It’s not pleasant for your dog when he has a cough, or for you. Apart from the obvious concern for his health, his coughing can keep you awake at night. If his cough causes retching and vomiting, you may have more cleaning to do!
Although there are many reasons a dog may cough, let’s look at the more common ones.
Heartworms are spread by mosquitos and live in the right side of a dog’s heart and in the blood vessels leading from the heart to the lung. They irritate these blood vessels and also interfere with blood flow, ultimately causing heart failure. You can give your dog preventative medication to stop him developing heartworm disease. These medications don’t actually prevent infection with heartworm, but they kill the baby worms before they grow into adults and can do your dog any harm.
If your dog regularly goes to the dog park, he may be at risk of picking up kennel cough. This is a generic term for a highly contagious upper respiratory infection which causes inflammation of a dog’s pharynx and windpipe. The infection is usually caused by a virus called Parainfluenza, aided and abetted by bacteria known as Bordetella. These two culprits are responsible for most cases of kennel cough in dogs. Although you can vaccinate your dog against kennel cough, it’s not 100% protective and he may still pick up an infection. Fortunately, for most dogs kennel cough isn’t a severe illness and they recover quite quickly.
We’ve already touched on heart failure when we talked about heartworm. When your dog’s heart isn’t working well, it’s not as effective at pumping blood through his body. This means that his blood pressure goes up and there can be leakage of fluid into his lungs. The result is a cough that seems to be worse at night. There are many causes of heart failure in dogs, including weakness of the actual heart muscle and breakage of the little valves inside the heart. Treatment depends on the cause, so take your dog along to your vet to work out what’s happening with your dog. A diagnosis of heart disease can be scary but with modern medication, it’s likely that your dog will have a good quality of life for many years.
If your dog is elderly, he may start to cough more. This happens because his airways become less flexible, and the tiny little hairs, called cilia, that line his airways become less effective. The cilia’s job is to move mucus up and out of the respiratory tract, and if they don’t do this well, there will be increased mucus in your dog’s bronchi. That mucus will make him cough more. Your vet can prescribe medication which will help to ease your old dog’s cough.
Treatment of coughing in dogs can involve antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and humidifiers, but before trying anything at home, make an appointment with your vet. If you know why your dog is coughing, you’ll be able to start the appropriate treatment for his condition, and he’ll soon feel a lot better.