My Dog Is Coughing Like It Has Something Stuck In Its Throat

Has your dog got an unexplained cough? ¹

Hearing your dog coughing like there is something stuck in his throat is a scary experience for any pet owner. 

This is a good thing actually, you should be scared and treat the situation like a medical emergency. 

If there is indeed something stuck in your fur baby’s throat he might choke and collapse under your eyes. 

On the other hand, that scary cough might very well be a sign of a respiratory problem, something your vet can easily cure, but until you know for sure your pet is not choking you should act as if he were. 

Just to be on the safe side.

Let’s have a look at the most common reasons a dog might be making weird choking signs and coughing as if he were trying to get rid of a hairball.

What are the signs that your dog has something stuck in his throat?

The moment you hear your dog making odd choking sounds that should sound an alarm bell. 

You’ll have to assess the situation quickly if you want to be of any help.

Did you feed the dog recently? 

Is it possible that something he ate got stuck in his throat? 

Had he been wandering the house or yard? 

Could it be that he swallowed something he shouldn’t have?

If the answer is yes to any of the questions, then you should actively consider the possibility that there is something that causes him breathing difficulties.

You also need to examine the dog’s overall behavior. 

If the dog is lying peacefully in his corner and only coughs occasionally, that’s probably not an emergency no matter how funny the cough might sound.

A dog that’s choking will be in obvious distress and here are the main signs:

  • Restlessness
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Rubbing his head against the floor or furniture
  • Gagging
  • Retching
  • Excessive drooling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Gagging sounds

A dog that has something in his throat will be frantic and this might make your mission harder.

What to do if your dog has something stuck in his throat?

If all the signs are there and your dog is obviously in distress you need to check if there’s a visible obstruction and if you could remove the foreign object by yourself. 

Time is of the essence here. 

You need to check the dog’s lips to see if they’re turning blue. 

That’s a clear sign of lack of oxygen and that’s a life-threatening situation for your dog.

Open your dog’s mouth as wide as possible and see if you can locate the obstructing object lodged in his throat. 

If it’s within reach try to get it out with your fingers or a pair of tweezers. 

Never push the object down, under any circumstance, as this might cut off the air supply altogether.

If you cannot remove the foreign object you should perform the Heimlich maneuver. 

This works for dogs just as it does for humans. 

It is recommended you try this only with medium size or large dogs. 

It is risky to try the Heimlich maneuver on a small dog as you might apply too much force and do more harm than good.

What is the Heimlich maneuver for dogs?

The maneuver is just like the one used on humans. 

If you have a large breed of dog, it would be best if you could make him stand on the hind legs. 

Or just position yourself behind your pet, roll your hand into a fist and place it on his abdomen just below the rib cage. 

Next you need to press upwards with a jerking movement, taking care not to apply too much force. 

If done correctly, the maneuver should dislodge a foreign object stuck in the dog’s throat and have it fly out of his mouth.

If you have a small dog and you’re scared he’s choking you can try to lay him on his back and gently apply pressure on his abdomen, under the ribs. 

Don’t use a fist.

You can repeat the maneuver a couple of times, only don’t waste too much time. 

If you see it’s not working and the dog is still making gagging sounds, head to the nearest vet right away. 

Also, if you don’t exactly know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and you have a hard time trying to control your dog, forget about it and go to the vet.

Are some breeds more prone to choking?

All dogs are curious and they explore their world with their nose and mouth. 

When a dog discovers an interesting object lying on the floor or in the garden, he might be tempted to put it into his mouth, even if it doesn’t smell like food.

However, there are some breeds who are known as greedy, dogs that gobble their food like there’s no tomorrow. 

They are more at risk of choking with their food and also to end up with something stuck in their throats. 

The breeds more prone to choking include Beagles, Labradors and Golden Retrievers.

Also, you need to be very careful with brachycephalic dogs, like Bulldogs, pugs or mastiffs. 

Dogs with a flat face have an elongated soft palate and a short trachea, so they’re at risk of getting something stuck in their throat. 

The particular anatomy of their heads causes them a lot of breathing problems, and they’re more likely to pant heavily even after moderate exertion.

Do dogs get hairballs?

When you hear about hairballs, you automatically think of cats, who are known for their meticulous grooming habits. 

Yet, dogs can get hairballs, too, although it’s less common. 

Dogs with medium to long hair are more likely to get hairballs. 

Also, a dog with a skin problem or parasites might lick himself obsessively or even bite off chunks of fur.

When your dog is making retching sounds and is visibly straining to vomit, it could very well be a hairball. 

If the dog manages to vomit the hairball, all you need to do is clean the mess on the floor and look up methods to prevent hairballs in the first place. 

Consider giving your dog a haircut and brush him more often to reduce loose hairs.

If judging by the sounds he makes, you believe your dog might have a hairball keep an eye on him if he doesn’t vomit. 

Hairballs can cause intestinal obstructions and this is a serious condition.

You can help your dog eliminate the hairball faster by adding a spoonful of pureed pumpkin to his regular food. 

Laxatives can also help, but it is best to consult with your vet before administering anything to your dog.

What is kennel cough?

If you’re a new pet parent you might be surprised when you hear your dog making a honking noise. 

According to experts, kennel cough sounds a bit like a goose honk. 

The dog will not cough continuously, but when he does it may sound like he’s trying to clear his throat or he’s choking. 

However, he won’t be in a state of acute distress like when he’s really choking.

Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica m, or Bordetella for short. 

As the name indicates it’s a disease a dog catches after coming in close contact with an infected canine friend.

The forceful and odd-sounding cough is the most recognizable symptom, but there are other signs indicating the dog might have caught kennel cough, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Kennel cough is usually a mild disease that resolves itself in a few days. 

If you don’t see any improvement after a couple of days you should see a vet. 

The doctor might put your pet on antibiotics to speed up the recovery.

What to do if my dog keeps licking his lips and swallowing?

Coughing is not the only sign indicating your dog might have something in his throat. Sometimes an owner will notice that their beloved companion is constantly smacking his lips and making swallowing movements. 

It is entirely possible that the dog has something in his throat. 

Probably, it’s not large enough to affect his breathing, but it’s still very annoying and he keeps trying to swallow the foreign object.

Once again, you should check out his mouth and throat for any obstruction. 

If the dog is in distress, he might try to bite you so be very careful around his jaws.

Take the dog to the vet, instead. 

In many cases the doctor will sedate the dog and perform an endoscopy to remove the foreign object.

Closing Thoughts

If you hear your pet coughing like he’s got something like a hairball stuck in his throat, take immediate action. 

There’s a chance there is something in his throat and you need to have that foreign object before your dog enters respiratory distress.

If you spot a foreign object in his throat, try to perform the Heimlich maneuver for dogs. 

Do that as quickly as possible and if it’s not working, head to the nearest veterinary clinic.

Other respiratory problems like kennel cough can also cause a honking cough. 

This is not a medical emergency but you should see a vet if the dog’s condition doesn’t improve.

Photo Credits

 ¹ Photo by germanny on Flickr

Sarah Pulsen

Hello, I have been in love with dogs since I was a little girl. I became even more infatuated with them when I was told by my Mum that I couldn't own one. Since I left home there has rarely been a time in my life when I have lived without a dog. My current dog is a Collie Terrier cross, called Ian.