Deciphering a dog’s cough can be tricky but very informative if you know where to look. Noting the sound of a dog’s cough can help your vet diagnose the many reasons for canine cough.

Is it Kennel Cough or Something Stuck In the Throat?

Kennel cough or something stuck in throat?
Many pet parents will describe a cough caused by canine infectious tracheobronchitis to sound like something is stuck in the throat or like the dog keeps trying to cough something up.

While the two do sound similar, there are ways to differentiate between diseases, infections, and the coughs that accompany them.

Although Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis or Kennel cough is one of the most common reasons for a dog’s persistent, dry cough, coughing can be related to other diseases, allergies, or conditions. Consult your vet immediately if your dog is often coughing.

Let’s walk through the four most common dog cough sounds and what they might mean.

A pet owner may hear the following sounds from a dog suffering from kennel cough or another possible ailment.

  1. Retching
  2. Hacking
  3. Honking
  4. Gagging

Hacking

Hacking is an annoying dry or unproductive cough. It may sound like the dog keeps trying to cough something up but without any success. A dry, fruitless, persistent hacking cough is often the first sign of kennel cough, runny eyes, and nose, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Retching

Retching and hacking often go together. A dog’s cough may start with a few harsh hacks and end with retching. Retching is the drawn-out ending of a nasty cough often accompanied by a foamy saliva pile and a drool stream. A dog may even cough so hard they induce vomiting.

Retching can also be caused by:

  • Eating too fast, or too much
  • Nausea
  • An attempt to expel medications

Honking

The infamous “honking” sound a dog can make when experiencing a cough caused by Bordetella Bronchiseptica may cause alarm. The cough tends to be quite loud and obnoxious, and painful for the poor pup with kennel cough. The unique characteristic of this cough is likened to the sound a goose makes.

Surprisingly, the sound comes quite close to mimicking that of the fellow waterfowl.

Tracheal collapse also causes the “honking” cough in dogs.

Tracheal collapse can occur in any dog but is much more common in small breeds like:

  • Yorkies
  • Chihuahua
  • Pomeranians
  • Poodles

Collapsed trachea in dogs is a progressive and irreversible condition affecting the windpipe or trachea. The windpipe has several cartilage rings inside of it, keeping it propped open. When a dog has a slowly collapsing trachea, the cartilage rings weaken, making it more and more difficult to breathe, cough, or expend energy in general.

Gagging

Gagging is usually caused by inflammation in the airway. However, there can be many reasons for the swelling. Gagging can sound like a dog keeps trying to cough something up.

The most common reasons for gagging in dogs are

  • Something stuck or blocking the airway or
  • Respiratory infections

The most common of those respiratory infections is, you guessed it, kennel cough!

Now that you know the most common dog cough sounds, here are four common reasons why your dog is trying to cough something up (or sounds like it).

Dog Dry Heave

Dog Dry HeaveDry heaving is when a dog retches as if it will vomit, but nothing is produced. Dry heaving can occur for several reasons.

  1. Something stuck in the windpipe
  2. Respiratory illness
  3. Nausea
  4. Tumour in the throat
  5. Gastric Dilation-Volvulus aka Bloat

What does dry heaving sound like?

A dry heave will sound and look like the dog is trying to vomit. It may sound like coughing up a furball or like something is caught and irritating the trachea.

What to do

Dry heaving has several possible culprits, and the treatment is dependent on the cause of the dry heaving. Consult your vet if you notice your fur baby is dry heaving regularly.

Is my dog dry heaving or reverse sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is a reaction to irritation in the throat, causing a spasm and hence a reverse sneeze. Check out this adorable animated video on reverse sneezing from Ralston Vet.

Irritants and allergens in the air cause reverse sneezing. If your dog has been reverse sneezing, consider eliminating as many irritants as possible. To help with this transition, here is a list of typical household irritants you may not realize could be harming your pet.

Household Irritants and Allergens

Pet parents may be unaware of the harmful chemicals and irritants one may keep around the house, even for everyday use.

  • Smoke
  • Harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia
  • Perfumes
  • Aerosol Sprays

Please be aware of what you are putting in the air. Your dog’s lungs are smaller and cannot handle as much abuse as ours can. Second-hand smoke can reduce a dog’s life span as well as the quality of life. Just go outside.

