Why Is My Dog Clearing It’s Throat?

Photo by Eileen on Flickr

You’re back from a run with your furkid, just like you do every day. Suddenly, he sticks out his neck and lets out this unearthly, goose-honking cough. What on earth? You nearly keel over from shock, then rush in, frantically checking him for signs of being possessed by something extra-terrestrial. Did Loki get into your dog’s head?

Are dogs even supposed to cough? Is he clearing his throat? Do they do that? And why does it sound like that?

After all, some dogs can talk, so could this be the same? Granted, they’re doing it more like a parrot imitates sounds, but still.

Before pulling your hair out, read on for all things doggy cough-related.

 [1] What do I mean by a dog clearing its throat?

As a dog owner, you’ve probably witnessed dozens of odd sounds emanating from your fur kid’s body. So, how do you know that your fur kid is clearing his throat and not choking or coughing?

When a dog clears his throat, it kind of sounds like a goose honking. Depending on the situation and your pup’s size, it could be super loud or a tiny, understated sound. Obviously, big dogs tend to make bigger sounds.

Then, there’s the reverse sneeze. Say what now? Sometimes, dogs fight post nasal drip or some other irritant in their airways through reverse sneezing. Here, the dog sucks air into his nose with the same force he’d use to sneeze. It’s the weirdest honking, wheezing sound, and it would look like your dog is having the worst kind of fit. But, it’s harmless. This one sounds similar to when he clears his throat, but the air flows in, not out of his body.

Doggy coughs come in many forms and have a variety of different sounds. They could have many causes, ranging from kennel cough and heart disease all the way through to tracheal collapse. A dog couching could sound as though he’s breathing out hard in one powerful, short burst. He could also make a wheezing sound or even a retching sound. Sometimes, doggy coughs could even go unnoticed since they make so little noise while doing it.

It’s often hard to distinguish between your dog coughing and clearing his throat. If he’s making a noise that sounds like a goose honk, it’s probably a reverse sneeze, or he’s clearing his throat. If it’s something else, it’s probably a cough. If you’re unsure, and he persistently keeps doing it, it’s probably best to get him to a vet.

 [2] Why do dogs clear their throats?

There are many reasons for dogs to clear their throats. Some of these are signs of occasional mild irritation, just like we humans experience. You know, like when you get a whiff of pollen in the park or shake out a dusty rug. That’s perfectly normal and usually nothing to worry about. 

Something stuck in his throat

Unfortunately, your fur kid could be coughing up a storm for far more sinister reasons. The most common reason is that he has something stuck in his throat. This is potentially life-threatening since that foreign body could block his esophagus (windpipe), shutting off his oxygen supply. If that thing has sharp edges, it could also cut Fido’s esophagus, causing severe damage. So, if your pup’s coughing, always check his mouth and throat for foreign objects. If you see anything, rush him to the vet immediately. His life might depend on it.

Kennel cough

Then there’s kennel cough, which is basically bronchitis for dogs. It’s highly contagious but usually not serious, and most dogs will recover without medical intervention. More on that later.

Tracheal collapse

If your pup is of a small breed, the odds are that he could develop tracheal collapse. This happens when the rings in the trachea (a part of the throat) weaken and collapse in on themselves. The poor pup can’t breathe properly and will make a sound similar to a honking goose. Generally, the trachea doesn’t collapse wholly and permanently. Instead, it caves in periodically and then opens up again. Still, it’s heart-wrenching seeing your beloved pooch struggling like this. Luckily, there are treatments available that can alleviate the discomfort and potentially treat the condition. Chat to your vet for more options.

Pneumonia

If your dog already has kennel cough or canine influenza, he could develop pneumonia. This dreaded disease could also be triggered by a bacterial infection in the lungs and airways. Unfortunately, it’s usually older dogs that fall prey to it. Since their bodies and immune systems aren’t as strong as an energetic teenage pup, many of them succumb to it. So, if you have an elderly dog with any form of respiratory infection, take good care of him to prevent pneumonia from developing.

Heart disease

Heart disease is another common cause of doggy coughs. It might sound strange that heart problems could have your fur kid coughing up a storm, but hear me out. Some of these diseases (yes, there are various forms of canine heart disease) cause fluid build-up in the lungs. This fluid overload leads to a wet, phlegmy cough, and it’s often as bad as it sounds.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is sinister, but unfortunately, a common cause for canine coughing. While many don’t recover from this, some pups beat cancer and live to see a ripe old age. The trick here is to catch that killer in its early stages, where the vet can sometimes still do something about it. There’s no guarantee that they can pull your beloved Rover through, though.

[3] What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a sweeping term referring to a contagious respiratory infection in dogs, almost like the flu in humans. It’s often referred to as Bordetella, after the Bordetella bronchiseptica m bacterium that commonly causes it. This often goes hand-in-glove with a viral infection.

Kennel cough in all its forms is generally picked up and spread where dogs live close to each other, as they would in a kennel. Can we think of some more creative names for diseases, please? Here’s how all of this happens: Rover is happily minding his own business at the kennels. Then, as he breathes in, a sneaky little virus and bacteria hitch a ride on a water droplet and goes right into his nose. These two fiends move down his respiratory tract and into his voice box (larynx) or windpipe (trachea). Here, they get cozy and grow, causing painful inflammation, resulting in that goose-honking cough.

