One of the easiest ways to prevent illnesses in your dog is to be observant and keep an eye on any potential signs. Dog coughing and gagging is one of those signs you should notice fast. The coughing and gagging may pass quickly on its own, but it could also be a symptom of a much more serious condition.

Let's say you have brought your long awaited bundle of fluff home from the breeder. You are enjoying the activity of a puppy and playing with her. But, after a week of having her, she starts to cough. It's not much at first, but as the week progresses, so does her cough.

Dog Coughing and GaggingBy the end of the week, your dog is coughing and gagging. Concerned by her actions, you check the web for reasons why she may be doing this and whether or not there is a home remedy. While there are some popular dog cough remedies, you need to get to the root of the problem first.

As with any human health issues, googling the symptoms is not always the best solution. But nevertheless, it can lead you to some truths.

Below is a partial list of what may cause symptoms of your dog coughing and gagging, but to be safe you need to see a vet. It is possible that your dog picked up something outside, at the dog park, the groomer, the kennel or anywhere else that she's visited lately.

Dog coughing and gagging is especially concerning in puppies and senior pets. If you've recently brought the dog into your home, whether a puppy or an older adopted pooch, the cough could have come from anywhere. It's imperative that you do not wait and seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible.

Dog Coughing and Gagging?
what it means and what you should do

Dog Coughing and Gagging

1. Kennel Cough

You got her from a breeder, kennel or shelter situation where there were many dogs. She came in through a rescue from another state far away from you and traveled with many dogs. If this is the case with your pet, then Kennel Cough is highly suspect in an otherwise healthy dog.

Is she having spells of hard hacking and coughing then gagging like she is going to vomit? If a cough is severe enough, she may vomit as well. She may have Kennel Cough if she was around lots of dogs and one of them was sick.

Kennel Cough is severely contagious and will spread like fire in a group setting of dogs.

A kennel cough, by itself, sounds worse than it is. If your pup is eating good and acting normal (playing, regular bathroom habits, etc…) she should be better in a week or so. Keep her away from all other dogs until the dog coughing and gagging has completely stopped for at least 48 hours.

You will want to go to the vets to make sure she doesn’t need antibiotics. He may give her a cough suppressant to help her out. Your dog should be back to normal in 7 to 10 days.

Dog Coughing and Gagging2. Fungal Infection

Dog coughing and gagging could also be the sign of a fungal infection. This is a condition that is airborne. It isn’t likely she would have it, since it's very rare. Experts say that it's most prevalent among dogs in the Midwest.

Fungal infections require a vet visit to be certain, and he will prescribe the proper medication to cure it. Fungal infections in dogs are not contagious, but your pup should be kept calm to keep her from coughing while she recovers.

One of the more common fungal infections in dogs is called Blastomycosis – it can infect the dog's skin and respiratory system, which causes dog coughing and gagging. Vets say that early detection is vital to treat this fungal infection, so if you notice any signs of this, it's time to talk to your veterinarian.

3. Heartworm

Dog coughing and gagging could be a symptom of a serious heart condition, like an enlarged heart disease. An enlarged heart will press on your dog's esophagus making her cough. However, the most likely heart condition to cause dog coughing and gagging is the infamous heartworm.

In fact, heartworm is shown to be the most common cause of these signs.

Heartworm in dogs very often causes dog coughing and gagging. Most often, it is contracted when the dog is bitten by a mosquito. Anywhere there are mosquitoes, there is the present danger of your canine contracting heartworm.

There are ways to prevent heartworm in dogs. Your veterinarian can discuss monthly medication in pill or liquid form or a shot that prevents it for 6 months. If your pup gets heartworm, treatment will be very hard on her. Depending on severity, the treatment could also end up costing you thousands of dollars.

All of this can be avoided with the preventatives available today. If you are getting an adopted pup, remember to ask if he or she is on heartworm medication. In the case of heartworm, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Symptoms of heartworm in dogs

Dog Coughing and GaggingDog coughing and gagging are just two symptoms of this condition. Other symptoms of heartworm can include:

  • poor appetite or none at all
  • weight loss
  • difficult breathing, rapid respiration
  • expanded (bulging) chest
  • lethargy
  • possibly an allergic reaction to the worms in their bloodstream
  • loss of consciousness

If you don't treat heartworm in a timely manner it could lead to an untimely death. Know your dog, watch for the symptoms above and check them off in your mind before going to the vet. Sometimes it is a minor ailment, but other times these symptoms may need medical intervention immediately.

