Your pet explores their environment with their nose and mouth, and they occasionally inhale an irritant, resulting in coughing to clear the material. Other, more serious conditions, can also cause pets to cough. Our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital provides information on why pets cough, and when you should be concerned.

Coughing types in pets

Pets can exhibit different types of coughing, and in some cases, the cough’s characteristics can help determine the cause.

  • Wet coughing — Also known as productive coughing, this type occurs when the cause of the cough produces an increase in the respiratory tract secretions. During wet coughing, phlegm, mucous, or foam is produced, causing your pet to cough.
  • Dry coughing — Also known as nonproductive coughing, this type typically occurs when the respiratory tract is irritated or an airway is constricted. No fluid is produced during dry coughing.
  • Hacking cough — Deep coughs that sound similar to a goose honk are commonly observed in dogs affected by kennel cough, and some tracheal abnormalities.

Coughing causes in dogs

Numerous issues can cause your dog to cough, including these common conditions:

  • Kennel cough — Also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, this highly contagious respiratory disease is caused by several viruses and bacteria, including adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus, and Bordetella bronchiseptica. The disease is transmitted through airborne droplets, direct contact, and contaminated surfaces. Dogs who frequent boarding and daycare facilities, dog parks, training groups, and dog shows are at higher risk. As mentioned, dogs affected by kennel cough often have a deep cough that sounds like a goose honk. Other signs include sneezing, fever, decreased appetite, and lethargy. A vaccine is available for the bordetella bacterium, the most common agent to cause kennel cough, and this vaccine is highly recommended if your dog is exposed to numerous dogs.
  • Canine influenza — Canine influenza is caused by the canine influenza virus, is highly contagious, and is easily transmitted by direct contact, through airborne droplets, and contaminated objects. Two strains, H3N8 and H3N2, have been identified in the United States. In addition to a persistent cough, signs include fever, nasal discharge, eye discharge, decreased appetite, and lethargy. Vaccines are available for the H3N8 and H3N2 strains, and your dog should be vaccinated if they are regularly exposed to other dogs.
  • Collapsing trachea — This progressive disease affects the dog’s trachea and lower airways. Small- and toy-breed dogs are most commonly affected, especially Yorkshire terriers, poodles, Pomeranians, and Chihuahuas. This condition occurs when the cartilage rings in the trachea become weak and flatten, compromising the dog’s airway. Signs include a dry cough that may sound like a goose honking, difficulty breathing, coughing when picked up, and coughing when excited. Excess weight can contribute to the problem, so losing weight can sometimes help affected dogs. Medications to reduce airway spasms and inflammation may also help alleviate the signs. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be needed to correct the problem.
  • Heart failure — When the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body is compromised, fluid can accumulate in the lungs, resulting in a soft, continuous cough when the dog lies on their side. Other signs include decreased energy and a distended belly when fluid begins to accumulate in their abdomen. Treatment focuses on improving the heart’s ability to pump, and reducing fluid accumulation.
  • Heartworms — Mosquitoes spread heartworms, which can cause extensive damage to your dog’s heart and lungs. A mild, persistent cough is often the first sign your dog is affected by heartworms, and they may also be less active. Heartworm treatments for dogs are available, but they are dangerous and expensive. Prevention is the best way to address heartworms, by keeping your pet on year-round heartworm prevention medications.

Coughing causes in cats

Cats don’t tend to exhibit coughing as frequently as dogs. Conditions that can cause cats to cough include:

  • Viral respiratory infections — Viruses, such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus, are highly contagious, and spread through direct contact, airborne droplets, and contaminated objects. In addition to coughing, signs include sneezing, nasal discharge, lethargy, fever, decreased appetite, and eye problems. Once a cat is infected with these viruses, they become carriers, and stress and illness can reactivate the virus. Vaccinations are available to protect against these viruses, and all cats should be vaccinated.
  • Chronic bronchitis — Also known as feline asthma, this disease is caused by inflammation in the airways, which causes airway narrowing. Affected cats exhibit a dry cough, may have difficulty breathing, and exhibit open-mouthed breathing. Corticosteroids and bronchodilators are often prescribed to help manage this disease.
  • Nasopharyngeal polyps — Masses can form in the cat’s nose and throat because of chronic inflammation. These lesions cause inflammation and mucus, which results in coughing. Cats may also have a voice change, and their breathing may sound like snoring.

Your coughing pet should be evaluated by a veterinary professional if their cough is getting worse, the condition lasts more than a few days, they seem lethargic, their appetite is decreased, or they have a fever. If your pet has a concerning cough, contact our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital right away, so we can diagnose and treat the problem.