Understand your pet’s coughs

We all know how it feels to get the flu virus and how irritating the constant coughing can be. The same goes for our beloved pets, and there are various reasons why animals cough. Rather consult a veterinarian to ensure that your pet is fine than ignoring a persistent cough. Make a note of the type of cough, how the cough sounds and when your pet coughs to assist the vet in diagnosing accurately.

To understand more about your pet’s coughing, Animaltalk spoke to Dr Helen McLean, a veterinarian in private practice. She explains that a cough is caused by a forceful expiration against a closed glottis. “The glottis opens suddenly and the subsequent turbulent airflow causes the ‘cough’ sound,” she says.

Reasons behind coughing

Inflammation, infection, tumours, foreign bodies, allergic reactions, trauma or other mechanical factors can cause an irritation within the respiratory tract, which causes your pet to cough. Coughing serves to protect the respiratory tract from foreign and harmful objects.

Dr Helen explains that coughing can also be a sign of an underlying disease process within the respiratory tract and/or the surrounding tissues. “Diseases of the heart, oesophagus, thoracic cavity, tonsils or sinuses can also lead to coughing in dogs.”

The symptoms

It will help the veterinarian to have answers to the following questions:

  • Does your cat or dog cough up secretions?
  • Is the secretion bloody, purulent, foamy, watery or thick?
  • What does the cough sound like?
  • Is the cough dry or hacking?
  • Does the cough sound like a goose honking?
  • Is the cough wet and soft?
  • At what time does your animal cough?
  • Is the cough worse at night?
  • Does the cough get worse with exercise or excitement?
  • Does the cough occur when he drinks or eats?

Consult the vet

Dr Helen says: “If an animal is struggling to breathe, wheezing, standing with an elongated neck to maximise air intake, exercise intolerant, depressed, has a lack of appetite, or is feverish, it is necessary to see the vet as soon as possible. Even if your pet seems healthy, but the cough persists for over 24 hours, you should make an appointment to see the vet.”


Although all the information will help the vet to diagnose the animal’s condition, it is sometimes necessary to do further tests. Your vet may decide to take x-rays or an ultrasound, have blood tests done, or even do a bronchoscopy or lung biopsy.


Dr Helen says that your pet will be treated depending on the diagnosis. “Where eosinophilic pneumonia may be treated with a prolonged course of cortisone, infectious pneumonia should definitely not be treated as such.”

Your vet will be able to provide more information, and always remember to finish all the medicine that the vet has prescribed. The specific medication is prescribed for a reason and often is only effective in the long run once the course has been completed.

There are two common causes for a cough in dogs:

  1. Kennel cough is dry and hacking, and is contagious.
  2. Congestive heart failure is more common in older small breed dogs, and at night when lying down.


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