Chronic Coughing in Dogs

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Overview of Dogs with a Chronic Cough

Coughing is a common protective reflex that clears secretions or foreign matter from the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), windpipe (trachea) or airways, and protects the lungs against aspiration. It affects the respiratory system by hindering the ability to breathe properly.  

Common causes of a chronic cough in dogs include obstruction in the windpipe, bronchitis, pneumonia, heartworm disease, lung tumors, kennel cough and heart failure.

What to Watch For

Watch for a chronic cough, or one that lasts for more than two or three weeks. It can begin suddenly or develop gradually. An occasional, infrequent cough is normal. See your veterinarian if your pet has a chronic cough.

Diagnosis of Chronic Coughing in Dogs

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the cough. These may include:

  • A complete medical history and physical examination
  • Chest radiographs (X-rays)
  • A complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood tests to help determine the cause and identify any related problems
  • Heartworm test

    Additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • Specialized tests such as ultrasound examinations or bronchoscopy to examine the inside of the lungs using a small scope
  • Lung fluid samples to determine presence of infection or inflammation
  • Treatment of Chronic Coughing in Dogs

    Successful treatment depends on accurate diagnosis.

    Home Care

    Home care recommendations depend upon the underlying cause of the problem. There are several things you can do to help your pet:

  • Minimize exercise and stress until the cause of problem is determined.
  • Allow your pet to rest in a well-ventilated environment.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water.
  • Provide soft (canned) food, which is easier for pets with a coughing problem to tolerate.
  • DO NOT administer human, over-the-counter medicines such as Robitussin, aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen, which can be extremely toxic (even in small doses) to dogs. Talk to your veterinarian first before trying any of these remedies.
  • Give medications prescribed by your veterinarian as directed.
  • In-depth Information on Chronic Coughing in Dogs

    Coughing is a symptom of many different diseases or conditions. These diseases can be differentiated by various diagnostic tests. Diseases that cause coughing include:

  • Sinusitis, which is sinus inflammation usually occurring after infection, or rhinitis, inflammation of the mucus membrane of the nose, with postnasal drainage
  • Pharyngeal (throat) or tonsil inflammation
  • Upper airway obstruction with mucous, food or fluid
  • Redundant (elongated) soft palate
  • Pharyngeal polyp, which is a mass or growth protruding from the back of the throat
  • Laryngeal disease, disease of the larynx or voice box which is the entrance into the windpipe
  • Respiratory or breathing problems
  • Tracheal collapse or obstruction – the trachea is the air passage from the larynx to the main bronchi or the windpipe
  • Mediastinal mass, which is a mass in the space between the right and left halves of the lung, with compression of the trachea
  • Esophageal diseases leading to inhalation of food from the esophagus (the tube extending from the mouth to the stomach) or dilatation (stretching) of the esophagus causing compression of the trachea
  • Hilar lymphadenopathy, which is a disease of the lymph nodes, usually tumor or fungal, that may result in enlargement of the node and compression of adjacent bronchi within the lungs
  • Parasitic infection such as Osleri, which is a type of nematode or parasite
  • Tracheitis or infection or inflammation of the trachea
  • Tumor of the trachea or bronchus
  • Left atrial enlargement, which is enlargement of the left atrium, or entrance chamber, of the heart, leading to bronchial compression
  • Collapse of a major bronchus
  • Bronchial obstruction, irritation or inflammation due to bronchitis (inflammation of one or more of the bronchi)
  • Lungworms (Filaroides) or migrating nematodes, usually occurring in young animals
  • Environmental irritants
  • Bronchiectasis, which is stretching and infection of the bronchi as a result of chronic bronchitis        
  • Bronchial foreign body
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs) secondary to heart failure or other causes
  • Heartworm disease (Dirofilariasis)
  • Infectious or aspiration pneumonia caused by inhalation of matter into the lungs
  • Pulmonary granuloma, a tumor-like mass or nodule in the lung
  • Immunologic disease of the lung, including “allergic” pneumonitis, or inflammation of lung tissue, caused by allergie, and pulmonary infiltrates of eosinophils, a type of cell in the blood
  • Pulmonary neoplasm, a tumor of the lung
  • Pulmonary emboli, blood clots in the lungs
  • Diagnosis In-depth

    The following diagnostic tests are essential in diagnosing and treating your pet’s cough.

  • A complete history and physical examination
  • Chest radiographs (X-rays) with several views: with your pet on his back (dorsoventral) and on his side (lateral). These help to evaluate the heart, blood vessels, lungs, pleural space, or space between the lung and the body wall, diaphragm and mediastinum, which is the area between the left and right lungs.

    Radiographs are taken during both inhalation and exhalation to evaluate the airways and lungs. Fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion), lung tumors (neoplasia), or heart failure may be identified.

  • Complete blood count (CBC), heartworm test and serum biochemistry tests
  • Fluoroscopy (moving X-ray) or tracheoscopy, which uses a scope inserted into the trachea or windpipe to produce an image, to document airway collapse
  • Removal of a fluid sample from the chest cavity in dogs with pleural fluid. This is called a diagnostic thoracentesis. The fluid is evaluated for cells, bacteria, protein and other constituents and is often sent to a clinical pathologist for analysis.

    Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended depending on earlier test results and/or lack of response to initial treatments. Recommendations may include:

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