Why Is My Dog Coughing And Gagging?

Here's when to call your vet 🩺

Dog Coughing And Gagging

There’s nothing worse than having your dog deal with a health issue. And when it comes to throat problems, it can be really scary to see your dog coughing and gagging.

There’s a variety of reasons why your dog could be having throat trouble. Sure, an occasional cough or gag is completely normal behavior for your dog. However, if the coughing or gagging persists, then a trip to your veterinarian may be necessary.

We spoke to Jamie Fischer, a veterinary technician at DodoVet, for more insight into why your dog might be having trouble with his throat, if there are some dog breeds that are more prone to throat issues, and what you can do to help.

Reasons for a dog coughing and gagging

Have you ever noticed your dog gagging a lot or having a persistent cough? According to Fischer, there’s a few reasons why this might be happening:

  • Collapsing trachea — This occurs when the cartilage that surrounds the trachea is weakened and cannot properly support the trachea. Luckily, this condition is often managed by using harnesses instead of collars, weight control, less intense exercise, or even inhaler-type medications to help open the airway.
  • Respiratory infection — This type of infection can be bacterial, viral or fungal. Treatment of these infections varies depending on what kind of infection is diagnosed by your vet, but it can include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, steroids or cough suppressants.
  • Inflammation of the airways — Otherwise known as bronchitis, this inflammation causes the lining of the airways to swell and produce more mucus, making your dog’s airways even more narrow. This condition can be caused by infections, pneumonia, allergies or air pollutants, like cigarette smoke. Treatment for this condition can include bronchodilators and corticosteroids.
  • Heart disease — Coughing can be a sign of heart disease. Other symptoms include exercise intolerance, lethargy, heavy breathing or panting, and blue-tinged gums or tongue.
  • Bloat (GDV or gastric dilatation and volvulus) — Gastric dilatation and volvulus is commonly referred to as GDV or bloat. This life-threatening condition can affect any dog, but most commonly occurs in large, deep-chested breeds. GDV or bloat occurs when the stomach fills up with gas, twisting upon itself and blocking the exit of the stomach. Symptoms can include gagging or retching, bloated appearance, anxious behavior, drooling, weakness and collapse, and requires immediate veterinary attention and surgical correction.
  • Foreign objects in the airways — If your dog is choking, he may have swallowed something he shouldn’t have (toys, jewelry, bones, a piece of clothing … the list goes on). Other signs include pawing at the mouth, drooling, licking his lips repeatedly, refusing to eat, vomiting, lethargy or restlessness, tummy pain, and an inability to poop. A call to your vet immediately is recommended, as they will take an X-ray to determine what and where the object is, whether it is causing a blockage, and if it will be able to be digested on its own or will need to be surgically removed.

“Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests such as X-rays, blood work, electrocardiogram (ECG), blood pressure monitoring, etc. to help diagnose the reason for the coughing/gagging,” Fischer told The Dodo.

Are some dogs more prone to coughing and gagging?

Some dog breeds can be at higher risk for airway issues.

“Squished faced (brachycephalic) dogs are at a higher risk for coughing and gagging issues,” Fischer said. “These dogs have small, shortened noses, narrow airways and prolonged soft palates. This means that any inflammation or irritation to their airway can be much more serious than in dogs with normal sized noses.”

Examples of brachycephalic dog breeds include:

  • French bulldog
  • Boxer
  • Pug
  • Boston terrier
  • English bulldog
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa apso
  • Shih tzu

If you notice your dog is coughing and gagging on a regular basis, see your veterinarian about a possible diagnosis and treatment so he can get back to feeling his best again.

Want access to a vet 24/7? With DodoVet, you can connect via video chat, phone or text with an empathetic veterinary expert who can help you be the best pet parent you can be. Say goodbye to Dr. Google and have all your pet parent questions answered anytime, anywhere. Learn more here.