Have you ever suddenly noticed your dog’s hacking cough or wheezy panting, then panicked and wondered how long has that been there?
How could I have missed this? If so, you are not alone.
It can be worrying when you see your dog coughing and panting, especially when nothing else seems obviously amiss.
Whilst it’s possible something more serious could be at play, more than likely there’s a simple reason behind it.
If your dog has just finished a long sweaty walk, it’s likely they’re panting because they’re hot. If your dog is getting so excited that they start to cough when barking, it is also likely there is no underlying medical illness.
Although, if coughing or panting has developed when your dog is simply doing nothing, and you’ve spotted other symptoms too, this may be the right time to call a veterinarian.
The concern is understandable. We all love our pet pooches and want to look after them in the best way imaginable.
So let’s familiarise ourselves with all of the different symptoms so that we can help our dogs when they need it the most.
The 7 main reasons that dogs cough
Dogs are like humans in so many ways – and coughing is no exception. Like us, dogs cough whenever they feel a tickle in their throat. This is perfectly normal if they have a piece of food in their throat or a hair that has gone astray.
However, there is a very small chance there may be something more serious that needs looking at by a veterinarian. Let’s start with the more common, less serious stuff first.
It may be scary when you hear your dog suddenly coughing seemingly out of nowhere. However, a common reason for coughing is simply pulling on your dog’s lead too vigorously when taking your pooch for a walk.
If this continues, you may wish to consider a foam-padded harness as well as walking more at your dog’s pace in future.
Although not a cough, you can be forgiven for thinking a reverse sneeze sounds like one. This occurs when the back of your dog’s nasal passage becomes irritated, usually by a bug or piece of food.
This is rarely anything to worry about, although if it persists for longer than a few days, it is best to see a veterinarian.
Sometimes dogs can get so excited they begin to cough! On the other end of the scale, coughing can also be caused by an anxiety trigger. Generally, this is just another quirky doggy trait and nothing to worry about. Although, do visit a veterinarian if your dog starts to experience discomfort; also, if the coughing becomes worse or more frequent.
Just like humans, dogs can catch colds or respiratory infections. Kennel cough is the most infectious cause of coughing in dogs. This produces a hacking cough that sounds like your dog is trying to get rid of something in their throat. This may also be accompanied by a runny nose.
Dogs will typically recover between three and six weeks. Kennel cough should not cause any complications, although the elderly, the young or those with pre-existing medical conditions should be watched closely for other symptoms. These include loss of appetite, increased coughing and breathing difficulties.
Heartworm disease is an infection caused by a worm parasite and spread through a mosquito bite. The infection can cause severe lung disease and heart failure, so it’s crucial the signs are spotted quickly.
One of the symptoms is a dry and persistent cough, said to be similar in sound to a ‘goose honk’. Even small amounts of exercise would cause your dog to cough, so this should be easily noticeable.
The cough for a tracheal collapse has a similar dry, hacking sound. The hacking is normally accompanied by a flurry of excitable activity or excessive water drinking.
When untreated, this can lead to many unpleasant scenarios such as enlarged liver or heart failure. Therefore, it is important to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
Tracheal collapse is common in small breed dogs, with coughing and respiratory illness the main symptoms.
Something more serious
Usually, a dog cough is a clear sign of infection. However, in rare circumstances, a dog cough can be indicative of something more immediately serious.
It is normal to worry about lung cancer when your dog develops a cough. However, not only is cancer uncommon in a dog, lung cancer accounts for just 1% of all cancers developed by dogs. Therefore, it is extremely rare.
Nonetheless, a cough would accompany other symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, lameness or coughing up blood.
Startlingly, up to 25% of lung tumours in dogs do not display any obvious symptoms. However, it is good practice to be aware of the warning signs.
Another condition to be aware of is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). CHF occurs when the heart is struggling to pump blood around the body. This can be caused when the lungs have become congested and full of fluid.
