Coughing Dogs: Healthy Pet/ Happy Pet 5

Article Series for Dunes Living Magazine

Dr. Amanda Thomas

Why is my dog COUGHING?

We see a lot of coughing dogs in the veterinary clinic. It is a common clinical sign of an underlying problem and a very good reason for pet owners to seek medical attention for their pets (cats too). It’s not easy to pinpoint the reason your pet is coughing, but in dogs, common causes are viruses, bacterial infections, a group of respiratory diseases known as “kennel cough”, different strains of influenza, and pneumonia. Those are only some of the respiratory causes of a cough. Coughing can be caused by non-infectious diseases as well; heart disease, cancerous conditions, lung tumors, parasites, and upper airway dysfunction.

It’s important to provide your veterinarian with the most information you can about your pet’s cough, like what time of day you hear the cough occurring, how long you have noticed it, whether or not your pet has had exposure to other animals at the dog park, the groomer, at daycare, or even in your neighborhood. Where is your dog when he or she is coughing? Do you see nasal discharge?

Is the cough dry? Wet? Intermittent? Is it related to eating or activity?

Your dog’s breed may be predisposed to certain types of airway diseases and abnormalities. For instance, Pomeranians are likely to suffer at some point in their lifetime from a condition called Collapsing Trachea, while flat-faced brachycephalic breeds that have smaller airways succumb more quickly to infections. The age of your pet plays a role in why he may be coughing also.  Dobermans and Boxers suffer from Cardiomyopathy conditions and should have their hearts checked at every veterinary visit to identify problems early.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to a successful treatment plan and outcome for your pet, so bring them to the veterinarian before the condition becomes severe. Some strains of Influenza virus can turn into pneumonia within a few days.

What we are looking for and attempting to diagnose are the most common conditions associated with a cough, which include Viral and Bacterial infections, Fungal infections, Influenza, Pneumonia, Canine Chronic Bronchitis (CCB), Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), Interstitial Lung Diseases, Lung Tumors, Parasitic pneumonia from lungworms, Protozoal infections, Pleural effusions (fluid around the lungs), Tracheal Collapse and other upper airway abnormalities.

As you can imagine, it’s difficult at best to determine why your dog is coughing, so the history and information you provide is critical to our understanding of the problem. Pets with heart disease will lose healthy muscle mass and become exercise intolerant.

Is your pet weak or listless with a reduced appetite? Is there a smoker in the house?

This is also good information to provide to your veterinarian on the initial visit.

Animals that have not been on Heartworm prevention every 30 days, and tested for Heartworm disease every year will be suspected of this condition as it is endemic in our region of the U.S.

Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam on your pet, paying close attention to auscultation of the heart, lungs, and trachea, and take his/her rectal temperature. The patient record will be reviewed to determine what vaccinations and testing (i.e.: heartworm test) your pet has received and how recently. Likely, basic diagnostic testing such as bloodwork and XRays of the chest will then be recommended to help determine the nature of the cough. Other tests that help in the diagnosis include fecal testing which may show evidence of lungworm eggs. In some cases, advanced diagnostics will be offered, like Echocardiography if a heart condition is diagnosed, possibly Bronchoscopy or airway sampling via a Trans-Tracheal Wash (TTW) to identify organisms or parasites occupying and infecting the airways.

The approach to treatment will be based on the results of the diagnostic testing in most cases. Limiting exposure to other animals is important, especially sick pets. Managing obesity, limiting exercise, and using a harness, rather than a leash, attached to a collar may all be advised. Medications appropriate for the diagnosed condition will be recommended. Respiratory infections are highly contagious and can quickly cause outbreaks, so if YOUR dog is coughing please keep him away from other people’s pets and get him to the vet clinic early.

One important ‘take-home’ message is to be sure you are doing everything you can do for your pet to prevent illness and disease – have them tested every year for heartworm disease, keep them on their monthly heartworm preventative all year long, and don’t skip doses. Keep your pet immunized for ‘core’ vaccinations and ask your vet what else they should be vaccinated for based on their lifestyles, like Canine influenza (H3N2), Lyme disease, and Leptospirosis. We recommend the Bordetella vaccination be given to your dog twice a year for healthy levels of immunity against respiratory syndromes that can cause these illnesses.