Stages of heartworm

Thee are four stages of heartworm disease in dogs.

In stage 1 your dog is usually symptom-free, but you might notice a mild cough. This is the mild stage and dogs seem lively and healthy. Because the symptoms aren't noticeable right away, this disease is hard to diagnose inthe earliest stage. Blood tests may even return with a negative answer. This is why you test again in a couple of weeks if the history of the dog is unknown.

Dog Coughing and GaggingIn stage 2 of heartworm disease there are moderate symptoms like a cough that won'tt go away, and unusual tiredness after hard play. The symptoms may be far enough along at this point to be detected in a test.

By stage 3, heartworm is showing the strain on your dog’s well-being. The heartworm symptoms are getting more severe and obvious. Your dog continues to cough, is very fatigued after exercise and may not want to do anything at all. She will most likely have trouble breathing as well. During this stage, dogs may have a bloody discharge when coughing. Heartworm is quite obvious on x-rays now. You can see the swollen internal organs (PDF) and the worms in the heart.

In stage 4 of the disease, there is a very obvious indication of heartworm symptoms. These symptoms are joined by long-term complications for your dog’s health. As in other stages, your dog is tired after exercising, reluctant to exercise and will a very noticeable cough.

This stage of heartworm disease can be fatal. Treatment at this stage is dangerous, and there is a great possibility that she may die in the process.

RECOMMENDED: Heartworm Prevention In Dogs

Dog Coughing and Gagging

When You Should See a Vet

At each stage of the disease, treatments become more dangerous and severe. Know your dog’s typical behavior, so possible symptoms aren’t missed. Heartworm medication has an excellent record at keeping the worms from growing into adults when it is used according to the directions.

You should see your veterinarian at least once per year for a checkup. During this checkup, make sure that they screen Fido for heartworm. You should also see your vet in between checkups if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • dog coughing and gagging lasts more than a week or worsens
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • multiple mild symptoms occurring at the same time

Make a list of things you need to discuss with your vet when you take your dog in for a check up. Be ready with your own questions and concerns as well.

Heartworm in dogs graphic

Common Questions Your Vet Will Ask

If you take your pet to the vet complaining of dog coughing and gagging or other symptoms of heartworm, your vet is likely going to have a lot of questions for you. You should think about the answers to these questions and write them down before you go.

You'll probably be nervous and possibly overwhelmed. Having the answers to these questions will go a long way in discovering what is wrong with your faithful companion.

Here are some examples of common questions that will likely be asked:

  • When did she last take medication (if she is on medication)?
  • Is she up to date on shots and heartworm preventatives?
  • Where has your dog visited lately (dog park, boarding, on vacation)?
  • Is your pup social? When was the last time she was around other dogs?
  • When does she show symptoms (after exercise, after eating, all the time, etc…)?
  • Is her cough wet sounding/congested? Does she sound like she has a cold?
  • Does she have breathing issues (rapid or labored breathing) between coughing             episodes?
  • Have there been any changes to your dog's daily routine?
  • How is her appetite? Is she eating, what diet does she eat, how much, etc…
  • Does she sound like she may vomit when coughing?
  • What does her coughing sound like? Hard and dry or wet?
  • Have their been changes in your dog's stool? More frequent, loose, runny, etc…?

The vet will look your dog over and run tests to see if the problem can be found. It may be an infection, an allergy or a virus. How she is treated depends on the reason she is sick. If it is heartworm, the vet needs to determine what stage she is in by symptoms, blood work and x rays.

RELATED: Can Humans Get Worms from Dogs?

A Heartworm Diagnosis

If coughing and gagging in dogs leads to a heartworm diagnosis, the treatments vary with the stage your pet is in. These treatments are dangerous, and there is the risk of sudden death. It is possible that when the worms are killed, the dead ones could lodge in the heart and organs and stop their blood supply.

So, how do you decide which treatment is right for your dog?

There are varying treatments for your dog that will be chosen based on how severe the infection is. Dogs with no symptoms can be treated with a daily dose of the pills for a time determined by the vet. This kills heartworms in their smallest stage (micro filaria). If this treatment is possible, there are relatively no after effects for the dog.

