Coughing—we all do it, including our pets. Coughing is a reflex that helps the body clear material from inside the respiratory tract, and while an occasional cough from your pet may not be cause for concern, repeated coughing over a long period of time can signal an underlying problem. Our team at Greenfield Veterinary Clinic explains the common causes and treatment of coughing in pets. 

#1: Your pet may have a respiratory infection

Respiratory infections are caused by bacteria and viruses and can be easily transmitted between pets. In addition to coughing, respiratory infection signs include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Kennel cough, which is the most common respiratory infection in pets, is highly contagious, and often spreads at grooming and boarding facilities, dog parks, and animal shelters. While most respiratory infections are not serious and improve on their own, some require medication to treat the underlying cause. Your pet is contagious while they exhibit signs, and should be separated from other pets to prevent spread of infection. Keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date can help prevent these diseases.

#2: Your pet may have heartworms

If your pet hasn’t received consistent heartworm prevention medication and has a dry, persistent cough, that could be a heartworm disease sign. Heartworms are parasites transmitted by an infected mosquito, and can affect cats and dogs. In the early stages, the heartworm parasites make their way into the lungs, creating blockage and discomfort, and causing your pet to cough whenever they are a little active. Other heartworm disease signs may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Respiratory distress
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death

Although heartworm disease is treatable for dogs, the process is lengthy, tenuous, painful, and expensive, while only supportive care is available for cats. Prevention—keeping your pet on year-round heartworm prevention medications—is key to address heartworm disease.

#3: Your pet may have tracheal collapse

Tracheal collapse causes the cartilage rings composing the trachea (i.e, windpipe) to become weak, and is most often seen in toy breeds, including Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, poodles, and Chihuahuas. Because the windpipe can partially collapse, pets experience breathing problems and a harsh dry cough that sounds like a goose honking. Other tracheal collapse signs include:

  • Coughing when picked up 
  • Vomiting
  • Gagging or retching 
  • Wheezing

Most pets with tracheal collapse can be treated medically, surgically, or with a combination of the two. They may receive medication to manage coughing and inflammation, and surgical correction may be necessary in severe cases. 

#4: Your pet may have heart disease

Heart conditions, such as degenerative mitral valve disease and dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly cause coughing in pets because of fluid buildup in or around the lungs. Heart disease can be congenital (i.e., present at birth) or acquired (i.e., developed over time) and spotting signs early is key. Signs that your pet may have heart disease include:

  • Coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Tiring more easily
  • Weakness and/or collapse
  • Bloating or swelling of the abdomen 

If you think your pet may be coughing because of heart disease or congestive heart failure, contact your veterinarian quickly, because heart disease usually does not cause coughing until its advanced stages. Depending on the exact condition, heart medication, dietary changes, and occasionally surgery can help manage their condition.

#5: Your pet may have pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung’s air sacs that fill with fluid and can cause coughing and difficulty breathing. Pneumonia can have different causes, including:

  • Viral or bacterial infection – Infectious pneumonia is a prevalent pneumonia type caused by a viral or bacterial infection in the respiratory tract.
  • Breathing in foreign material – Aspiration pneumonia occurs when a pet breathes something into their lungs (e.g., a vomiting pet who breathes in vomitus, or a pet who inhales a liquid).

Pneumonia treatment depends on the cause and may include medications and nebulizers or humidifiers. 

If you are concerned about your pet’s cough, contact our team at Greenfield Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment.