Coughing and Gagging in Old Dogs

Sometimes, it may be that your dog is simply coughing to dislodge something from his throat. Perhaps he ate too quickly. Dry food creates a lot of crumbs and this too can irritate your dog’s throat and cause him to cough.

Coughs are not all the same and they can indicate different medical conditions, so it pays to be attentive when it comes to the sounds your dog is making.

  • Short, sharp coughs: often seen in dogs with a blockage in their throat.
  • Dry hacking cough: typically kennel cough, but also seen in other illnesses.
  • A wet, crackly cough: infection or fluid build-up as seen in pneumonia or other infections.

Why does my dog keep coughing and gagging?

There can be many different causes for coughing and gagging in dogs, including infection, heart disease, blockage in the nose or throat, and cancer. A mild cough should clear within a couple of days. If your dog has been coughing frequently for more than 3 days, you should seek veterinary advice.

Let’s take a look at the possible causes of coughing and gagging in dogs.

  1. Foreign Object
  2. Cleaning Products
  3. Weight Gain
  4. Allergies
  5. Asthma
  6. Other Respiratory Illnesses
  7. Tracheal Collapse
  8. Heart Failure
  9. Cancer

Foreign Object

If your dog coughs continually with his head down or he makes gagging noises, check in his mouth and towards the back of his throat. He may have something stuck that is obstructing his airway. if you can remove the object without pushing it further down then do so. Otherwise, take him straight to the vet.

It is a good idea to enroll in a canine first aid course. You will learn how to perform the Heimlich maneuver to help dislodge something from your dog’s throat. Do not attempt it if you do not know how as you can cause more injury to your dog.

Cleaning Products

Certain cleaning products can irritate a dog’s airways and cause them to cough. If you have recently changed the brand, this could explain your dog’s coughing. Try switching back to your regular brand and see if the coughing stops.

If it is triggered by more than one brand of cleaner, you can either try to determine which ingredient is the cause or look at natural alternatives such as baking soda or white vinegar.

Weight Gain

A recent gain in weight will make your dog’s normally comfortable collar feel quite tight. You should be able to easily slip one finger under your dog’s collar. You may need to loosen the collar, but depending on how much weight he has gained, a change in diet may be the better option.

Allergies

Just like us, dogs can have a bad reaction to pollen or other airborne particles like dust. Does your dog cough when you start cleaning or does it get worse during the spring months? Your dog may suffer from hay fever or have other mild allergies. A simple allergy test from your vet will determine if this is the case.

Asthma

Yes, dogs can develop asthma! You may also notice other symptoms such as excessive panting, weight loss or quick, noisy breaths. It is treatable, but you will need to have your dog examined by a veterinarian.

Other Respiratory Illnesses

Aside from asthma, respiratory disorders such as pneumonia and kennel cough or bronchitis will also trigger bouts of coughing or gagging. These conditions can be caused by an underlying infection or parasites like heartworm. The coughing will be joined by wheezing, lethargy, loss of appetite and fever.

Your dog will require a course of antibiotics to treat the infection or if the cause is parasites, a course of antiparasitic medication to control the infestation.

Canine flu is highly contagious. Caused by a virus, the most common symptom is coughing, along with sneezing, discharge from the nose, fever and loss of appetite. Older dogs are more susceptible to respiratory illness as their immune system is weaker than a younger dog.

Tracheal Collapse

This condition is most commonly seen in brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced breeds) like the Pug or French Bulldog, but it is also common in other small breeds and elderly dogs. If your elderly dog is also overweight, this increases his risk of tracheal collapse even more.

Tracheal collapse occurs when the rings of cartilage that form the trachea start to collapse. This reduces the airflow to the lungs and causes the dog to produce a loud, honking cough or gag.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a common condition for elderly dogs. Their heart does not function as well as when they were young. A weak heart cannot pump blood as effectively around the body. This means that the lungs have to work harder to facilitate breathing. A common symptom of heart failure is short, unproductive coughing (no mucus). They will also pant more and become tired from very little physical exertion.

Cancer

As cancerous tumors grow and spread within the lungs, they reduce the capacity of the lungs to intake oxygen. This causes the dog to cough or gag. It is also common to see blood brought up when the dog coughs.

It is interesting to note that the leading cause of lung cancer in dogs is second-hand smoke. So, if you are a smoker, don’t do it near your dog!
What can I give my old dog for coughing and gagging?

When should I be concerned about my coughing dog?

A serious cough is often coupled with other symptoms such as nasal discharge, sneezing and general lethargy or weakness.

It is only natural to worry about your dog, especially if you suspect they may be sick. The cause could be a simple virus such as a cold or something more serious such as pneumonia or kennel cough.

The most important thing is to get your dog checked by a veterinarian, even if the symptoms are mild. Waiting to see if the symptoms worsen may put your dog at risk of further illness. Sometimes a cough is just a cough, but it can also be the beginning of a more serious health concern.

In the most serious cases, a dog may develop breathing difficulties due to their persistent cough, as well as a weakened immune system caused by a reduction in food intake.

Coughing in old dogs, puppies and pregnant canines are more worrisome than a cough in a healthy dog, as they have weakened immune systems and will be more susceptible to illness and infection.

What can I give my dog for coughing and gagging?

If your dog has a persistent cough that is not related to an underlying condition or the cough does not go when the illness has been treated, your veterinarian may prescribe cough medication. This is designed to soothe any irritation to the throat and prevent coughing.

You can also look at natural remedies rather than purchasing manufactured medication. Herbs to support the immune system such as ginger and liquorice root can help to alleviate coughing. You can also give your dog supplements such as vitamin C, echinacea and elderberry.

For a persistent cough, try manuka honey. It is packed full of antioxidants and its soothing texture will help to reduce the irritation in the throat. You can add a spoonful of manuka honey to a small cup of chamomile tea and allow your dog to drink it.

Chamomile has excellent calming qualities and will help to reduce your dog’s anxiety from all that coughing! Limit this to a small cup once per day and if your dog develops diarrhea do not give them any more.

What cough medicine can I give my dog?

The best cough medicine for dogs is one specifically formulated to treat coughs in dogs. There are different types of coughs and not all canine cough medicine works the same way.

For example, cough medicine for pneumonia will not be effective for a cough caused by kennel cough. The types of cough are different, as are the causes.

You should always speak to your vet, as they have extensive knowledge of animal medication and will be able to prescribe the most suitable medication for your dog’s cough.

Never give your dog human cough medicine as it contains substances that are toxic to dogs. Giving even a small dose can cause your dog’s symptoms to get worse.

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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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