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I’m the first person to admit that I panic anytime my dogs do anything out of the ordinary or even look out of the ordinary. For a really embarrassing story, check out Protecting Your Dog from Ticks.
One thing that’s always worried me, though, is coughing. That awful, hacking sound. The thing is that, sometimes, it can mean something very serious, and other times, it might mean nothing at all.
Coughing isn’t a condition; it’s a symptom. Usually, what it means is that there’s an underlying condition in your dog’s throat, trachea, larynx or nose. It can have any number of causes. The most common cause is actually “kennel cough,” otherwise known as traceheo bronchitis. It sounds scary, but it’s not really all that serious. Symptoms of kennel cough can include a loss of appetite in addition to the cough, along with a watery discharge from the nose or eyes. Kennel cough is very curable.
There are other, far more serious causes when your dog is coughing and gagging.
Canine distemper is a very serious condition, and sadly, one that dog owners often don’t vaccinate against. Often, you will hear people say, “I don’t have to have my dog vaccinated against distemper, because he’s never around other dogs.”
Here’s the thing: your dog doesn’t have to be around other dogs to get distemper! It’s a wind-borne disease, and your dog can actually get it from dogs that he’s nowhere near, that live miles away!
There is no cure for distemper, and it can be fatal. So if you’re holding off getting a pretty darn inexpensive shot for your dog because you’re operating under the delusion that he won’t get it if he’s not around other dogs, readjust your thinking. You’re putting your dog in danger.
Heartworm is just what it sounds like: a worm that invades your dog’s heart. The worm gets into the heart in its larval stage, and then it can grow up to 10 inches. Then, that worm produces other larvae that cascade into your dog’s bloodstream. Your dog will find it hard to breathe, lose weight, and probably die.
This is another disease that is very preventable with a simple inoculation from your veterinarian. And I’m sorry, kind and caring as I try to be in these posts, if your dog gets heartworm and dies, it’s your fault.
This one isn’t your fault, but it can happen to dogs in the same way that it happens to humans. Quite simply, it’s a respiratory ailment that causes a loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, and yes, coughing. If you think your dog might have pneumonia, see your vet.
This is something else that is very common in humans and can also affect dogs. Allergies and asthma can affect any dog of any breed. Symptoms can include runny eyes, itching and scratching, as well as coughing.
Now, a word about second-hand smoke.
Let me say, first of all, that I am not here to give you a hard time. I used to smoke, and I had a hard time quitting. I’ve been tobacco-free for about 15 years now, but it was a hard go.
Dogs are every bit as vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke as humans. And in the same way that second-hand smoke can aggravate allergies and even cause asthma in humans, it can do it with dogs. If you think that you can stop smoking, please do it. It could be very important to your dog’s health.
Now, if your dog does have asthma, you will probably find that the treatments are much the same as they are for humans. A dog, of course, won’t be able to use a puffer, but he can benefit from antihistamines and cortisone drugs.
Take it easy on the exercise, too. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take your dog out for a run, but keep an eye on him. Scale it back a bit if it looks like he’s coughing too much.
Another thing that you need to think about if your dog seems to be coughing a lot after exercising is his breed. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs will often experience more discomfort. So if you have an American Bull Dog, a Boston Terrier, a Boxer, French Bulldog, Pug or Pug mix, or any other dog that has a short nose, you might expect that he will have more difficulty breathing than a long-nosed dog.
If your dog is coughing because of his breed, it could start pretty early on – as early as three or four months. It can also occur later on, though, particularly if your dog is too fat. Symptoms of a blocked airway could include rapid breathing, snoring, panting, trouble swallowing, and yes, your dog could be coughing and gagging. The symptoms might be worse in the hot weather.
Keep in mind that treatment is not always needed, unless the dog seems to be in distress. If the symptoms are severe, then your dog may need help with breathing in the form of veterinary treatment. This could be achieved by passing a breathing (endotracheal) tube down the windpipe, or by means of a tracheostomy, which involves a surgical cut into the windpipe to allow air to pass through.
Any dog that has undergone a surgical procedure should be regularly monitored to make sure that his heart rate, temperature and pulse are normal.
Elderly dogs can also have trouble with breathing, and in old dogs, coughing and gagging could be due to laryngeal paralysis, congestive heart failure, or cancer.
Congestive heart failure usually affects small breeds over the age of 10, although large breeds as young as 7 can also experience congestive heart failure. The disorder itself is caused when a heart valve begins to leak. Some veterinarians also attribute congestive heart failure to dental issues; bacteria in the dog’s mouth lodge in the heart valve and cause deformation. Coughing can be a symptom of congestive heart failure.
This happens when the laryngeal folds don’t come up out of the way when your dog breathes. They just hang, and obstruct airflow. It could occur on either side, or on both sides. It can happens slowly or all at once. Usually, though, it happens in older dogs, and it’s more common in large breeds. The upshot is that your dog has trouble breathing. He breathes harder, and that causes the laryngeal nerve to become paralyzed, making the problem even worse.
Sometimes, surgery is needed to correct his problem. Holistic vets also suggest trying acupuncture, though, since it can stimulate the laryngeal nerve and get it back to working properly.
Sometimes, if your dog is coughing and gagging, it doesn’t really mean much. It could just be that he’s ingested something that didn’t agree with him or he has a dry throat or something else that really doesn’t matter all that much. Sometimes, though, coughing can mean something serious.
If you’re in doubt, you should contact your veterinarian. It’s far better to be told “No biggie” than to let it go and find out that you shouldn’t have. If you can’t easily identify the cause of your dog’s coughing and gagging, get in touch with your vet to rule out anything serious.