Why is my dog coughing?

Like humans, dogs occasionally cough to clear mucus, dust, or debris from their breathing passages—and that’s normal. But a persistent or painful cough that does not resolve on its own can signal the presence of a more serious health problem. Understanding the potential causes of your dog’s cough can better help you (and your vet) to choose the right treatment option.

Common Causes of Coughing in Dogs

Dogs are natural born sniffers, so it’s not unusual for a dog to pick up bacteria or virus from its surroundings or to transmit these pathogens to other dogs that share a common space. Let’s review a few prominent causes of coughing in dogs…

Kennel Cough. Kennel cough is an infection caused by the bacterium, Bordetella bronchiseptica. It commonly manifests as a deep honking cough that can last for several days. The most likely route of transmission is from dog-to-dog contact in places where large numbers of dogs are together (shelters, kennels, obedience classes, and even the dog park). Kennel cough alone is not always a cause for alarm. If your pet is otherwise healthy and maintains a strong appetite, the cough may resolve on its own within a week.

Heartworm. Another common cause of canine coughing is heartworm. A parasite transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm is a threadlike parasite that takes up residence inside your animal’s heart, lungs, and surrounding vasculature. Symptoms include a deep, persistent cough, fatigue, and reduced energy levels. Heartworm is easier to prevent than to cure, with many preventives sold over the counter at pet stores. Positive confirmation of a heartworm diagnosis and subsequent treatment require veterinary care.

Canine Distemper. A systemic disease caused by a virus, distemper can affect your dog’s gastrointestinal and respiratory function, as well as the spinal cord and brain. Respiratory signs resemble those of kennel cough, and the two can be hard to distinguish in the absence of other symptoms. Distemper can be prevented by a vaccine administered by your vet. If your dog has not been vaccinated and is diagnosed with distemper, the treatment course is largely supportive—treating symptoms such as electrolyte and fluid imbalances individually and using broad-spectrum antibiotics to control secondary infections.

Heart Disease. Cardiovascular diseases, including congestive heart failure, can manifest as a persistent, intractable cough. As in humans, heart disease in dogs can be quite serious and requires a veterinary diagnosis and treatment.

Bronchitis or Pneumonia. Like humans, dogs can acquire these respiratory conditions from contact with other animals in their environment. Foreign matter (such as food, grass, or seeds) can also be accidentally inhaled and cause irritation and inflammation of the lungs and respiratory tract. Persistent cases are most often treated with antibiotics provided by your vet.

The Importance of Canine Vaccines

Regular vaccination and preventive care by your vet can help your pet avoid some of the more serious causes of a persistent cough. Distemper and heartworm can both be addressed prophylactically with preventives purchased either at a pet store or from your vet. In general, it is always advisable to keep your dog up to date on all veterinarian-recommended inoculations.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

If your dog’s cough does not resolve on its own within a couple days, it could be a sign of something more serious. You should contact your vet if:

  • Your dog’s cough persists or worsens
  • Your dog’s cough is painful (they may hack, gag, or wretch)
  • Your dog also has a fever
  • Your dog seems lethargic or fatigues easily
  • Your dog loses interest in food

Your vet can listen to your dog’s cough and can perform simple blood tests to pinpoint the cause of the cough. With a confirmed diagnosis, your vet can then plan an appropriate treatment course.

Editor’s Note: Figo customers can talk to a veterinary professional about their dog’s cough via Live Vet chat in the Pet Cloud app.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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