Dog Dry Coughing: Causes & Treatments

Key takeaway

If your dog is dry coughing, it may be related to a variety of underlying conditions, including, allergies, infection, tracheal collapse, and more. Alternatively, your dog’s dry cough could mean that they’re choking on a foreign object, which requires immediate medical attention.

We all know how annoying it is to have a dry cough. It feels like no matter what you do, or how many cough drops you suck on, you just can't seem to get rid of that pesky cough. But did you know that dogs can get dry coughs, too?

Similar to humans, dogs can also experience that annoying dry cough that doesn’t seem to go away. A dog dry coughing might just sound like normal snorting and grunting, but it can actually be really painful for your pup. A dog coughing now and then is normal, but if your dog can’t stop coughing, that’s when it becomes a problem.

There are many conditions that could cause a dog to dry cough, some of which are more serious than others, which is why it’s important to bring your dog to the vet if you notice they’re coughing more than usual.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about a dog dry coughing, including the various causes and what you can do to treat them. To learn more about what you can do if your dog has a dry cough, continue reading the entire article, or click on one of the links below to skip to a section of your choice.

Causes 

The causes of a dog dry coughing can range from something simple, like allergies, to a more serious health condition, like lung cancer or heartworm disease. In order to identify exactly what’s causing your dog’s dry cough, you need to bring them to the vet. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most common causes of a dog dry cough.

Graphic listing causes of dry coughing in dogs

Bacterial & Viral Infections

Various bacterial and viral infections, such as kennel cough, can cause a dry cough in a dog. Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease that commonly spreads at places where dogs come into close contact, like a kennel. It can spread between dogs through airborne droplets, direct contact, or contaminated surfaces.

The symptoms of kennel cough include a strong cough, runny nose, sneezing, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Kennel cough is easily treatable, but it can be more severe in young puppies and immunocompromised dogs. It can usually be treated with a couple of weeks of rest, or a vet may recommend cough medication to relieve symptoms.1

Symptoms of kennel cough

Foreign Object In Airway

A foreign object in a dog’s airway is another common cause of a dry cough. This is usually caused by food going into the airways because a dog is eating too fast, but it can also be caused by a dog swallowing a toy or part of a toy that they were chewing on. In addition to coughing, a dog with a foreign object stuck in their airway may also excessively drool, pace around,  paw at their mouth, and have difficulty breathing.

If you suspect a foreign object is stuck in your dog’s airway, you’ll want to start by checking their throat to see if something is stuck. If your dog is choking, remain calm and try to clear the airway with your fingers as best as you can. If you can’t remove it with your hands, you can try the Heimlich maneuver. If none of these attempts work, or if your dog is seriously choking, bring them to the emergency vet immediately.2

Allergies

If your dog suffers from allergies, it’s not unlikely to hear a cough from them every once in a while. Certain environmental allergens, such as dust, pollen, and cigarette smoke, can trigger a dry cough. A dog with allergies may also experience hives, itchiness,  inflamed skin, diarrhea, and vomiting.

There are a few ways you can treat dog allergies. If your dog suffers from an environmental allergy, like dust or pollen, try removing that substance from your house by dusting often and keeping your house and dog bed clean. It might not be possible to remove dust from your home entirely, but even just reducing the amount of dust in your house can help your pup tremendously.

Tracheal Collapse & Irritation

Tracheal collapse is a chronic condition that can cause a dog’s trachea to become soft and narrow, which can restrict the dog’s airways. It’s most common in older toy and miniature dog breeds, but it can happen to any type of dog. A dog with tracheal collapse will experience dry, chronic coughing, as well as labored breathing.

Tracheal collapse mostly affects obese dogs and those with underlying heart or lung diseases. To manage tracheal collapse in a dog, they must lose weight through exercise and proper diet. Your vet may also recommend reducing their amount of stress and prescribe them medication, such as cough suppressants and antibiotics.3

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is an infection that’s caused by a worm parasite, and it can be fatal if it goes untreated. This disease is most common in areas with a lot of mosquitos. It’s transmitted by a mosquito picking up larva when it takes a blood meal from an infected animal and then passing it onto a dog with their bite. The larva can then travel up to the heart and lungs and cause inflammation of the blood vessels and lungs, which can be fatal.