Some irritants are more naturally occurring and may require more effort to cope with or eliminate.

  1. Pollen
  2. Dust mites
  3. Mold

Pollen

If you live in an area lush with greenery at certain times of the year, you probably have experienced or know someone who has allergies. Maybe even your dog is suffering from symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and itchy, watery eyes when outside in certain conditions. Consider consulting your vet about seasonal allergy meds.

Dust mites

Dust mites are little tiny microscopic organisms that live on indoor soft, porous surfaces like furniture, bedding, carpets, and curtains. These insect-like little buggers are most commonly known for causing asthma in humans and sometimes in pets.

Dust mites like humid, comfortable climates around 20°C – 25°C , so if you live in the desert, you won’t have this problem.

Steps to control dust mites

  1. Use synthetic material for pet beds, i.e. no feathers, fur, or horsehair.
  2. Keep mopped clean bare floors whenever possible. If you have carpet, use a hypoallergenic vacuum and change the filter often.
  3. Change air conditioner and furnace filters regularly.
  4. Use a mattress cover and easy to wash blankets and comforters
  5. Groom pet outside
  6. Keep it cool and dry—dust mites like temperatures around 20°C and humidity of 50%-70%. Use air conditioning to control temperature and humidity.

Dust mites can be killed by exposure to extreme temperatures. Eliminate them by washing bedding and the like in hot temperatures. 

Dust mites can also be eliminated by exposure to extreme cold. Parents of kids with dust mite allergies are advised to put soft toys in the freezer to kill mites, rinsing with cold water afterward to eliminate leftover allergens.

Mold

Any homes that have moisture problems can be a potential source of mold. Whether it’s from a leaky roof, bathtub, or improper insulation, it is crucial to be aware of possible mold outbreaks in the home.

It may take a while for mold to accumulate, but any amount of mold in the home is potentially dangerous and should be addressed as soon as possible. Dogs, as well as people, can and will experience adverse reactions to mold.

Adverse reactions to mold in Dogs:

  • Lung and respiratory issues.
  • Neurological issues, like seizures
  • Damage to the gastrointestinal tract
  • Digestive problems
  • Allergies

Dog Cough After Drinking Water

Dog Cough After Drinking WaterAfter a jog on a hot day, a doggy might get a little carried away when they return to their water bowl. Even people are guilty of accidentally aspirating on liquid or having a coughing fit after something “went down the wrong tube”.

A dog coughing after drinking water happens sometimes, and many times it is nothing to worry over. However, if a dog coughs every time they try to drink water, there is probably an underlying condition causing the reaction.

In some cases, coughing after drinking water can signify something more serious. These include the collapsed trachea, misshapen or underdeveloped trachea, debris caught in the throat, or a respiratory illness like kennel cough.

Kennel Cough

Dog Coughing Something Up
Although there are many plausible reasons for a dog’s cough, the most common is kennel cough. However, kennel cough or CIRD can be the result of one or many viral or bacterial infections. The one that takes the brunt of the blame for the illness is the Bordetella Bronchiseptica bacteria.

Other viruses like parainfluenza, adenovirus-2, distemper, and canine coronavirus will ride Bordetella’s coattails right to the upper respiratory system if they get the chance.

If your dog is coughing, get them to the vet, and don’t take them around other dogs until things get squared away. Avoiding areas with other dogs will limit the chance of another viral agent worsening a case of kennel cough.

Kennel Cough Sound

So, what does kennel cough sound like?

Above are summaries of the most common sounds of kennel cough. However, when pet parents first hear a cough, they often think that the dog has something stuck in their throat.

Kennel cough can sound like the dog keeps trying to cough something up when they are just coughing so hard that it brings them to retch, spit up or vomit.

Signs & Symptoms of Kennel Cough

The signs of kennel cough are those of most colds, the first to manifest and the most common being the cough.

  • Persistent, harsh, dry cough
  • Clear nasal discharge
  • Low fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lazy

What to do

With supportive care from you, the doting pet owner, advice, and the necessary kennel cough medicine from your vet, the illness will pass in anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. During this time, do not bring a sick dog around other dogs.

