A coughing and gagging dog can be scary. It could just be allergies or some small particle your pup picked up, or something serious. You can’t always tell and your mind may immediately go to the worst-case scenario. And it’s not like your furry friend can verbally tell you what’s going on. It’s up to you and maybe your vet to diagnose the problem.
If your dog is coughing and gagging, there may be a couple of causes to consider. You need to consider how much they’re coughing, if gagging is happening before or after a cough, and what kind of cough your companion is dealing with. It can help in determining the problem and what to do.
If your dog is coughing for more than two or three days and you’re still not sure of the cause, don’t hesitate to call the vet. If there’s no improvement in your pup’s condition or it’s getting worse, stop trying to figure it out on your own and call. When it comes to health issues, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
There are multiple factors that could be causing your pup to gag and cough.
Gagging VS. Coughing
Coughing and gagging are two different things, and it’s important to keep that in mind when trying to determine your dog’s problem. If you’re unsure of which is which, try recording a video of your pup’s actions for the vet to see. They are caused by similar problems and together can mean something problematic.
A dog cough is much like a human cough. They’re trying to get something out of their system, but all they can get out is a bit of mucus or saliva. It’s an attempt to get harmful substances out of their airways. It’s usually accompanied by a hacking noise. Whether it’s an illness or something your pup picked up, coughing is often an attempt to get it out of their system.
Gagging usually happens in conjunction with a cough, directly before or after depending on what the problem is. When a dog gags, they’ll open their mouth widely and make a retching or choking noise, but not much will come out. It’s caused by inflammation in the larynx area.
Gagging and coughing are not the same things, and which one comes first matters.
If a dog is both coughing and gagging, take note of which is coming first. If they gag first and then cough, there may be a problem with their larynx area. If they cough first and then gag, it may be more along the lines of bronchitis or a respiratory illness.
Both coughing and gagging can happen occasionally when your pup picks up something they shouldn’t have and needs out of their airways. An occasional coughing or gagging spell usually isn’t something to worry about if they’re still otherwise healthy. Keep an eye on them and if it becomes a constant thing over the next few days you may need to contact a vet.
Different Types of Coughs
If your companion seems sick with a cough, it may help to know what kind of cough they’re experiencing. We have different kinds of coughs depending on what kind of respiratory problem we’re dealing with. Knowing which cough your pup is experiencing may help you determine what’s ailing them.
Different types of coughs can mean different things. Try to pay attention to what kind of cough your pup is struggling with.
If your companion is coughing a lot, take note of what kind of cough it is. Some coughs your pup may experience include:
- Dry, hacking cough
- High-pitched, gagging cough
- Wet cough
- Honking cough
Dogs can get into trouble with their curiosity and their mouth and nose. They sniff things and eat and inhale things they really shouldn’t all the time. It’s a constant source of stress for dog owners. It can also be the cause of your companion’s coughing and gagging.
If your pup has picked up something potentially harmful, their coughing and gagging may be an attempt to get it out of their airways. In some cases, coughs may suddenly get violent, accompanied by gagging and swallowing as they try to get it out. If this happens, something may be stuck in their airways.
If the cough isn’t resolving itself quickly, they may need a vet’s help getting a stuck substance out of their airways.
If your puppy picks up something they shouldn’t have, they may cough and gag to get it out of their airways.
Kennel Cough and Respiratory Infections
Kennel Cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness dogs can get from daycares, kennels, and other places with a lot of dogs in one area. It’s considered to be their equivalent of the common cold. If your pup is experiencing a dry, honking cough and gag, kennel cough may be the cause.
By itself, kennel cough isn’t too serious. It causes irritation and discomfort just like human colds do. But if you think your pup has it (especially if it’s the first time), you should still call the vet if you can. They can prescribe medications that will make the symptoms more bearable.
Like a human cold, kennel cough can be stubborn and last for a couple of weeks. If your sick baby’s symptoms don’t improve at all by then or get worse, definitely call the vet. Kennel cough may not be serious on its own, but it can lead to more serious issues like bronchitis if left alone for too long.
