Respiratory diseases are a common concern right now given the current COVID-19 situation, and although companion pets appear unable to transmit the Coronavirus to humans, even if a very few dogs are obtaining it from their postive-tested owners, upper respiratory diseases are still a thing. If your pet is coughing, it frequently needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. We sometimes get asked for antibiotics or cough suppressants without an evaluation, but the treatment really depends on the mechanism and reason for the symptom. To just scrape the surface, the reasons we can see a pet coughing can include kennel cough, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, tracheal collapse, heartworm disease, and MUCH more.
Kennel cough is an infectious irritation of the bronchial tubes. It’s typically a harsh, hacking cough and can spread to other dogs fairly easily. It frequently doesn’t need treatment, but occasionally can progress to pneumonia depending on what is the actual infectious component. We’ll also use medications to help resolve the infectious component more quickly, especially when it prohibits your pet from going to doggy daycare. The problem is that this can be caused by a number of different pathogens. We most frequently think about it from Bordetella bronchiseptica, which can be vaccinated for, but it could also be parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, distemper virus, influenza, canine respiratory coronavirus (PLEASE note the canine respiratory coronavirus is DIFFERENT than the COVID-19 coronavirus), and more. Some of these other respiratory diseases have preventative vaccinations, and some do not. Click here for more information about kennel cough.
Pneumonia is another respiratory disease that is also thought about in human medicine. It is considered a severe infection deep in the lungs vs. just in the bronchioles. Like kennel cough, it too can have a variety of causes including fungal, bacterial, viral, and parasitic origin. And pneumonia can affect both cats and dogs. Usually radiographs are helpful for these pets in the diagnosis and prognosis process. Medical treatment is needed to help a pet get over this but the question of what and how much greatly depends on the severity and cause of the case. Click here for more information about pneumonia.
Congestive Heart Failure (or CHF) is actually more of a cardiac condition than respiratory, but we frequently see coughing associated with it. In left-sided heart failure, fluid does not move as efficiently through the cardiovascular system and heart, and then starts to build up in the lungs. Coughing is an attempt by the cat or dog (but usually more in dogs) for the lungs to try and clear this fluid ineffectively, so it definitely needs a veterinarian’s attention; but treatment usually lies with treating the CHF rather than the cough itself.
Collapsing trachea is a condition we see in dogs when the cartilage rings weaken in the trachea, they cannot support their “c” structure, and then semi-collapse on themselves during the normal breathing process. Coughing is usually from the “tickling” sensation of the 2 sides of the trachea touching. Exercise and stress make it worse, which isn’t helpful when an individual is struggling to breathe, so starts panting more, and can promote a cycle of distress. Allergies can also trigger this, so treatment may be a multi-modal approach. Click here for more information about tracheal collapse.
Heartworm disease is another condition some people think about with coughing. Heartworms are spread through mosquitoes, but the adult worms will live in the heart and lungs when the pet was not given a heartworm preventative product. The coughing we see from this typically indicates a later-stage severity of the infection, or could be seen as the heartworms die during the treatment protocols if not careful. Treatment will again depend largely on the treatment of disease rather than the symptom itself. Click here for more information about heartworm disease.
We’ve only just glossed the surface of reasons that pets can cough. But given the variety of reasons, and the fact that treatment is vastly different for the conditions listed above, evaluation is truly necessary. Sometimes tele-health is an option instead of coming in for an appointment since a video of the cough may be sufficient (if you’re crafty enough to have your camera ready at just the precise moment 😉). Other times the doctor may need to ascult the airway or palpate to elicit the cough. We appreciate the partnership and understanding when we make this recommendation so we can truly provide the best care possible for your pet to support them through this symptom and get them back on the pathway of health.
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