Immunocompromised dogs like puppies and seniors are more vulnerable to infection and may not recover as fast. It is imminent to figure out why a puppy or senior dog is coughing. Time is of the essence. Don’t stress out too much; most senior dogs and puppies will make it through kennel cough with prompt and timely care.

Reasons Why

If you don’t already know what causes kennel cough, here’s a review.

Kennel cough is super contagious and spreads like wildfires in animal shelters, boarding facilities and doggy daycares. These places are petri dishes for the spread of the bordetella bacterium because they are often crowded and poorly ventilated.

Something Stuck in Dog’s Throat

Something Stuck in Dogs Throat
So what if it isn’t kennel cough, and there really is something stuck in the dog’s throat? Here are some signs to look for and what to do if you find yourself in this situation.

Signs That a Dog (or Cat) Is Choking

  • Gagging or retching
  • Salivation
  • Coughing
  • Blue mucous membranes (cyanosis)
  • Distress
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Rubbing their face against the ground
If a dog is choking, noticing early signs of hacking and coughing can make all the difference. 

The Heimlich maneuver and the finger sweep can be life-saving if a dog’s airway is completely blocked. However, there is a possibility of lodging the object further into the throat.

Whatever you do, proceed with extreme caution when trying to dislodge something from the airway. Be very gentle and if you feel any resistance, stop right then and there!

If the airway is not blocked and the dog can still breathe, consider a trip to an emergency or routine vet if the hours allow. Then if anything goes awry, you will have the medical professionals nearby.

How to Prevent Choking in Dogs

Some dogs like to get into things more than others. These cute and furry trouble makers may require more effort and training to get them to stop chewing whatever they can find. Here are a few tips on how to prevent choking in dogs.

  1. Watch what and how they’re eating.
  2. Get rid of toys that are retaining moisture.
  3. Keep the floor clear of unnecessary items.

Watch 

Dogs that eat too fast can curb their competition eating with interactive feeders like this one. These fun bowls require a bit more work for the dog. With ridges and crannies, pups have to take time to eat their food a few pieces at a time.

Get Rid of Toys That Are Retaining Moisture.

A dog’s favorite toy may become a slobbery wet blob that could now cause the dog to aspirate on the moisture. Wash and dry water retaining toys and plushies, or just throw them out.

Keep Floor Clear of Unnecessary Items

Dogs can’t chew or swallow things they can’t reach, but keeping fun chewing toys like your best sneakers or heels can sometimes prove to be more difficult than one might think. Try your best to keep things of interest off of the floor and out of reach to dogs.

Signs a Dog is ChokingHow to Prevent Choking in Dogs
Rubbing face against the ground

Pawing at mouth

Coughing

Gagging

Retching

Salivation

Blue gums

Watch what and how they’re eating.

Get rid of toys that are retaining moisture.

Keep the floor clear of unnecessary items.

Hypoxemia

Hypoxemia or low blood oxygen in dogs decreases the amount of arterial blood needed for everyday body function. That’s the blood that carries oxygen away from the heart.

Low blood oxygen levels are hazardous and must be addressed right away. Hypoxemia can cause internal organs to shut down if left untreated.

If you notice the following signs, get to the vet immediately.

Signs of Hypoxemia in DogsCauses of Hypoxemia in Dogs
Blue or purple tint to the skin (cyanosis)

Fast heart rate

Pain when breathing

Frothy discharge from nose and mouth

Weakness

Gagging or gasping

Difficult and rapid breathing

Excessive coughing and gagging

Refusing to exercise or walk

Loss of appetite and weight loss

Fainting

Collapse

Seizure

Lung collapse

Lung disease

Neuromuscular disease

Cervical spinal cord disease

Obstruction or infection of the airway

Heavy sedation

Severe respiratory muscle fatigue

Pulmonary fibrosis

Heart disease

Severe anemia

Pneumonia

Pulmonary edema

Pulmonary hemorrhage

Conclusion

With so many possible causes of coughing in dogs, it can be tough to navigate. A pet owner may wonder, when should I call the vet? Is this cough serious? 

When in doubt, calling your family veterinarian and going in for a visit is recommended.

Many cough causes are not that serious, but many of them can be extremely dangerous. Early awareness of disease and illness will be better for everyone involved. Less money spent in the long run and less time feeling uncomfortable for the pup.