Pet Coughing Part 1: Respiratory Causes

A pet coughing can be quite a distressing symptom.  Coughing occurs usually due to a problem in either the cardiovascular (heart and vessels) or respiratory (airways and lungs) systems.  In this post, we will discuss the respiratory causes for coughing.

Respiratory Disease

Infectious Disease 

  • The most common culprit in dogs is canine infectious tracheobronchitis, or Kennel Cough (KC).  KC is a highly infectious upper respiratory tract disease which is spread directly from dog to dog in the air.  Thus, dogs do not necessarily need to be kenneled to be exposed, as it is commonly caught through interaction with infected pooches in the park etc.  KC normally manifests as a harsh, hacking cough that often sounds like there is something stuck in the throat.  The dog may or may not be unwell with a reduced appetite, and occasionally a nasal discharge is seen.  Dogs that have been vaccinated against KC have a much lower risk of contracting the disease.
  • Pneumonia due to bacterial, viral or fungal organisms can occur in dogs and cats.  Often there are other signs such as laboured respiration and lethargy.  Certain worms and larvae can live in and destroy the lung tissue.  The most common parasite is commonly known as rat lungworm, and is contracted when the pet eats an infected rat or bird.  The larvae of heartworms can have the same effect in dogs.

Inflammatory Disease

  • Dynamic airway disease (DAD) or tracheal collapse in dogs is seen mostly in small breeds.  In DAD, the tracheal cartilage becomes weakened and collapses every time the dog breathes.  The cough associated with DAD is seen mostly with exercise, exertion, excitement and heat stress, and has often been present for months to years.
  • Allergic bronchitis can be seen in household pets and coughing is a frequent sign.  The allergen can be anything, but cigarette smoke and pollens are often responsible.  Feline asthma is thought to have a strong allergic component.
  • If your pet is coughing, your vet may prescribe medications such as antibiotics or cough suppressants.  Tests such as X-rays may be recommended for investigation.

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