My dog is coughing. What should I do?

Dogs cough for many reasons. Some are really important and need urgent attention, yet others aren’t so urgent. Often an owner thinks there is something stuck in a dog’s throat. Yes this happens, but not that often. In general, my recommendation is to take your dog in for a complete exam.

It seems in the summertime each year there is a local outbreak of canine kennel cough—a disease that causes coughing in dogs that lasts anywhere from a few days to several weeks. This year the outbreak was a little early, as we saw a disproportionate number of dogs coughing at the clinic and one boarding facility reported the same. Consequently, all dogs being vaccinated should receive a Bordatella (kennel cough) vaccine from your veterinarian, despite the perceived risk. The perceived risk relates directly to the amount of time your dog(s) spends with other dogs: river walk, grooming, boarding, hospitalization, or neighbors. The kennel cough bacterium is spread on water droplets from dog to dog and can travel quite some distance using summer breezes to carry it.

Dogs can cough for other medical reasons including (but not limited to) heart disease, lung disease, and sinus infection. At Astoria Animal Hospital, heart disease is often first found by listening to the heart during preliminary exam. If a heart murmur is detected, it is then graded for its severity. Heart disease is a progressive disease and one that needs to be monitored and managed, but how it is monitored and managed depends on the severity of the heart murmur and associated clinical signs. Owners will need to be prepared to be able to administer the medication, finance the medication and monitoring, and make adjustments to the dog’s lifestyle based on the diagnosis.

If your dog is a coughing dog, discontinue all forms of exercise and exposure for your dog until the veterinary appointment. When you arrive for your appointment, have someone with you to hold your dog, using leash and collar, outside away from other dogs while you check in for your appointment. If kennel cough is at all suspected, please be courteous to other dogs and their owners and don’t bring your dog inside until asked to do so. Once a presumptive diagnosis is made, then ask for instructions from your vet regarding your dog being around other dogs and types of exercise (if any) your dog is allowed to do.

If your dog starts coughing after normal business hours, the coastal veterinarians participate in an out of hour rotation for emergency care. It is our attempt to provide the dogs and cats with emergency care locally (rather than refer all emergencies to the larger inland cities). What you do is call your regular veterinary office phone number and listen to the whole message, there will be directions, phone numbers on the message, and occasionally there is the cost for being called out. You may need to call several numbers to get the final phone number to connect you to a veterinarian. Be calm and patient. The vets on this rotation work hard and long hours and often see many emergencies per evening or weekend. If you are unable to reach a veterinarian on the first try, try again or take your animal to the Portland 24-hour emergency facilities.

Dr. Dannell Davis
Astoria Animal Hospital