The Coughing Pet

by Linda Sorensen DVM

Often we receive phone calls regarding coughing in dogs and cats, and the enquiry is almost always “does my pet need to be seen by the veterinarian?” There are many causes of coughing in pets, and some can be quite serious. Also, the causes of coughing in cats and dogs can be quite different.


Coughing dogs


Coughing in dogs comes in two forms: loud (or “honking”), and soft.

The most common cause of a loud cough in a dog is infectious tracheobronchitis (aka kennel cough). This is an infectious airborne viral disease which is often accompanied by a secondary bacterial infection. Your pet may require antibiotic therapy in order to clear this infection.

The most common causes of soft coughing in a dog are heart disease and pulmonary infections (such as pneumonia). X-rays may be required to differentiate between these diseases. Medical treatment is always indicated.



Coughing Cats


When cats cough, it is often mistaken as an attempt to bring up a hairball. In fact, the two issues can appear identical (except for the expelled hairball!).

The most common cause of coughing in cats is feline asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition that can rapidly progress to respiratory distress and, in some cases, be fatal. Medical treatment is always indicated.

Cats may also cough with pulmonary infections (such as pneumonia or lungworms), so an x-ray will be required to confirm a diagnosis of asthma. Interestingly, cats, unlike dogs, rarely cough with heart disease.



The causes of coughing in our pets can be quite varied, and at times require chest x-rays for an accurate diagnosis. Most coughing pets will require medical treatment as well, so it is important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible when coughing is noted.

Of course, any very sudden onset of a cough accompanied by distress could indicate an object lodged in the trachea (windpipe) and should be dealt with immediately. A quick phone call to the clinic as you transport your pet to us will give us time to set up emergency interventions for your pet (oxygen etc) if needed.

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