Wild, huh? Those well-known medicines for humans are also effective cough suppressants for dogs.

Canine Cough Tabs

Tablets are available to quiet a coughing dog as well as syrups. Cough tablets often contain Dextromethorphan and Guaifenesin, the two main ingredients in Robitussin DM.

Canine Cough Syrup

There are endless canine cough syrups available on the world wide web but please consult with your vet first.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids like prednisone may be prescribed by a veterinarian to combat inflammation and further irritation of the bronchial tubes, reducing the severity of the coughing.

Online shopping? Would you please consult your vet for products they recommend? Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s a good product. You can’t be too careful.

Canine Cough Vaccine

Canine cough vaccine
Prevention folks – that is the goal!

Many of the diseases mentioned in this article are preventable by annual or tri-annual vaccination.

Core Vaccines

DHPP Vaccine

First, let’s talk about the DHPP vaccine, often referred to as just “distemper”. The DHPP vaccine can be given as early as six weeks with a booster at nine weeks, 12 weeks, and one year. After that, it is typically administered every three years.

The DHPP vaccine is a 4-in-1 vaccine including:

  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza

With four of the most dangerous diseases packed in one vaccination, why risk it? Vaccinate

Non-Core Vaccines

Bordetella Vaccine

The Bordetella vaccine is also dubbed the kennel cough vaccine, even though it doesn’t cover all of the possible offenders. These days, there is a vaccine that includes vaccination against the Bordetella Bronchiseptica bacteria and adenovirus-2 and parainfluenza.

Kennel cough or Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis can’t always be avoided entirely, even with vaccination.

Why doesn’t the vaccine guarantee immunity??

As discussed before, Kennel Cough is a broad term used to describe the infection of several viral and bacterial pathogens.

So far, scientists haven’t been able to vaccinate against every possible cause of kennel cough. However, the Bordetella vaccine has been known to stifle a full-blown kennel cough infection significantly.

Canine Cough Home Remedies

Canine cough home remedies

  1. Honey
  2. Humidifier
  3. Steam

Honey

Honey is such a fantastic nature-made treasure. Chock full of antioxidants and antibacterial properties, honey packs a punch. Nature’s antibiotic, if you will, and one of the best canine cough home remedies.

Studies show that honey has incredible antibacterial and medicinal properties, even for your dog.

Again, don’t get too carried away. Honey may have a lot of great stuff, but it also has a lot of sugar. Try diluting a teaspoon to a tablespoon in warm water.

Humidifier

Keeping the air surrounding a dog suffering from a cough or upper respiratory infection is a passive way to help exponentially. It’s an investment that will benefit the entire family.

Steam

For humans, taking a hot shower can make all the difference when congestion and sinus pressure are the problems. Steam therapy can also help to clear a pet’s congestion, but don’t put them in the shower!

Steam up the bathroom and hang in there with your dog for half an hour or more for congestion relief.

Canine Cough Concluded

With so many potential causes, navigating canine cough can be a real doozy.

Developing a good relationship with the local veterinarian can be extremely advantageous. A veterinarian who knows the dog well can easily advise on the correct dosage and gently remind a pet parent of things they may have missed.

Stay up to date on vaccines and vet visits, take note when a pet is acting out of sorts, and don’t be afraid to ask all of the questions!

With preventative care, knowledge, and a little compassion, pet parents can breathe a little easier knowing how to care for their fur babies.