Typically, the mucus lining the airways traps dust, bacteria, and viruses before these bugs get nice and cozy anywhere else. Unfortunately, this security system is often compromised by a range of factors. These include crowded and poorly ventilated living spaces, cold temperatures, exposure to irritants like dust and cigarette smoke, and stress.

When your pup suffers from kennel cough, he would usually only have the constant, forceful cough going. In some cases, your Fido might get really ill, though. Here, he might sneeze, have a runny nose, and even an eye discharge. Poor kid. He’s not likely to suffer any decrease in appetite or energy levels, though. That’s some good news, right?

[4] How do I treat kennel cough?

Dogs usually recover from kennel cough easily and with few complications. Typical recovery time is around three weeks, although older dogs and those with underlying health issues could take six weeks. If you want to speed up your pup’s recovery process and minimize the symptoms, you could always ask your vet for some meds. They would likely prescribe some antibiotics to kill the bacteria behind the infection and cough medicine. Yup, dogs get those too.

You could further help your furkid out by minimizing factors that make the coughing worse. So, instead of his usual kennel, keep him in a well-ventilated area with a humidifier going. If he usually strains against his leash, switch to a harness instead of a collar.

If your pup doesn’t recover within the three-to-six-week window, or if he gets worse, take him to the vet for a checkup. Kennel cough could worsen and turn into pneumonia, which is often deadly. 

Did you know that they have vaccines against kennel cough? That’s awesome! Your pup could have it injected, administered by mouth, or as a nasal mist. Unfortunately, it’s not 100% effective, so your pup could still get some form of kennel cough or respiratory tract infection. Sorry.

[5] How can I help a dog to clear its throat?

Now we know why dogs are likely to cough. But, when your dog is coughing up a storm, what should you do? This depends on the situation and the reason for coughing. Let’s unpack the most common causes.

Something stuck in his throat.

If there’s something stuck in your dog’s throat, he might not be able to breathe. This is a serious situation, so it’s essential to act quickly.

Keep your pup calm. He’s likely to be distressed, which will cause him to struggle a lot and even bite. All of these would make things worse, so restrain him, then check his mouth and throat. You’ll have to open his mouth for this, so you might need help restraining him during the process.

If the object in your pup’s throat is close to his mouth, use a large pair of tweezers to pull it out. If it’s near the back of the throat, you might not be able to reach it. Never push at something in the back of your pup’s throat. You’ll likely force it in deeper, making the situation worse. 

If your pup has a large object, like a ball, stuck in his throat, you might be able to dislodge it. Place both your thumbs underneath his jaw, at the base of his throat. Now, push forward, slowly and firmly

Whether or not you get the item dislodged, you should take your dog to the vet for a checkup. If you can’t get the item out, rush there as quickly as possible since this could save your pup’s life. If you got the item out, there might still be some damage to the delicate tissue in your pup’s throat, so have the vet check it out.

Kennel cough

When your pup suffers from kennel cough, he would usually only need some TLC. Help him get plenty of rest, healthy food, and tons of water. He’s coughing because his throat is inflamed, making it painful to breathe. So, keeping him calm so he’ll breathe slower, and bark less, will go a long way.

Tracheal collapse

Coughing because of tracheal collapse is a nasty snowball effect. Your pup coughs because his throat gets irritated. The coughing then increases the irritation, which leads to more coughing. So, the best way you can help him is to keep him calm. The vet might prescribe cough suppressants and sedatives to stop the coughing episodes. 

The best treatment is preventative, though. If your pup is of a small breed, he’s more susceptible to tracheal collapse than other dogs. So, keep him healthy. Manage his weight and fitness, use a harness instead of a collar, and avoid irritants such as dust and pollen.

Pneumonia

Canine pneumonia is a severe condition and is often fatal. If your pup suffers from this, he’s probably very ill. Keep him calm and comfortable, and administer the medication the vet prescribes. This would probably include antibiotics, cough suppressants, and anti-inflammatories. If things get really bad, your pup might have to sleep over at the vet and receive supplemental oxygen and fluid therapy. That’s not great, but it does happen.

Heart disease

If your pup is coughing from heart disease, he probably has some fluid build-up around his lungs. Keeping him calm will probably decrease the need to cough. Your vet is also likely to prescribe medication that will slow the fluid build-up and tame the coughing.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a nasty one, and your pup is probably feeling pretty uncomfortable. The best way to help him, besides medication, is to keep him comfortable. Keep food and water within easy reach, and minimize his physical activity. This will decrease the need to cough since his lungs aren’t being strained.

[6] Do dogs get phlegm, and why?

Yes, dogs get phlegm, just like humans. And, like us humans, there are a host of different reasons for this. The most common one is pneumonia, which we already covered in a previous section.

When fluid builds up inside the lungs, your pup might also cough up some phlegm. This could be pretty gross and might be distressing for you, the human parent, to witness. If you notice a phlegmy cough, get your furkid to the vet for a checkup, just in case.

Closing Thoughts

Dogs cough for many reasons, the most common being kennel cough or having something stuck in their throat. If your pup had something big stuck in his throat, it’s a good idea to get him to the vet, even if you successfully dislodged it. He may have suffered some damage to his airways in the process.

Then, there’s the dreaded kennel cough. While this is super contagious, it’s typically not a severe illness. It sounds terrible, though, with that goose-honking cough and all the wheezing that goes with it. In most cases, your pup will recover from this within three to six weeks. If he doesn’t get better quickly, take him for a checkup since kennel cough could turn into pneumonia.