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Identifying dog’s cough important

Q: My dog Gus started coughing. His veterinarian did a physical exam and recommended chest x-rays and blood work before treatment. Why can’t he just give Gus a cough suppressant?

A: Coughing is a protective mechanism that helps remove debris, such as particulate matter or excessive mucus, from the airway. So, stopping the cough without knowing what triggered it may actually harm Gus.

Coughing most often stems from respiratory problems and/or heart disease. The treatment depends on the cause. For example, if Gus’ cough is due to heartworms, treatment will involve eradicating them and their offspring and addressing the damage they’ve done.

On the other hand, if Gus’ cough is caused by a heart valve or heart muscle disorder, the appropriate treatment would be heart medication and perhaps a diet change.

The chest radiographs (x-rays) will indicate whether Gus’ heart is enlarged, his trachea (windpipe) is compressed, or the blood vessels to and from his heart are abnormal. They also will show the condition of his lungs. Blood work will determine whether he has an infection, heartworm disease or any of a number of other disorders that can cause coughing.

Once your veterinarian determines the cause of Gus’ cough, effective treatment can be started.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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