Coughing is our body's natural way of responding to the presence of any irritants or abnormalities existing in our airways.

And gagging or choking happens as a reflex after or before coughing.

Just like humans, a pup coughs and gags occasionally.

But sometimes, the coughing and gagging keep coming. You start to panic, and something seems off.

That's when it's important to assess what is happening.

Occasional coughs are not the issue.

Persistent cough, gagging, or choking is.

This type of coughing and gagging can be a symptom of a more serious underlying illness or medical condition.

I know it's been stressful for me when my dog hasn't been able to shake a cough, and about 30 seconds go by, and they still cough.

We will talk about the different types of coughs and how they sound. Afterward, we will go over why it's happening and how to treat it quickly.

Lastly, we'll discuss a few preventative measures to take going forward if you haven't already.

Coughing, Gagging and Choking in Dogs

Why Do My Dogs Cough? Its Signs and Symptoms

Loosely speaking, your dog is gagging, coughing, or choking continuously because it has something irritating or blocking its airway.

When this happens, their symptoms might include mucus production from both of your dog's nose and eyes or nothing at all.

Your dog may also experience coughing frequently and occasional vomiting from time to time.

These fits can come and go.

At some point, your dog feels pain in its throat as the coughing continues.

If the coughing fits are sporadic but continue, look out for other signs like a lack of appetite to eat, resulting in lethargy and weight loss.

On the other hand, the severity of your coughing dog can range from mild to possibly life-threatening signs of any respiratory infection.

Generally, there are four types of coughs in dogs:

  • Hacking cough: This is when your canine lets out a dry hacking sound like they're getting a blockage out of their mouth or throat.
  • Wet cough: This is when your dog emits noises that sound moist or filled with phlegm.
  • Gagging cough: This is when your dog constantly makes gagging sounds while coughing excessively.
  • Honking cough: This is when your dog lets out a sound vaguely similar to a goose honk.

When Is It Time To Go To The Vet?

The majority of hacking, coughing, and gagging resolves itself and your dog moves on with it's life.

But there are definitely scenarios where something more sinister is going on, and you need swift veterinary intervention.

I have already mentioned that your dog will show some signs like a lack of appetite.

Here are some other signs that tell you its time to seek veterinary care:

  • Your dog seems to have less energy than normal
  • Your dog looks like they have to work harder to breathe or get a normal breath
  • Your dog has a fever
  • If your dog has had a cough for more than 3-4 days
  • Your dog continuously is coughing or hacking as they exercise

Coughing, Gagging and Choking in Dogs

Common Reasons Why My Dog is Coughing or Gagging

Listed below are common reasons and their respective underlying cause of why your dog is coughing or gagging.

1. Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal Collapse, also known as tracheal chondromalacia, is a kind of respiratory distress in your dogs that causes the trachea or the windpipe of dogs to become soft and floppy.

As a result, your dog's cough will seem forced but with spasms, seemingly having a honking canine cough.

Once a dog's cough starts, it won't calm down immediately.

Overweight or obese dogs tend to have the worst case of Tracheal Collapse, especially when exposed to heat and irritants.

Dogs with this condition aren’t as active as other dogs; they have exercise intolerance and difficulty swallowing food and water.

A collapsed trachea treatment includes a regulated diet, a weight loss plan, cough suppressants, and occasionally anti-inflammatories.

Their veterinarian might also recommend stent placement for very severe cases.

2. Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough, or Tracheobronchitis, is a condition caused by an infectious respiratory virus or bacteria.

Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria is the one that you may have heard of the most, but it is not always the cause.

No matter which pathogen, they all result in inflammation of the trachea and airways.

This condition is common among seemingly healthy dogs adopted or bought from breeders or shelters and is contagious. It is also seen more frequently in dogs who go to doggy daycare or board at large boarding kennels.

If your dog acquires Kennel Cough, it might experience a hacking dry cough due to upper airway irritation.

This could also, later on, lead to retching of a white foamy substance.

Bear in mind that this condition is very contagious and may spread through a pack of dogs like wildfire.

Kennel cough often resolves itself over time, but it may require prescribed antibiotics and dog cough suppressants to cure itself faster and prevent secondary symptoms.

One might also prevent it by acquiring its vaccination called the Bordetella vaccine.