Treating your dog will involve killing the adult worms living in the blood vessels and the heart. It is essential that the larvae are all killed. It is easier to kill them at larvae stage, and there will be less stress on your dog this way.

If all the larvae haven’t died they will turn into adults and clog up heart and blood vessels.

There is a secondary disease with heartworm known as Wolbachia. This heartworm parasite may actually protect the heartworm. This condition adds to lung swelling as the heartworms finally die.

In a severe case, treatment gets complicated and endangers the dog’s life simply by the need for treatment. In effect, the dog has to be poisoned to kill the worms. Deciding what is the best treatment for your dog will depend on many things like age, overall health and the stage of heartworm she has.

Ultimately, the choice lands with you. However, you need to have a very serious conversation with your veterinarian before making your choice. You may also want to research each treatment option on your own – but don't take too much time researching, as the longer you wait the worse the condition gets.

Treatment Protocols

Your pup will have to be kept quiet during the treatments, no matter which one is needed to cure her. If she has a mild case, chances are your vet will put her on a regimen of taking the heartworm meds daily for a few months.

The reason to keep her quiet is so the dead worms don’t get to her heart all at once. This is when her crate is your best friend – just another reason why crate training is so important. If your pup is not crate trained, a very small room will do.

If dog coughing and gagging led to a diagnosis of severe heartworm, the treatment is a stronger dose of the heartworm meds to kill them off quickly. There is another treatment called options referred to as “slow kill”, which is a better option to use with older dogs or heavily infested dogs.

Dog Coughing and GaggingThe slow kill method is a daily regimen of medication that kills off the micro filaria and the older, adult worms die off of old age. There will be no more growing to adult size, so once the worms clear the blood vessels and heart your dog will be in much better shape.

This process can take a couple of years to accomplish, but the medication regimen has to be strictly stuck to for it to be a success. The same precautions need to take place as far as quiet and no excitement while the treatment works.

A quiet non-exciting life is what this pup needs while under treatment for heartworm. She shouldn’t be excited by running or playing, because this could cause a clot of dead worms needing emergency surgery.

Medications Used in the Treatment of Heartworm

Ivermectin is advised because of the slow kill rate, and it is less stress on the dog. To kill the adult heartworms, most vets recommend melarsomine. It is injected far into the muscles on the dog's back. This can be very painful. The dog usually gets pain medication that is given with the injections to lower the pain and discomfort.

This is given in two different ways depending on the health of the dog. For a reasonably healthy dog, it is two injections one day apart. The second way is better for dogs showing signs of the disease. It is one shot, then in a month, the other two shots are given a day apart. Using this method, there is less chance of a bad reaction when the dog is infested.

The slow kill method is when your dog gets monthly ivermectin based meds, and then you just wait for the worms to die a normal death. This can take up to two years, and they will most likely still suffer more damage to their system.

Doxycycline may also be given to treat or prevent infection by the Wolbachia bacteria that can cause many problems during treatment. Some vets use this while others do not.

RECOMMENDED: Can Humans Get Worms From Dogs?

Home Care for Your Dog

Dog Coughing and Gagging MeaningOkay. You brought your pet into the vet due to dog coughing and gagging, and she was diagnosed with heartworm. You've gotten the recommended treatment. Now what?

You're not done yet!

You're going to need to change up a few things at home to care for your pooch too. First of all, be careful when lifting your dog, her back is likely to be painful from the injections for quite a while.

She will also need absolute quiet and no activity for 30 days (minimum) following the last shot. A comfy place to lie down is also a necessity, since she will be doing a lot of that. You will also have to make sure she gets medications as instructed by the vet, as she may be on more than just the shot.

Her monthly heartworm pill will need to be continued. Proper nutrition goes a long way in the recovery process as well. The right diet will give your dog the vitamins and other nutrients she needs to recover from the treatment. Once the tests show she is healthy, you can start short walks, gradually increasing her activity.

The patient has every advantage of surviving treatment, especially in the late stages. But, prevention is the best option. To make a long story short, get your dog tested and on daily medication for prevention, as it is easier than the cure.

READ NEXT: 15 Cheap Ways To Prevent Most Common Health Issues In Dogs


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