Most owners are aware that their dog shouldn’t be gagging or coughing on a regular basis. Like us, they may cough on occasion if something goes “down the wrong hole” or gets stuck in our throat. If this is happening more consistently, we should be looking for the reason why.


Humans cough when they are sick! So can dogs! Like us, many of the illnesses/infections dogs get that cause them to cough will either resolve with time or with medication. Some examples of illnesses that can cause a cough are:

  • Kennel coughCough is described as dry and raspy
  • HeartwormMild, persistent cough (or no cough at all!) accompanied by low energy, weight loss and poor appetite
  • PneumoniaOften sounds wet and is accompanied by fever, poor appetite and fatigue

Physical Changes

Structural or physical changes in the body can lead to coughing as a result of decreased ability for air to flow freely. Examples of physiological changes include:

  • Congestive heart failure – Soft and continuous cough which is often worse at night. A dog with congestive heart failure will also often have decreased energy and endurance.
  • Tracheal collapse – Caused by a softening of the cartilage in the windpipe. This cough is described as dry and hacking.
  • Laryngeal paralysis – Caused by a breakdown of the nerve that supplies the soft tissues in the windpipe, causing a narrowing of the airway. This results in noisy breathing, coughing and difficulty breathing when hot, stressed or excited
  • Tumour – A tumour in the airway or lungs can result in difficult breathing and/or coughing

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux could have been included under the heading of body changes. Acid reflux in dogs is similar to human acid reflux. Gastric juices/acid flows up from the stomach into the esophagus. Acid reflux occurs when the movement of food down the esophagus to the stomach slows down and the sphincter, which is supposed to prevent backwards flow, between the stomach and the esophagus opens up.

Common causes of acid reflux are overproduction of acid, anesthesia, hiatal hernia or other conditions that reduce movement of food through the esophagus (such as megaesophagus and GOLPP).

Besides gaging and coughing, vomiting bile, lip licking, weight loss, painful swallowing or restlessness are all signs of acid reflux.

How do I know if my dog’s cough is serious?

If your dog is having more than the occasional cough, it’s time to visit the vet. Think about how often you cough or clear your own throat, if your dog is doing more than that, it’s time to get them checked! Your vet will listen to the history of the cough, do an exam and recommend any additional testing.

Remember, coughs are NOT normal in dogs beyond the occasional one. Do NOT try to diagnose your dog’s cough! It’s too risky to get it wrong!

Were you looking for more information of Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis or GOLPP? We’ve started a website that will be completely dedicated to the condition. Head to to learn more!