Heart problems commonly cause coughing in dogs, but other conditions, from benign irritants to serious disease, can also be the reason your dog is coughing. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team wants to offer information about non-cardiac causes of coughing in dogs so you are prepared should your dog start coughing. 

Kennel cough in dogs

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by numerous pathogens, including Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus type 2, canine herpesvirus, and canine respiratory coronavirus. Important information about kennel cough includes:

  • Transmission — An infected dog sheds infectious bacteria or viral agents in their respiratory secretions. The infection is spread through direct contact, such as a dog interacting with an infected dog, by inhaling infectious airborne droplets, or from objects or surfaces that are contaminated with infectious agents. 
  • Dogs at risk — Dogs kept in crowded situations, such as boarding kennels, animal shelters, and grooming facilities, are at higher risk.
  • Signs — Signs include a loud, honking cough, nasal discharge, sneezing, lethargy, decreased appetite, and a low fever.
  • Diagnosis Diagnostics may include blood tests and nasal swabs, and chest X-rays in severe cases.
  • Treatment — Uncomplicated cases resolve on their own. Cough suppressants can help your dog rest while the infection is resolving, and antimicrobials may be necessary in severe cases.
  • Prevention Vaccinations are available for several pathogens that cause kennel cough, and dogs at high risk should be vaccinated once a year. 

Chronic bronchitis in dogs

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammatory, non-infectious, non-contagious condition that typically affects the mucosal lining of the dog’s trachea and bronchi. In most cases, the causative agent is unidentified. Important information about chronic bronchitis in dogs includes:

  • Dogs at risk — Chronic bronchitis most commonly affects middle-aged to older dogs, and breeds at higher risk include West Highland white terriers and cocker spaniels. Excess weight tends to exacerbate the condition.
  • Signs — The most common sign is a harsh, dry cough, often followed by gagging, that persists for more than a month. As the disease progresses, other signs include exercise intolerance, noisy breathing, and fainting after exertion.
  • Diagnosis — Diagnostics include blood work, chest X-rays, bronchoscopy, and tracheal lavage to obtain samples for cytology and culture.
  • Treatment — Treatment typically includes cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and corticosteroids.
  • Prevention — Although chronic bronchitis can’t be prevented, prompt diagnosis can help you manage your dog’s coughing.

Tracheal collapse in dogs

The trachea is a rigid but flexible tube consisting of muscles that connect cartilage rings. These rings are incomplete, and form a C, with the open end facing the dog’s back. When the cartilage rings weaken (i.e., tracheomalacia), the structure can’t hold the rigid C-shape, and the ring flattens, eventually leading to tracheal collapse, which severely compromises your dog’s airway. In addition, the collapse causes increased secretion and inflammation inside the trachea that results in more problems. Important information about tracheal collapse includes:

  • Dogs at risk — Middle-aged to older small-breed dogs, such as Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, poodles, and Chihuahuas, are most commonly affected. Overweight dogs and those who live in a household with a smoker are also at higher risk.
  • Signs — Signs include a harsh, dry cough, coughing when picked up, exercise intolerance, coughing when excited, fainting, and difficulty breathing.
  • Diagnosis — Diagnostics include blood work and chest X-rays. However, the tracheal collapse isn’t always visible on regular X-rays and a specialized technique, called fluoroscopy, is sometimes necessary. An endoscopy may also be useful to look inside the trachea.
  • Treatment — Mild cases can be addressed medically, including weight loss and medications to reduce airway spasm and inflammation, and anxiety. In more severe cases, and in cases where medical management isn’t sufficient, surgery may be necessary to open the airway.
  • Prevention — Tracheal collapse can’t be prevented, but keeping your dog at a healthy weight can help decrease their risk.

Laryngeal paralysis in dogs

The larynx functions to close off the trachea during eating and drinking. Normally, laryngeal muscles open the trachea during inhalation, and relax during exhalation. When these muscles are weak or paralyzed, the larynx collapses inwards, creating noise when the dog breathes, and eventually obstructing their airway. Laryngeal paralysis may be caused by trauma, endocrine disorders, congenital conditions, and a disease called geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy (GOLPP). Important information about laryngeal paralysis includes:

  • Dogs at risk — Breeds most commonly affected include Labrador retrievers, Siberian huskies, bull terriers, and Dalmatians. 
  • Signs — The most frequently reported sign is coughing after exercise, or eating or drinking. Other signs include noisy breathing and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, the dog may develop respiratory distress and collapse, and death is possible.
  • Diagnosis — Endoscopic examination of the dog’s laryngeal region is necessary to diagnose laryngeal paralysis.
  • Treatment — Mild cases can be managed medically, including anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics to control secondary infections, and sedatives. In addition, affected dogs should avoid hot environments and strenuous exercise, which exacerbates the condition. In more severe cases, surgery is needed to secure the collapsed tissue to keep the airway open.
  • Prevention — Laryngeal collapse can’t be prevented.

Many different issues can cause coughing in dogs, and the source must be determined to address the issue appropriately. If your dog is coughing, contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team, so we can discover the problem and devise an effective treatment plan.