Why Is My Dog Coughing?: Reasons Why It Happens

Four Minutes
Feb 22, 2023

Having a coughing dog at home can keep a pet parent up at night. Should you be concerned, or is your dog simply clearing their throat? Coughing could be caused by infections, a pre-existing condition — like heart disease — or something your dog accidentally swallowed.

Here are some common reasons why dogs may cough, how to tell coughs apart, and when you should call the veterinarian.

How To Tell the Difference Between Dog Coughing and Gagging

A dog cough can sound different depending on what’s going on. One way to help you figure out why your dog is coughing so much is to ask yourself some questions:¹

  1. Is the cough deep, dry, or like hacking?
  2. Does it sound like high-pitched gagging?
  3. Is the cough wet, phlegmy, and moist?
  4. Is it a deep honking cough?
  5. Does the coughing happen at night while they’re sleeping?

The sound and texture of your dog’s coughs can tell you a lot about what’s causing them. Pay attention to the coughing to see if any patterns emerge, like the time of day or if they’re coughing after they eat dinner. The answers to these questions will help your vet figure out how to best care for your dog.

Infectious Diseases That May Cause Dog Coughing

Bacterial infections

Bacteria that live on surfaces — like countertops, dog beds, and toys — may be the source of your dog’s cough. Bacterial infections can cause a host of symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, and runny noses.

Some bacterial infections, like kennel cough, don’t come from surfaces but are shared between dogs. The group of bacteria that causes kennel cough infects the upper respiratory tract, which leads to a deep, dry, honking cough you may be hearing from your dog.

Bordetella — and its family of bacteria that cause kennel cough — thrive in crowded places, like dog kennels, dog parks, and daycares. Luckily, there are inexpensive vaccines available to prevent or treat kennel cough. If your dog spent time in any of these places, they may have a bacterial infection.

A large brown dog with their mouth open spending time outside.


Another culprit of coughing in dogs is canine influenza. While there are many viruses dogs can get, the flu can be the most common. The flu can be transmitted from:

  • Human to dog
  • Dog to dog
  • Objects to dog

Cases of the flu can range from mild to severe, depending on your dog’s age, immune system, and any pre-existing conditions. You’ll have to speak with your vet about whether your dog should take antibiotics or if they can recover without medication.

Sore throat

Your dog’s sore throat could be caused by tonsillitis, a sinus infection, or secondary infection from periodontal disease.¹ Regardless of the source of the sore throat, your dog may need a physical exam to determine what’s causing their throat to become inflamed.

Chronic Conditions That May Cause Dog Coughing

Lung diseases

A persistent, moist cough could be a sign of a serious lung infection. If the cough sounds wet or moist, it could be a sign of pneumonia. Pneumonia in dogs can be:¹

  • Caused by particles entering the lungs — like parasites, fungi, or toxins
  • Most common in puppies or senior dogs
  • Typical in dogs who’re undergoing cancer treatment or have autoimmune diseases

A harsh, dry cough that comes in short bursts could be bronchitis.¹ Pet parents should know that bronchitis in dogs:²

  • Is the long-term inflammation of the throat and bronchial airways
  • Is caused by respiratory diseases or other conditions
  • Commonly affects middle-aged and senior dogs
  • Can last between 5 to 10 days — or up to 20 days in some dogs

Work closely with your vet to get your dog’s bronchitis under control and treat any underlying infections they may have. Some dogs recover quickly from bronchitis and pneumonia, while others may not. Be patient with yourself and your vet as you follow your treatment plan.

Heart problems

Heart problems may cause coughing in dogs. For example, although it’s uncommon, advanced cases of heartworms can cause coughing in dogs.¹

Professionals recommend that pet parents stay up to date on their dog’s heartworm, tick, and flea preventative medications. This can help you rule out heartworms, a potential cause of your dog’s coughing fits, and avoid parasitic infections.

On the other hand, certain kinds of heart diseases can cause fluid to fill the lungs, leading to congestive heart failure.¹ Dog breeds that are prone to heart disease, like the Great Dane, may start coughing when they’re lying down or sleeping due to fluid entering their lungs.¹

Speak to your vet as soon as you notice these symptoms, so they can begin treatment for heart failure as soon as possible.

Other Reasons Why Your Dog Might Be Coughing


A high-pitched, gagging cough may be caused by an irritation, infection, or partial blockage in the throat.¹ Look for a foreign object in your dog’s throat, like a stick, marble, or soft toy.

You can try to remove the blockage safely, but don’t force it, as your dog may panic and bite you. Objects stuck in a dog’s throat can be dangerous for you to remove yourself, so don’t hesitate to get a vet’s help.

Collapsed trachea

A goose-like cough can be a sign of tracheal collapse, which is the gradual softening and closing of the esophagus.¹ This condition is most common in obese dogs or small, toy-breed dogs — like Yorkshire terriers (yorkies), Pomeranians, and Chihuahuas

Be careful with these types of dogs if they tend to pull on their leash, as this can damage their throats. Walking obese dogs in hot, humid weather is another cause of collapsed tracheas. So take caution during walks in the summer months.

Why Does My Dog Keep Coughing?

Dogs cough for a wide range of reasons. Some cough simply to clear their throat of dust or debris. Other times, your dog's cough is a sign that something isn’t right. They could be sick or have something stuck in their throat that they swallowed accidentally.

While the occasional cough is often not a cause for concern, frequent coughing can be. If anything you’ve read so far sounds applicable to your pet, a trip to the vet may be in order.

Treating Your Dog’s Cough Can Get Expensive

You may get to the vet and find that your dog just needs some TLC. Or you may get some ugly news and an even uglier bill.

Depending on what’s causing your dog’s cough, they may be treated with a combination of medications, including:³

  • Antibiotics
  • Cough suppressants
  • Steroids

These can be in addition to any diagnostics your vet may have to do, like X-rays, blood work, or an endoscopy. An endoscopy is a procedure where a vet inserts a camera down the throat to take images of the esophagus.

It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much this could cost, but it can easily exceed even the most fiscally savvy pet parent’s budget. A pet insurance policy could help.4

When It’s Time To Call The Vet, MetLife Pet Insurance Can Help

Dog coughing can be caused by a variety of things. Luckily, most of them are treatable. Be sure to address night time coughing, as this could be a sign of life-threatening conditions — like congestive heart failure. Take the time to discuss all treatment options with your vet before attempting to treat your dog’s cough at home.

Taking care of your pets can be stressful, especially if you aren’t prepared to pay for vet bills. At MetLife Pet Insurance, winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year” Award,5 we’re committed to helping you keep your pets happy and healthy — whether that means learning all there is to know about your pets or protecting them with a dog insurance policy. Consider getting a free quote today.

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¹ “Dog Coughing: Causes and Treatment Options,” American Kennel Club

² “Tracheobronchitis in Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Manual

³ “The Coughing Dog,” Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital

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