When Your Dog Can’t Stop Coughing

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 27, 2021



It's normal for your dog to cough every now and then. It's part of everyday life for an animal that can sniff 4 to 6 times per second. But if your dog does it a lot or can’t seem to stop, you may have a sick pup, and they may need treatment.

What’s Behind the Cough?

Like us, dogs cough to get rid of dust, germs, and other stuff they breathe in.

Also like us, they sometimes get infections or viruses.

Dogs are social creatures that naturally sniff and slurp. This is why bacteria and viruses – including a canine form of the flu -- quickly spread from dog to dog. Germs also can land on floors, furniture, food bowls, toys, and other surfaces where the next dog to come along picks them up.

A dog may be coughing because of:

  • Kennel cough. Kennel cough is the common name for a deep, honking canine cough. Is your dog having bouts of hacking, followed by gagging? Think back a week or so. Were they at the groomer, dog park, obedience class, shelter, or playground? Chances are, they were around another sick dog. Kennel cough is highly contagious, but it's not a serious problem on its own. As long as your dog is eating well and acting like themselves, they'll probably feel better in a week or so. Your vet should make sure that they don’t need antibiotics or cough suppressants.
  • Fungal infections. Yeast and other fungi can be picked up in dirt or through the air. There are prescription medications that can help.
  • Heartworms. Mosquitos spread this disease. Monthly medication or an injection that lasts 6 or 12 months can prevent it. Treatment is hard on your pet, and expensive.
  • Distemper. This virus spreads through the air. It's serious but can be prevented with a vaccine.
  • Heart disease. Leaky valves and other problems can weaken and thicken the heart muscle. This puts pressure on the lungs and airways. Medication, along with the right diet, and exercise approved by your vet, can bring relief.
  • Congestive heart failure. Fluid in the lungs can cause coughing.

  • Lung problems. Sometimes dogs get bronchitis or pneumonia. They also may suck in dirt, grass seeds, or food, which can lead to an infection of the airways. Antibiotics can help. In rare cases, lung cancer is the diagnosis. Your vet will help you decide if medication or surgery is the best course.

  • Collapse of the trachea. If the rings of cartilage on the dog's trachea, or windpipe, weaken, it can lead to tracheal collapse. It is a progressive condition that causes a harsh, dry cough, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. It is more common in small dogs like pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, and chihuahuas. 


When to See the Vet

Make an appointment with your dog's doctor if:

  • Their cough lasts more than a week, or worsens
  • They seem extra tired
  • They have a fever
  • They won’t eat
  • They have other health problems

Your vet may ask you some questions like:

  • Does your dog have trouble breathing between coughing fits?
  • When do they do it? (At night? After eating? After drinking water? After exercise? When they are excited?)
  • What does it sound like? (A goose? A seal?)
  • Is the cough dry or moist?
  • Does it sound like they are about to vomit?
  • Where has your dog been lately? (In a place with other dogs? With you on a family vacation? Around a smoker?)
  • Have there been any changes to their daily routine?
  • Are they up-to-date on their shots, and heartworm prevention?
  • When did they last take their medication?

Your vet will examine your dog and run tests to find out if the problem is due to a virus, an infection, an allergy, or a different problem. The treatment will depend on the cause.

Puppy Love

Just like any other sick member of the family, your dog deserves a little TLC until their cough clears. Make sure they have plenty of water, healthy dog food, and rest. Steer clear if they want to be alone. Tell kids to let sleeping dogs lie, and keep them away from other dogs until they are well.

The best way to keep your dog healthy is to prevent problems before they start. Make sure your dog gets their shots every year and gets heartworm prevention as directed. Don't let them play with other dogs who are coughing or sick.

Show Sources


Thesen, A. Journal of Experimental Biology, March 11, 1993.

Craven, B. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, published online Dec. 9, 2009.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

American Veterinary Medical Association.

Purdue University Cooperative Extensive Service: “Common Dog Diseases and Health Problems.”

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Borde, D., Calvert, C., Darien, B., Guerrero, J., Wall, M. The Merck Manual Pet Edition, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., 2014.

Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine Baker Institute for Animal Health: “Heart Failure in Dogs.”

National Center for Homeopathy.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine: “Best to Prevent Kennel Cough.” "Tracheal Collapse in Dogs."

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