If your companion has kennel cough or you suspect they do, please try to keep them away from other dogs until they’re over it. Kennel cough is highly contagious and you don’t want any other puppies getting sick.
Kennel cough can cause your companion to experience a honking cough and gag.
A dry, harsh honking cough could be a symptom of tracheal collapse. This cough may be worse if they’re pulling against their collar. Tracheal collapse can occur when the cartilage rings holding the trachea or windpipe weaken, making it harder for air to move through.
Tracheal collapse is more prominent in small breeds, especially in hot or humid weather and after exercise. It’s also more likely to occur in obese dogs. To limit the risk of tracheal collapse, you should make sure your furry friend is in a healthy weight range for their breed.
If you have a small breed and especially a flat-faced breed, make sure you’re taking respiratory problems seriously. If they’re coughing for a long time, go ahead and take them to the vet.
Small breeds are at a higher risk for tracheal collapse.
A wet cough may be a sign of pneumonia or other lung problems. It’s caused by bacteria and other harmful substances getting into your lungs. Pneumonia is often caused by another disease like kennel cough.
Wet coughs are caused by fluids in the lungs. If these coughs are accompanied by labored breathing even when your companion isn’t coughing or gagging, get them to the vet now.
Seniors with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to pneumonia. So are puppies whose immune systems aren’t fully developed. If you hear wet coughs or labored breathing from either group, don’t take any risks and call the vet.
Canine Chronic Bronchitis
Canine chronic bronchitis is a bacterial infection that inflames the airways. It can cause mucus production and swelling which makes it difficult for your pup to breathe.
They may experience wheeze-like coughing and difficulty swallowing. They also may not be as active and energetic. Bronchitis can worsen with time, so make sure to catch it early so your vet can try to mitigate the damage.
Any dog breed can get bronchitis. But like with most breathing-related issues, flat-faced breeds are at higher risk. If you have one, make sure you pay attention to any concerning coughs or breathing issues.
Canine chronic bronchitis is a bacterial infection that can cause a wheeze-like cough and breathing difficulties.
Heart diseases occur when the heart isn’t functioning properly, causing fluids to fill the lungs. Congestive heart failure is a well-known example, and it can be fatal.
If your pup is developing a heart problem, they may start coughing while laying down because of the fluids filling their lungs. If you notice that your companion is mainly coughing or gagging in their sleep, it could be an early warning sign of a heart problem. Get to a vet ASAP.
Other symptoms to look out for may include a blue tongue, loss of appetite, weakness, or a rapid or depressed heartbeat. Any of these signs warrant a vet visit.
Nobody likes to think about cancer. It’s scary and deadly, and we would all prefer it if it just disappeared from our lives completely. It’s scary in humans, and it can be a scary possibility for our furry friends too. Thankfully in this case it’s extremely rare.
Lung cancer especially is rare in dogs, with lung tumors only making up 1% of dog cancer diagnoses. But as rare as it is, it’s dangerous enough that you want to rule it out quickly.
If your pup’s coughing is accompanied by an inability to exercise, lack of appetite, weight loss, or other respiratory problems, they could be experiencing symptoms of a lung tumor. As rare as lung tumors are, it’s still worth a trip to the vet to rule it out and get your companion the help they need.
If your pup does have lung cancer, they’re likely going to need surgery and possibly chemotherapy, so it’s best to get it diagnosed as early as possible.
If your pup’s coughing and gagging aren’t accompanied by fatigue or any other issues, there are some remedies you can try at home. If you’re not able to make time to go to the vet right away or your companion is afraid of the vet, these remedies may help with a mild cough or gag problem. They may not cure your dog completely, but they can ease their suffering until they get over it or until they get to the vet.
If none of these remedies help at all or there are any other problems like fatigue or a fever, call the vet or go to an emergency clinic.
Honey is a good natural anti-inflammatory that can soothe your pup’s throat and lessen their coughing and gagging. You can put ½-1 tablespoon in a warm bowl of water 1-3 times a day to soothe your dog’s throat.
Humidifier or Steam
If you have a humidifier, try having it on where your pup sleeps so they can reap the benefits. A humidifier can moisten the air in the room, potentially helping with your companion’s breathing irritation.
Alternatively, you can try letting them in the bathroom while you shower and let them breathe in the steam. The steam from a shower can help decrease inflammation.
No Leash Walking
If your dog is suffering from a consistent coughing and/or gagging problem, it may be best not to walk them with a leash and collar while they’re recovering. A lease and collar can put pressure on your pup’s trachea, making recovery all the more difficult.
If you’re able to keep your sick pup on pads for a while, do it. This way they don’t have to strain themselves walking to the walk area and back.
If you still have to take your dog out, get a harness to walk them with.
Just like humans, sick puppies need rest. If you suspect your dog is sick from a respiratory illness or any other health problem, one of the best things you can do for them is leave them be so they can rest. Make sure they have comfortable places to sleep and everything they need to rest comfortably.
Store-Bought Cough Medicine
There are some cough remedies you can buy through a store, especially for kennel cough. You can try them and see if your dog responds positively to them. If your pup is suffering, these remedies can at least soothe the symptoms.
When to Call a Vet
If your pup just has a coughing or gagging fit once or twice over the next day or so, they may just have picked up something they need to get out. Dogs love to sniff around and pick stuff up, and sometimes that gets them into trouble.
If they seem otherwise healthy and energetic, you can wait and see for two or three days. If it goes away in the next couple of days, they got whatever was stuck out on their own. But if the coughing gets violent and doesn’t improve after a few days, get to the vet.
If the coughing and gagging comes along with any labored breathing or your pup seems to be struggling to breathe even when they aren’t coughing, forget waiting and call the vet immediately. They may have a serious problem in their heart or lungs, and you don’t want to play with that.
If your pup’s coughing and gagging are accompanied by any other health issues like a loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever, call the vet.
When you notice your dog coughing and gagging, go ahead and take their temperature so you can determine if they have a fever. Make sure you have a pet thermometer on hand so you can check your pet’s temperature whenever you need to.
If your pup is experiencing a honking cough and other symptoms of a respiratory illness like kennel cough, it may go away on its own, but it can’t hurt to get it checked out if you’re worried. Even if it’s nothing serious, your vet can prescribe some medications to ease the suffering that you may not be able to get in a store.
Keep in mind that kennel cough can take a couple of weeks to go away. If it doesn’t improve by then or is getting worse, it’s time to call the vet.
If the pup experiencing kennel cough (or any other respiratory problem) is a senior or a puppy, go ahead and call the vet. Their immune systems aren’t as good, so it’s best to go ahead and let the vet help.
If you go to the vet, try to get a video of your dog coughing and gagging first so your vet can directly determine what’s happening. If you can’t get it on video, try to remember the sound of the cough and whether a gag came before or after.
This can help them make the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Try to make any notes about changes in appetite, attitude, or anything else you notice too.
Once at the clinic, they may order an x-ray, blood work, facial exam, CT scan, or an exam of fluids from your dog’s airways. They’ll determine the problem and treatment plan based on those exams.
If your pup’s cough and gag don’t improve after a few days or are accompanied by any other problems, call the vet.
Pay Attention To Your Dog’s Coughing and Gagging
There are several possible causes for your pup’s coughing and gagging, ranging from minor irritants to congestive heart failure. To limit the risk to your furry friend, keep an eye on them immediately if you notice coughing and gagging, and make note of what kind of cough it is and if gagging is coming before or after.
If your dog’s cough and gag go on for more than two or three days, consider calling the vet to set up an appointment. If your companion is struggling to breathe in any way, don’t wait and call the vet immediately. Don’t wait if your pup is coughing in their sleep or producing a wet cough that indicates there may be fluids in their lungs.
I know I’ve said this a lot, but it’s important: when in doubt, just call the vet. Don’t let a respiratory problem get out of hand because you spent too much time trying to diagnose the issue yourself. Know your companion and when they’re suffering, and don’t take any chances. Always remember that your pup can’t tell you directly when something’s wrong, so it’s up to you to help them or get someone who can.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.