Downeast Dog News

Coughing Dogs

Nov 30, 2018

Q. A week ago my neighbor brought over her new dog to play with my Barney. They had a great time, but now Barney is coughing and making choking sounds. What could this be?


A. There is a good chance that Barney picked up an upper respiratory pathogen from your neighbor’s new pup. Currently there seems to be an increase number of dogs exhibiting signs of upper respiratory infection (URI). There are a number of viruses and bacterial causes. We used to call everything kennel cough. Now we call it upper respiratory complex since a number of contagions can infect your dog individually or as a group.

The most common respiratory pathogens are viral and bacterial. Dogs are protected from many of these viruses because routine vaccinations include parainfluenza, adenovirus type 2, and distemper components. Other viruses that can cause URI that are not routinely vaccinated for are coronavirus, not the strain of corona that causes enteric disease, canine influenza, and now avian influenza. There are vaccinations available for the two influenzas. Many of you are familiar with the kennel cough vaccination, which many kennels require for boarding. This pathogen is a bacterium called bordetella bronchiseptica.

The pathogens cause inflammation in the upper respiratory tree. This includes nasal passages, pharynx, throat, larynx, trachea, and bronchial tree. The symptoms your dog can exhibit are sneezing, discharges from the eyes and nose that range from a watery clear discharge to a thick yellowish green discharge, a sore larynx that will change the bark, a sore pharynx that impacts eating and swallowing, or a cough ranging from a dry hack to a croupy sound. Sometimes there is a fever, difficulty breathing, and difficulty sleeping.

Your dog can be infected anywhere dogs gather. This includes being groomed, going to dog parks, boarding kennels, training centers, and dog shows and events. They can also contract an infection from a neighborhood dog they play with if the timing is right.

The most susceptible dogs are puppies, elderly, and immune compromised individuals. Healthy dogs can contract URI, but it is usually dealt with by their healthy immune systems. The concern with an immune compromised individual is the potential of a secondary infection, which can lead to pneumonia.

If your dog shows any of these symptoms or you feel your dog has been exposed to any of these diseases, call your veterinarian. Many veterinarians will examine the dog in your car or a special room that is quarantined from the rest of their hospital. Your veterinarian will do a thorough examination. Sometimes they will recommend further tests. Viral diseases will need to go its course with supportive therapy, such as give relief from the cough and fever. If there is an indication of a secondary bacterial infection, an antibiotic may be prescribed. What you can do to relieve the cough while waiting to see your veterinarian is to give your pup honey or molasses. Both of these help relieve the inflammation in the throat.

Talk to your veterinarian before going to a dog event or boarding. Some of the vaccinations to prevent upper respiratory disease need to be given weeks in advance, or they will not protect your dog.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine