Coughing in Cats and Dogs

Coughing Dogs and Cats

Here at Hometown Veterinary Hospital, one of Springfield’s leading animal clinics, we are often contacted when dogs and cats develop a cough.

Just like in humans,  coughing can mean a lot of different things, but it primarily results when the respiratory system (mouth and nose, nasal passages, throat, and on down into the lungs)is irritated or infected. Sometimes, though, a cough can be related to heart problems, or to a mass in the chest. Because there’s no way to determine what’s causing the cough without a physical exam, it’s best to bring your pet in to see the vet.

Is it a Cough, or Something Else?

Sometimes what sounds like a cough might, in fact, be gagging, wheezing, labored breathing, retching, vomiting, or reverse sneezing (the dog makes a loud snorting noise, which is actually caused by an irritation of the soft palate. It’s most common in dogs with wide, flat skulls, like bulldogs and boxers.) Your vet can accurately identify the sound your pet is making, and then go on to diagnose why the pet is making that noise.

Different Cough Sounds
Mean Different Things

Is your pet making a dry hacking or honking cough? That sound is generally associated with diseases of the large airways; trachea and/or large bronchi. In small dogs, it may be tracheal collapse, which can congenital, or brought on chronic airway disease or other causes.

Honking coughs are also brought on by tracheal trauma from a collar.

A soft, labored cough could be a sign of fluid in the lungs, while a moist sounding cough  may indicate a lung infection or congestive heart failure.

Time of Day Can Help Diagnose the Cough

For example, do you hear your pet coughing a lot a night? That may indicate early heart disease. As the disease progresses, however, this cough may occur at any time.

Does your pet cough during exercise, or after mile pressure on the collar? These may be signs of chronic bronchitis.

It will help your vet to diagnose the cough if you are aware of when the pet is coughing.

Productive vs Non-productive Cough

In a productive cough, something is coughed up -- watery fluid, pus, or blood. It’s noticeably different from vomiting, as there is no stomach contents ejected. A productive cough generally indicates a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection.

Non-productive coughing produces sound but no discharge, and is associated with allergic lung disease or early heart disease.

How Long Has Your Pet Been Coughing?

If the coughing has gone on for more than five days, bring the pet in for an exam. However, if your pet has a cough and is clearly very ill, get to the vet as soon as you can.


With your helpful description of the cough and a thorough physical exam, your veterinarian will be able to narrow down the cause of the coughing. The veterinarian may also request some diagnostic tests, including chest x-rays, lab work to look at the blood, urinalysis, and, if needed, heartworm test and fecal exam. Cats will be tested for feline leukemia.

Treating the Cough

Of course, treatment will be tailored to address the cause, as different diseases need different cures.

You can help your pet stay as healthy as possible through good nutrition and current vaccines. A parasite control program with preventives for heartworms and intestinal worms is vital for every pet’s health. And please, always bring your beloved furry friend in to see the vet when you see symptoms of illness. Quick and appropriate treatment is the fastest and best way to a cure.