In this scenario, the chronic cough would be very noticeable with the dog in clear distress. CHF would then be diagnosed through an X-ray.
Are there any quick fixes for coughs?
If you’re wondering whether there’s a quick fix for coughing, the answer is both yes and no.
Any coughing can be soothed with some honey. Place half a tablespoon in warm water and give it to your dog up to three times a day.
Whilst this will ease symptoms, it is no substitute for an assessment from the veterinarian. Ultimately, the best fix is a medical diagnosis and a course of treatment.
What dogs are most vulnerable to coughing?
If you feel your dog is coughing heavily or making wheezy sounds but you cannot find a root cause, it’s good to know that some dogs are more susceptible to cough-like noises than others.
Flat-faced dogs such as French bulldogs and pugs are well-known for making louder and deeper sounds. Reverse sneezing is common in these breeds and they will make noises that sound like a pig snorting!
The 2 main reasons dogs pant
It is very normal for dogs to pant. Panting usually only indicates a temporary issue, such as the dog having recently exercised, or being too hot or excited.
Some dogs have shorter snouts than others, so are prone to heavier panting. Your dog may also be trying to cool itself down after a long walk, especially if the weather is hot.
However, heavy or excessive panting can point to a more serious reason such as dehydration or trauma. If your dog has been exerting heavy pants for longer than usual, it may be worth phoning a veterinarian for a check-up.
This may help them to rule out more basic reasons for your dog’s panting.
The most common cause of panting is exercise, excitement or overheating. However, it is good to familiarise ourselves with other, more serious reasons.
For heatstroke, keep an eye on your dog and watch out for a fast heartbeat, lethargy or uncharacteristic behaviour. It is also worth examining their gums to check whether they are dry and bruised – classic symptoms of heatstroke.
When untreated, heatstroke can cause organ failure. Therefore, it’s best to get any concerns checked out.
Immediately submerge your dog in some water to bring its temperature down. Move them into the shade and give them some ice cubes to lick, then phone the veterinarian.
Although unlikely, it is good to rule out chronic illnesses such as pneumonia, lung cancer or heart failure.
For a respiratory illness, the cough would become shallower and the dog would be noticeably struggling to breathe. With lung cancer, this would normally be accompanied by unexplained weight loss or coughing up blood.
If your dog is moving very little or stretching out its neck, it is a sure sign that something may be amiss, so it’s best to get them checked.
Even though the diagnosis is likely to be something more temporary, keep a close eye on your dog for any symptoms and talk to a veterinarian to be on the safe side.
Are there any quick fixes for panting?
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for panting. The only way to lessen the panting is by resolving the root cause.
If it is obvious that your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, move them into the shade, give them a reasonably cold shower and allow them to lick an ice cube. If your dog is displaying signs of tiredness, make up their bed and allow them to rest. As they rest, their panting should dissipate.
What dogs are most vulnerable to panting?
The truth is, no breed of dog is naturally more vulnerable to panting than any other. Although, certain conditions can dictate whether a dog is more likely to pant. Dogs are more likely to do so if they are overweight, live in a hot environment or have long fur.
Panting here may indicate they need to lose weight, sit in the shade or get a haircut!
Conclusion: What are the main reasons dogs cough and pant?
To conclude, the most common reason dogs cough and pant is through a temporary affliction. Your dog could have something stuck in its throat, have become a little too excited or even caught a respiratory infection; for example, pneumonia or kennel cough. If a diagnosis is provided early, with the right treatment you should begin to see a steady improvement.
Normally, panting occurs only for hot, overexcited or overweight dogs. When not combined with a cough, it should quickly decrease as they acclimatise to a cooler or calmer environment. Anytime panting and coughing occur, it’s good to examine your dog and its behaviour. Always keep an eye out for other symptoms or prolonged coughing or panting as these may indicate something more serious.
If you do see signs pointing towards something serious, and your dog does not respond to changes in its environment, contact a veterinarian immediately.
¹ Photo by Ben Shelford