Coughing is a reflex that is stimulated when irritants inflame the respiratory tract, and can be caused by numerous issues. Our team at Tidmore Veterinary Hospital wants to explain some common reasons pets cough, in case your pet is affected.

#1: Respiratory infections can cause pets to cough

Respiratory infections caused by bacteria and viruses are common reasons pets cough. 

  • Signs — Dogs affected by kennel cough tend to exhibit a deep, dry, honking cough, and cats with respiratory infections often also sneeze and have a nasal discharge. 
  • At risk — Pets who are boarded or kept in day-care facilities are more susceptible. 
  • Diagnosis — If your pet is coughing, our veterinary professionals may collect blood samples and potentially nasal swabs, to identify the pathogen. 
  • Treatment — Your pet may need antibiotics to help clear the infection, but most respiratory infections aren’t serious. However, your pet is contagious while they are exhibiting signs, and can spread the illness to other pets. 
  • Prevention — Keeping your pet up to date on their vaccinations can help prevent these diseases.

#2: Heart disease can cause pets to cough

Heart disease is a common reason dogs cough. As the heart loses its ability to pump sufficient blood throughout the body, fluid starts to accumulate in the lungs, resulting in congestive heart failure (CHF). 

  • Signs — Dogs who have heart disease typically have a soft, continuous cough that may worsen when they rest on their side. Affected dogs also typically fatigue easily after exercise, and may develop a distended belly as the fluid accumulates in their abdomen. 
  • Causes — Many issues can cause heart disease in dogs, including congenital abnormalities, dilated cardiomyopathy, valvular degeneration, and arrhythmias. 
  • At risk — Certain breeds, such as Doberman pinschers, boxers, and cocker spaniels, are predisposed to heart disease. 
  • Diagnosis — Heart murmurs and changes in your pet’s heart rate can be appreciated when their heart is auscultated, but diagnosis is often made with ultrasound of your dog’s heart.
  • Treatment — Depending on your dog’s condition, heart medications may be prescribed, and your dog’s diet will be tailored to help manage their condition.

#3: Asthma can cause pets to cough

Asthma commonly causes cats to cough. The disease causes airway narrowing and swelling, and mucus accumulation, which can result in a wet or dry cough. 

  • Signs — In addition to coughing, affected cats often exhibit signs including wheezing, increased respiratory rate, and open-mouthed breathing. 
  • Diagnosis — A specific test to diagnose asthma does not exist, and other conditions must be ruled out to determine a diagnosis. Diagnostics may include X-rays, blood work, allergy testing, and microscopic evaluation of the cells in your cat’s airway secretions. 
  • Treatment — Corticosteroids and bronchodilators may be prescribed for your cat with asthma. Asthma is progressive in cats, who mostly experience occasional asthmatic flare-ups of varied intensity. While the condition can’t be cured, careful monitoring of your cat’s respiratory effort, and prompt intervention with medications, can help affected cats live long, happy lives. 

#4: Tracheal collapse can cause pets to cough

Tracheal collapse is a chronic, progressive disease of the trachea and lower airways that most commonly affects toy- and small-breed dogs, particularly Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, poodles, and Chihuahuas. Overweight dogs are also at higher risk. 

  • Signs — Affected dogs exhibit signs that include a harsh dry cough that sounds like a goose honking, coughing when picked up, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, coughing when excited, and wheezing when they breathe inward. 
  • Diagnosis — Diagnostics to determine if your pet is affected, and the degree of tracheal collapse, include chest X-rays, fluoroscopy (i.e., a moving X-ray), and endoscopy (i.e., viewing the inside of the trachea using a small camera).
  • Treatment — Treatment may involve medical and surgical management techniques.
  • Medical management — Overweight dogs will be put on an appropriate weight loss program, and medicated to reduce airway spasms and inflammation. Sedation may be needed to reduce coughing and anxiety.
  • Surgical management — Surgical techniques, such as placing plastic rings outside the trachea, or placing a stent inside the airway to hold the trachea open, may be necessary if the dog’s condition is severe.

#5: Heartworm disease can cause pets to cough

Mosquitoes transmit heartworms, and these parasites can affect cats and dogs. 

  • Signs — Many pets show no signs initially, but as their condition worsens, dogs may have a mild persistent cough, and cats may exhibit asthma-like coughing. In addition, your pet may fatigue easily, have a decreased appetite, and lose weight. Some pets collapse or suddenly die if the worms block blood flow inside their heart.
  • Diagnosis — Heartworm disease can typically be diagnosed with a blood test, but in some cases, your pet’s heart may need an ultrasound to make a definitive diagnosis.
  • Treatment — All pets affected by heartworms must be exercise restricted, since physical exertion can increase the worms’ damage to their heart and lungs. Our veterinary professionals will prescribe medications for your dog, but the process is dangerous. No medications are approved to treat heartworm disease in cats.
  • Prevention — Your pet should be kept on year-round heartworm prevention medication, and tested at least once a year for heartworms.

While your pet may cough after inhaling a piece of grass or food, many conditions that cause coughing are more problematic. If your pet is coughing, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Tidmore Veterinary Hospital, so we can determine the problem’s cause.