Coughing Dogs

Coughing dogs might have heart disease.

There are a handful of diseases that cause coughing in dogs and many of them are serious problems.

A cough is one of those symptoms that should prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

People often get coughs associated with flu or one of the many cold viruses, so we tend to be a bit complacent about them. There are viruses that cause coughs in dogs and we’re on the alert for a new flu bug that has started to move into Canada. However, I see more coughs brought on by heart failure and bronchitis than simple infections.

The badly named kennel cough condition is often caused by a virus and bacteria together. Dogs do not have to be at boarding facilities to pick it up – just sniffing noses with an infected pooch is enough. Like the human cold, symptoms will usually clear up on their own, but the cough can be severe and may even progress to pneumonia. Antibiotics might be prescribed along with cough suppressants.

Unfortunately, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and tracheal collapse are less easy to treat. Small dogs tend to be at highest risk for cardiac problems, although some inherited heart disease occurs in larger breeds such as Dobermans and Boxers. Most often, the little guys get cardiac problems as they age, due to leaky heart valves. The condition progresses to heart enlargement and it is not curable.

Most of the time, we can’t even slow down the progression of heart disease, but we have great tools for controlling the main symptoms – cough and breathlessness – providing for a much improved quality of life. With treatment, dogs in heart failure can live comfortably for years.

Chronic bronchitis is basically inflammation in the airways. A cause is generally not found, although it can be triggered by allergies or exposure to smoke and other irritants. As for heart disease, we have a number of treatments to control the symptoms, but bronchitis is generally not curable and medications will likely be needed for life.

Tracheal collapse is almost exclusively a disease of small-breed dogs. It too can be controlled but not cured with an assortment of drugs. Surgery is also possible, but is not 100 per cent effective and may be prohibitively expensive for some pet owners.

There are several other conditions that can cause coughs and pinpointing the cause of your dog’s symptoms may involve heartworm testing, xrays, ultrasounds, tissue sampling, bloodwork or trials on medications. Providing your vet with a video recording of a coughing episode can be useful. Dogs with collapsing tracheas have a “goose-honk” type of cough which may help make the diagnosis.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
July 2012