In my many years of practicing veterinary medicine here in the Vail Valley, I have seen innumerable “coughing” dogs, at all seasons of the year from many different causes, and some more life threatening than others.
As a pet owner, when should you get concerned when your pet is exhibiting a cough? What signs would you look for and what could this cough represent?
It’s normal for your pet’s to sniff and get their noses where perhaps they can be exposed to inhaling bacteria, viruses, even foreign material such as pieces of grass! The average dog can sniff 4-6 times per second!
But why is your pet coughing now?
There are innumberable reasons for a cough in dogs but we will try to focus on the more common reasons.
“Kennel cough,” is a very common reason for the active pet who visits the dog park frequently, often is groomed or boarded in doggy day care where chances of exposure increases. Owners often confuse “kennel cough” with “something may be caught in my pet’s throat” as the pet will try to cough up something with no success. This is called a “nonproductive” cough. Because this is highly contagious, your pet should be seen by your veterinarian and depending on the severity, may be treated with cough suppressants and potentially antibiotics for any secondary infections.
“Lung problems or pneumonia” also can cause a cough. If a pet has been exposed to infectious disease, Pets just like people can get respiratory disease which is primarily infectious based. If your pet has infectious lung disease, the cough will often be “productive” meaning you will see discharge coming out both the nose and the mouth .
“Allergic” Respiratory disease can also be present in a pet. Pet’s like people can have allergies resulting in an “asthma” type condition, especially during times of the high allergy season, or after exposure to wildfires, dust and changes in the pet’s environment. Allergic respiratory disease can be treated with both oral and inhalant medications and managed over time. The cough is often a dry, hacking, nonproductive sort of cough.
“Heart disease” in pets can also be represented as a cough because as the heart begins to fail, fluid can build up in the lungs making it uncomfortable for your pet to breath. This is common in your older pets, but can be seen in younger pets with congenital heart disease. Often your pet will have a “fluid” sound when breathing, and the tongue color can become more blue as your pet is less oxygenated.
“Fungal” infections can result in coughing as they can be picked up in the dirt or in the air in various parts of the country, and present themselves later when the owner has returned home.
“Heartworm” disease is often forgotten when we evaluate pets for a cough, but certainly has become more prevalent in our state in recent years in all ages of pets. Parasites in addition to heartworm can travel to the lungs and cause coughing and lead to life threatening lung disease.
If your pet is coughing, think of the many reasons listed which could be the cause, but certainly see your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Chest xrays, in addition to base line bloodwork will likely be performed to ascertain the cause and develop a treatment plan!
This article was written by Sheila Fitzpatrick DVM, owner of the Mountain Animal Hospital Center & Mobile Veterinarian. She can be reached at 970-328-7085