You can prevent your dog from getting heartworm disease with heartworm prevention medication. As for treating heartworm disease in dogs, there are some risks involved. Different drugs are given to kill adult heartworms and heartworm larvae, and rest is necessary after treatment.4 Even with heartworm treatment, irreversible damage to the heart may have already been caused by the heartworm disease. It is imperative to keep your pet on heartworm prevention to help them live a long healthy life.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is another potential cause of a dog dry coughing. It’s most commonly found in dogs around 10-12 years of age. Certain dog breeds are more likely to develop lung cancer, such as Doberman pinschers, Australian shepherds, and Bernese mountain dogs. In addition to coughing, other symptoms of lung cancer include weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, rapid breathing and wheezing, vomiting, and hair loss.

In some cases of lung cancer, surgery is required to remove the area of the lung where the tumor is. If the tumor cannot be removed, or if cancer has spread to other areas of their body, chemotherapy and/or radiation may be necessary.5

Diagnosis

In order to treat your dog’s dry cough, you need to bring them to the vet to get a proper diagnosis. Your vet can assess symptoms and make a diagnosis by taking a blood panel, doing X-rays, taking stool samples, or taking culture samples of their airways. Your vet will also likely perform a physical exam, which includes listening to your dog’s heart and lungs, taking their temperature, and performing other diagnostic tests.

Graphic listing treatment methods for dog dry cough

Treatments

So, my dog has a dry cough. What should I do? Treating your dog’s dry cough ultimately depends on the underlying issue, so it’s important to talk to your vet to figure out what the best course of treatment is for your pet. Treatment may involve cough suppressants, antibiotics in the case of a bacterial infection, or steroids for allergic lung disease.

Dog Dry Coughing: Frequently Asked Questions

What is dog kennel cough? 

Dog kennel cough is a highly contagious cough that causes inflammation in the throat and lungs of a dog. Kennel cough is most common in areas highly populated with dogs.

Why is my dog coughing like something is stuck in his throat?

If your dog is coughing like something is stuck in their throat, it’s likely that they either ate too fast and have food lodged in their airways, or swallowed a piece of a toy they were chewing on. If this case, try to remove the object from your dog's airways with your fingers

What can I give my dog for a dry cough?

If your dog has a dry cough, you need to talk to your vet about how to treat them. You should avoid self-medicating, as a cough can be an indication of other more serious issues that need medical attention to resolve.

Sick dog laying in bed

Final Notes

A dry cough is just as annoying and painful for dogs as it is for humans, which is why you need to bring your pup to the vet as soon as you notice them coughing more than usual. A dog dry cough could be a result of something small, but it could also be a symptom of a more serious health condition, so you’re better off safe than sorry and bringing your dog to the vet so they can get checked.

And if you aren’t able to physically bring your dog to the vet, let us bring the vet to you with Dutch.com. Dutch is an online pet telehealth service that connects pet owners with licensed vets. Telemedicine for pets allows pet owners to get in contact with licensed veterinarians quicker than ever before. All you have to do is sign up online, and you’ll be connected with an entire network of Dutch-affiliated vets who are there to help diagnose, treat, and prescribe your pup the medication they need. And the best part is, you’ll get that medication delivered right to your door in just 7 days.

References

  1. Staff, AKC. “The Dangers of Kennel Cough in Dogs.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/kennel-cough-symptoms-treatment-and-prevention/

  2. Katie Mills Giorgio  October 07, 2021. “How to Help a Choking Dog in an Emergency.” Daily Paws, https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/health-care/dog-first-aid-emergency/dog-choking

  3. Kuehn, Ned F. “Tracheal Collapse in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/tracheal-collapse-in-dogs?query=Tracheal+collapse

  4. Atkins, Clarke. “Heartworm Disease in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders-of-dogs/heartworm-disease-in-dogs?query=heartworm.  

  5. Kuehn, Ned F. “Cancers and Tumors of the Lung and Airway in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/cancers-and-tumors-of-the-lung-and-airway-in-dogs?query=lung+cancer.