Call your veterinarian if you think your dog may have Kennel Cough and is showing signs of decreased energy, decreased appetite, or the coughing is non stop.

3. Pneumonia

Dog Pneumonia is a severe illness where the inflammation of your dog's lungs is caused by preexisting conditions (e.g., canine influenza virus), bacterial infection and parasitic invasion.

Based on the dog's condition, it can either have a primary or secondary disorder.

Although Pneumonia can happen to any dog breed, older dogs are more prone to contracting the illness.

Due to complications in the respiratory tract, the symptoms of Pneumonia include difficulties in coughing, swallowing, and breathing.

And might also showcase particular metabolic disorders.

Unlike the other conditions, dogs with Pneumonia cough softly and will often sound wet or crackly. Occasionally, they will sound like they're gasping.

Pneumonia isn't contagious but will rapidly become fatal if not treated or appropriately addressed.

If you are concerned your dog may have symptoms of pneumonia, such as a wet cough, lethargy, breathing faster, and decreased appetite, it is very important to call your vet right away.

4. Heart Disease 

Dogs with chronic heart disease are more prone to coughing than other normal dogs. Their coughs are usually soft and continuous and may worsen at night or while lying down.

Depending on which type of dog's heart disease they have, they'll tend to cough due to breathing difficulties resulting from the compression of significant airways in your dog's lungs.

This is a dry type of cough.

Another type of cough that can be seen with heart disease is a wet cough, which occurs when the dog is in Congestive Heart Failure.

This means fluid is building up in the lungs.

This is an emergency and your dog should be taken to the vet right away.

Chronic heart disease is common to large dogs and miniature and toy breeds alike.

5. Heartworm Disease

Dogs infected with heartworm are also predisposed to any dog coughing and can experience hacking cough sounds, choking, or gagging. It also includes bloating and lethargy.

Mosquitos are known carriers of this parasite and are prevalent in warmer states like Texas and Florida.

Although in colder states your dog's risk of attaining heartworms is low, its risks can be anywhere.

Heartworm disease is fatal if left untreated, so it is always best to keep your dog on monthly heartworm prevention.

There are also long-lasting injections that will prevent heartworms for either 6 months or an entire year. Ask your vet which is best for your pet.

6. Canine Chronic Bronchitis

Canine Chronic Bronchitis is a chronic inflammatory condition wherein it inflames the linings of the airways.

It is typically a cough that has been going on for months, and there is typically not an underlying cause.

Consequently, this will result in swelling and excessive mucus production, making it harder to breathe for your dog.

Chronic Bronchitis is a progressive disease that will worsen over time, leading to severe breathing issues.

Aside from having trouble breathing, its symptoms include lethargy, wheeze-like cough sounds, a sore throat, and difficulty swallowing.

It generally affects any dog type of breed, but it's especially worst with miniature-sized dog breeds with shorter snouts.

Chronic bronchitis will not get better without medications such as corticosteroids, and sometimes they need antibiotics for secondary infection.

Your veterinarian will take x-rays and likely perform other tests like a Tracheal Wash or Bronchoscopy to diagnose this condition.

7. Laryngeal dysfunction and paralysis

Also known as Vocal Cord Paralysis, Laryngeal dysfunction describes your dog's inability to speak or difficulty breathing.

Potential causes for this illness are malignant or benign tumors on the dog's throat, neck, or chest injury.

Thus, when the paralysis comes in, the larynx does not expand, hindering their ability to breathe, and gives off a honking cough.

Hence, its coughs are continuous, loud, and labor due to the dog's attempt to free its airway.

8. Lung Cancer

Lung cancer occurs among dogs who have malignant tumors growing in their lungs. Although this is quite scary for dog owners, fortunately, only 1% of the canine population is diagnosed with lung cancer.

The lifespan of dogs with lung tumors often varies if they have lymph nodes present or not.

You must take this seriously as this is a potentially life-threatening condition.

Unless they undergo chemotherapy, dogs with lymph nodes can only last up to 3 months.

On the other hand, those without lymph nodes can survive for at least 16 months or longer with surgery.

9. Reverse Sneezing

Reverse sneezing usually occurs in short-snouted dogs wherein they produce cough or choking sounds rapidly and noisily but in reverse.

Meaning, instead of exhaling, these sounds are inhaled; thus, the term reverses sneezing.

An underlying cause is irritants that trigger reverse sneezing that include foreign material, excitement, sudden changes in the weather and temperature, exercise, and a collar that might be too tight.

These are not considered coughs that affect dogs by themselves but spasms in the laryngeal region, throat, and soft palate.

Although it is not a severe condition, it can be problematic if it becomes chronic and prolonged.

10. Allergies and Contact with a Foreign Object

There may be instances that a dog can inhale any foreign object or substances, like spores or pollen, and gain an allergic reaction from them.

A dog's mouth might also inhale or swallow any foreign body that can dislodge their airways, causing them to cough, choke, and gag.

Treatments for Coughs in Dogs

Fortunately, there are several dog cough treatments you can choose depending on your pup's condition.

For dogs with Kennel Cough in mild conditions, prioritizing their hydration, nutrition, and rest are necessary until they get nursed back to health.

However, if their condition seems severe, you may have to contact your local vet immediately.

Antibiotics, cough suppressants, steroids, and even sedatives are the standard prescription for canines diagnosed with tracheal collapse and chronic bronchitis.

However, pet parents might have to monitor them closely because they can be lethargic while severity increases.

When diagnosed with heartworms, treatments vary depending on the stages of their condition is.

Dogs without symptoms may be prescribed pills to reduce and eventually kill larvae in their earliest stage.

Furthermore, heartworm treatments can be fatal and dangerous, especially if the dog doesn't receive an early and proper diagnosis.

On the other hand, hospitalization is required for any sick dog suffering from heart disease, severe pneumonia, and lung cancer.

These conditions are severe and can be fatal when mishandled or unmonitored. They may also undergo chemotherapy or surgery if recommended.

What Can a Veterinarian Do to Diagnose Dog Coughing and Gagging?

The veterinarian may do several physical tests to indicate what condition or severity the coughing indicates. Below is a list of the said tests:

  • Blood Test
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal Examination
  • Chest X-Rays
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Echocardiography (an ultrasound of the heart)

It's also best to record a video of how they cough so that their veterinarian can look at it before conducting the test.

Questions may also be added, such as:

  • “Has your dog felt weak or lethargic recently?”
  • “Do their coughs sound wet or dry?”
  • “Are there any particular signs that show up on your dog aside from their coughs?”
  • “Did they interact with other dogs before showing weakness and coughing?”
  • “How long have other symptoms become present?”
  • “Is the dog up to date on shots and vaccines?”
  • “Have there been any changes to your dog's daily routine?”
  • “Have there been changes in your dog's stool? More frequent, loose, runny?”
  • “Does your dog have breathing issues (rapid or labored breathing) between coughs?”
  • “How is your pet's appetite?”

Before proceeding to the veterinary, note any signs and symptoms your dog shows you find odd and concerning.

Coughing, Gagging and Choking in Dogs

How to Prevent Coughs in Dogs?

There are no concrete treatments that prevent coughing in dogs because they can naturally cough without worry.

However, listed below are the vaccines and treatments that serve as preventive measures for the conditions listed above.

They're readily available in hospitals or veterinary clinics near you.

Bordetella +/- Parainfluenza Vaccine

This vaccine is effective for dogs in preventing kennel cough and pneumonia. Itis administered in puppies, and then a booster is given once or twice a year.

Heartworm Vaccine

Heartworms can be prevented by giving a monthly chewable medication, or your vet can give an injection.

It lasts for a whole year too! Ask your local veterinarian for more details.

Pneumonia and Flu Shots

These shots help in preventing flu, and secondary pneumonia. You should consider a flu shot for your dog if they go to do doggy daycare or board at large boarding facilities.

Conclusion

If you feel like your dog has been experiencing a constant gagging cough these past few days, consult your local veterinarian immediately.

There are several conditions associated with dog coughing, and most of them are not life-threatening.

However, bear in mind that certain conditions manifest in different forms. Some of them are unique, while some are not.

Do your research. Observe your pet and take note of these observations.

Seeing our pets getting sick out of nowhere is a heart-wrenching moment for us as pet owners.

However, we need to be calm and steady during those times to support and care for our four-legged friend.

READ NEXT: What to Do If Dog Is Choking?

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