Why Is Your Dog Coughing and Gagging

Just like in humans, dog coughing and gagging is their body's natural way of responding to the irritants or abnormalities in their airways.

Gagging or choking happens as a reflex after or before coughing.

So if you're noticing that your Fido is occasionally coughing, don't panic.

That's normal (most likely.)

However, if the coughing and gagging keep coming, and you feel like something is off, assess what is happening.

Not to scare you, but this could be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.

It's stressful for me too, when my dog hasn't been able to shake a cough.

About 30 seconds go by, and he still coughs!

So in this article, let's talk about the different types of dog coughs and how they sound.

We'll also go over why it's happening and how to treat it quickly.

We don't want this to happen frequently.

So, we'll discuss a few preventative measures moving forward if you haven't already.

Coughing, Gagging and Choking in Dogs

4 Types of Dog Coughing and Gagging

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 similar to a goose honk.

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

Apart from what's happening to their bodies internally, Dr. Liz Buchanan, BVSc, MRCVS, said:

…a sudden change in lifestyle, humidity, and temperature can often bring pre-existing diseases to the fore.

These pre-existing conditions (that you may or may not know yet) might first appear in the form of a cough.

So think about the past days before you notice your dog's coughing.

How's the weather in your area? Or perhaps, you brought him on a hike for the first time?

Your dog may also experience coughing with vomiting from time to time.

These fits can come and go.

If you're wondering if it's painful for your pooch, the answer is yes, especially if the coughing is persistent.

Although the pain will be in his throat only (hopefully!)

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

The severity of your coughing dog can range from mild to possibly life-threatening signs of any respiratory infection.

When Is It Time To Go To The Vet?

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

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

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

Dr. Buchanan also advised:

If you are worried at any point about the speed of breathing, this can often be a severe sign, so it is definitely worth checking with your vet regarding a faster appointment.

Coughing, Gagging and Choking in Dogs

Common Reasons for Dog Coughing or Gagging

Listed below are common reasons and their 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.

If this is the culprit to your dog's coughing, you'll notice that 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.

Because they 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.

RELATED: Recipe: Homemade Weight Loss Dog Food

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.

Not that I'm scaring you… but 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.

My dog goes to daycare… How would I know if he has it?

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

This could also, later on, lead to the 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.

Don't panic, though.

Kennel cough often resolves itself over time.

But, it will require prescribed antibiotics and dog cough suppressants to cure itself faster and prevent secondary symptoms.

And if your dog was vaccinated with the Bordetella vaccine, chances are, he's already protected from it.

Most importantly, if your dog shows signs of decreased energy, decreased appetite, or nonstop coughing, call your vet immediately.

RELATED: Kennel Cough in Dogs: 9 Treatments Kennel Cough in Dogs

3. Pneumonia

Dog Pneumonia is a severe illness where the inflammation of your dog's lungs is caused by preexisting conditions (like a 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.

They might also showcase particular metabolic disorders.

Unlike the other conditions, dogs with pneumonia cough softly and often sound wet or crackly.

Occasionally, they will sound like they're gasping.

Pneumonia isn't contagious but will 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.

This usually results from the compression of significant airways in your dog's lungs, which will cause a dry cough.

But if your dog has Congestive Heart Failure, you'll notice wet coughing instead.

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 in large dogs and miniature and toy breeds alike.

5. Heartworm Disease

Dogs infected with heartworm are also predisposed to any dog coughing.

They can experience hacking cough sounds, choking, or gagging.

You'll also notice bloating and lethargy.

If you live in warmer states like Texas or Florida, take extra precautions to protect your Fido from mosquitos.

These blood-sucking insects are the carriers of heartworms.

But if you live in colder states, don't think your dog is safe—mosquitos 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.

This is what I have my dog take to skip monthly vet visits.

But, as always, you should ask your vet which is best for your pet.

RELATED: 10 Things You Must Know About Dog Vaccines

6. Canine Chronic Bronchitis

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

If your dog has this, you'll notice coughing that's been ongoing for months with no underlying cause.

This results 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, you'll also notice your pooch lethargic, with wheeze-like cough sounds, a sore throat, and difficulty swallowing.

Any dog breed can get this, but if your Fido is miniature-sized with shorter snouts, you'll want to take extra precautions.

Medications for this disease include corticosteroids; sometimes, your dog will need antibiotics for secondary infection.

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

7. Laryngeal dysfunction and paralysis

Do you notice your dog has a hoarse bark apart from the coughing?

