Dog Coughs: Why That “Common Cough” May Actually Mean Heart Trouble for Fido

A veterinary cardiologist lists the top five canine coughs, their causes and why heart disease leads the list.

Hacking, gagging and honking like a goose. They’re just a few of the coughing sounds puzzling concerned dog parents everywhere. So, when is a cough serious enough to warrant a vet visit? Dr. Megan King, Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist at The Center for Animal Referral & Emergency Services (CARES) in Langhorne, PA, says every cough does as even the most common sounding cough can be an indication of a very serious health problem, like heart disease and heart failure.

Like humans, dogs also cough. Dog coughs can vary in sound, seriousness and cause, adding to the confusion for pet owners.  As a specialist, heart disease & heart failure top the list of reasons Dr. King treats coughing dogs. According to Dr. King, a cough is one of the first signs a pet may be suffering from heart disease, which can be fatal.

Of course, there are many more reasons why dogs cough. Dr. King has created the following list of the five most common reasons dogs cough.

1. Heart Disease and Heart Failure: Dogs with serious heart problems, like congestive heart failure, often experience bouts of coughing. Heart disease in dogs, like humans, can be hereditary or developed over the life of the dog.

Canine Heart Disease Quick Facts:

  • Approximately 3.2 million dogs in the U.S. have some form of acquired heart disease (developed during middle age)
  • About 11% of all dogs have heart disease
  • The incidence of heart disease increases dramatically with age
  • About 15% of younger dogs have heart disease
  • The incidence of heart disease increases to more than 60% in aged dogs

Sources: American Veterinary Medical Association and www.Yourdogsheart.com  

2. Respiratory Airway Disease: Similar to asthma, symptoms include wheezing, coughing and fatigue. Dogs can also develop allergies to pollen and other inhaled irritants, which can trigger a reaction in the mucus membranes lining the respiratory tract. This can lead to a cough that waxes and wanes depending on the dog’s exposure to allergens.

3. Collapsing Trachea: Coughs associated with a collapsing trachea often sound like a goose honk. It’s a huge problem for small breed dogs, but the good news is it’s often successfully medically managed.

4. Infectious Diseases: Kennel Cough, Canine Distemper and other airborne infectious causes of pneumonia can certainly cause coughing and must be treated. Parasites affecting the intestinal tract, like roundworms, can trigger coughing when the parasites migrate up the intestine and into the respiratory tract. Heartworms can also trigger coughing, as immature heartworm parasites migrate into the lungs, causing irritation as they develop and mature.

5. Cancer: Cancer involving any part of the airway can cause irritation, inflammation and coughing.

Treating Coughing Dogs

The method of treatment for a coughing dog is determined, first, by diagnosing the underlying cause. Dr. King says taking X-rays of the dog’s chest is the best way to ‘picture’ what’s going on in the lungs. They look for an enlarged heart and any abnormalities of the lungs and chest.

The good news is, in most cases, there’s always something that can be done to treat a cough. From diuretics used to treat heart failure, antibiotics used to treat infectious causes, to cough suppressants used for collapsing trachea, there are many options for therapy. Dr King’s best advice to pet parents is to keep up with routine vet care. Early diagnosis and preventative medicine can not only save pet owners money by avoiding unnecessary vet bills later, but also saves lives.


About the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES):

CARES is a full-service specialty referral, 24-hour emergency and critical care veterinary hospital, with one clear goal: to provide a gold standard of care for your pet. Our highly trained, hand selected and compassionate team of veterinarians pride themselves in collaboration between the CARES specialties as well as the referring veterinarian. By engaging multiple, dedicated professionals in the care of your pet, CARES provides the latest, most advanced and best treatments available.  Specialty and referral services include: Anesthesiology, The Cancer Center at CARES, Cardiology, Clinical Pathology, Internal Medicine, Neurology, Ophthalmology, Radiology and Surgery. Specialty cases are seen by referral from the primary care veterinarian. CARES also offers 24-hour emergency care. For more information, visit www.vetcares.com. You can also find CARES on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/CARESvet.

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