Staffordshire bull terrier on sofa

Why do dogs cough?

  • Coughing can be caused for a variety of reasons from pulling on the lead to kennel cough
  • Trust your instincts and if something about your dog’s cough worries you or is causing them distress, it is better to get it checked out by your vet

Just like humans, dogs will cough when they have a tickle in their throat. But how do you know if it’s more serious and how do you decide when to take your dog to the vet?

If at any point your dog seems generally unwell with a cough, loses their appetite or is struggling to exercise, then you'll need to book an appointment with your vet.

Why does my dog keep coughing?

Pulling on the lead

Coughing is common when a dog is pulling on their lead and the collar is putting pressure on their windpipe. While this is a common problem, you may wish to consider some lead training or use a harness to reduce the chance of this behaviour resulting in damage to your dog’s neck or windpipe.

Excitement or anxiety

Sometimes when dogs become excited or anxious they can cough. This is usually seen in dogs with tracheal collapse (where part of their windpipe has begun to collapse) because their heightened state of excitement or anxiety means that they are breathing harder. This is most commonly seen in small breeds of dog and the coughing will usually stop quickly once they’ve settled down.

Kennel cough

While kennel cough is very contagious, it’s usually nothing to worry about. As long as your dog is acting like their usual self, then they will usually recover within two to three weeks. During this time, you should keep them away from other dogs to reduce the chance of it spreading.

It typically causes a deep, honking cough and, if the cough persists and your dog seems unwell, you will need to take your dog to the vet for a check-up.

Shape of airways

Some dogs, particularly small breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, will cough more due to the shape of their airways. This cough often occurs during exercise or when they're excited and sometimes treatment will be needed.

Bronchitis

Bronchitis arises from inflammation of the airways due to a number of causes, including bacterial and viral infections, and allergies.

Coughing is a common symptom in these cases and may involve coughing up fluid. Some cases may have additional symptoms such as wheezing, loss of appetite and lack of energy.

Choking

If your dog is struggling to breathe in between coughing bouts, or cannot seem to swallow then it could be that your dog has something lodged in their throat. Keep an eye on your dog for signs of choking and take them to the vet immediately if they are struggling to breathe.

Heart problems

Heart problems may cause a cough, however a faster breathing rate is a more common symptom. Dogs with heart problems will often get tired more easily too.

When should I seek vet help?

While a cough is frequently not something to worry about, it’s good to know when you need to seek help from a professional.

You should seek vet attention when:

  • the cough gets worse over time or is continuous
  • your dog has a loss of appetite or seems unwell
  • your dog coughs up blood
  • your dog has breathing difficulties or a faster breathing rate

As with all symptoms, trust your instincts and if something about your dog’s cough worries you or is causing them distress, it is better to get it checked out.

— Page last updated 24/06/2022