Your dog may have a Laryngeal dysfunction or Vocal Cord Paralysis!

This causes your dog's inability to speak/bark and difficulty in breathing.

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

When the paralysis comes in, the larynx does not expand.

This hinders their ability to breathe and gives off a honking cough.

You'll notice that the coughs are continuous, loud, and laborious 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 live for up to 3 months.

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

RELATED: How Expensive is Dog Cancer Treatment?

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; that's why the term is reverse sneezing.

Some causes that trigger reverse sneezing include foreign material, excitement, sudden changes in the weather and temperature, exercise, and a collar that might be too tight.

Now, these are not considered coughs that affect dogs by themselves.

Instead, they're 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

Is your dog allergic to certain things?

Contact with these triggers might be the cause of his coughing!

It's possible that your dog inhaled allergens like spores or pollen and gained an allergic reaction from them.

He may have swallowed any foreign body that dislodges his airways, causing him to cough, choke, and gag.

Treatments for Dog Coughing and Gagging

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

Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian, and an author, said:

“If your dog's cough is mild and they are otherwise healthy, you can try using a humidifier, avoiding irritants like smoke or dust, and providing plenty of water to help soothe their throat.”

However, remember that whatever advice your vet gives you should supersede any tips or advice you'll read in this article.

If your dog is diagnosed with a mild Kennel Cough, you should prioritize hydration, nutrition, and rest.

But if it's a severe one, your vet will guide you on how best to treat it.

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

But you, the pet parent, should monitor him closely because he can be lethargic while the illness worsens.

When diagnosed with heartworms, your Fido may undergo varying treatments depending on his condition.

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

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 fatal when mishandled or unmonitored.

Your dog might undergo chemotherapy or surgery if recommended by the vet.

Diagnosing Dog Coughing and Gagging

I know what you're thinking.

Diagnosing illnesses in dogs can be quite expensive.

Well, that's true. But if you weigh it against your dog's health and safety and your peace of mind, it's worth it.

Your vet may order several physical tests to know what the condition or severity of your dog's coughing means.

These tests include:

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

PRO TIP: Record a video of how your dog coughs so that the veterinarian can look at it before conducting the test.

You should also prepare to be asked questions, 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 been 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 clinic, you should also take note of any signs and symptoms your dog shows that you find odd and concerning.

Coughing, Gagging and Choking in Dogs

How to Prevent Dog Coughing and Gagging

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

But if you want to be extra vigilant and sure, you can consider getting them the preventive measures below:

Bordetella +/- Parainfluenza Vaccine

This vaccine is effective for dogs in preventing kennel cough and pneumonia.

It is administered in puppies, and 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 doggy daycare or board at large boarding facilities.

These are readily available in hospitals or veterinary clinics near you, so you should ask your vet for them.

FAQs about Dog Coughing and Gagging

What are some home remedies for a dog's cough?

Some common home remedies for a dog's cough include using a humidifier, giving them honey or coconut oil, and providing them with plenty of water to drink.

However, it's important to note that home remedies should not be used as a substitute for veterinary care if your dog's cough is severe or persistent.

Can allergies cause coughing in dogs?

Yes, allergies are a common cause of coughing in dogs.

According to the American Kennel Club, “Allergies can cause a dog's airways to become inflamed and irritated, leading to coughing, sneezing, and other respiratory symptoms.”

Allergies can be caused by a variety of factors, including pollen, dust, and certain foods.

Can kennel cough be prevented?

Yes, kennel cough can be prevented through vaccination.

According to the American Kennel Club, “The kennel cough vaccine is typically given as part of a dog's routine vaccinations and can help prevent infection with the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, which is a common cause of kennel cough.”

Dog Coughing and Gagging: Final Thoughts

We hope that your dog coughing and gagging aren't something serious.

But if it is, and your dog is diagnosed with the abovementioned reasons, your next step should be to look for treatment.

Don't worry; they should be available with your vet's help.

As pet parents, you should trust your instinct when you feel like something's up with your fur baby.

Observe your dog and visit the vet.

Remember that timely treatment is crucial for your dog's health and safety.

Any underlying condition your dog might have will manifest in different forms, not just in coughing.

So check out these articles below if you see other symptoms.

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Dog Coughing and Gagging Meaning

Kelly works as a veterinary technician in Austin, TX as well as regular animal rescue volunteer. She's been an animal lover and dog owner since childhood, and has worked in different dog related fields over the last twenty years. Currently she lives with three dogs and a cat.