Chronic coughing or gagging in dogs and cats

An infectious disease may be the cause of coughing
Persistent coughing or gagging is one of the most common questions I get from both canine and feline animal guardians. With our feline companions, many clients often assume that this is due to hairballs. And while hairballs can be a cause of coughing in cats, there are certainly many other possible causes of a feline extending their neck and repeatedly coughing. Amongst these are feline allergic airway disease (otherwise known as feline asthma), feline heartworm disease, bacterial, viral or other parasitic infections, airway or throat obstructions, and various chest cavity illnesses including infections of the chest cavity (called pyothorax), leaking lymphatic and/or blood vessels of the chest cavity (called chylothorax), and in older cats cancer of the chest.

The biggest mistake feline guardians make in chronic coughing cats is assuming that the signs are due to hairballs and they simply give more Petromalt or Laxatone, while the disease process worsens over time. In order to differentiate these many causes in cats it is important to have full veterinary evaluation on any chronically coughing cat, including full CBC/chem/thyroid/heartworm blood panels, as well as testing for feline serology to viruses such as FeLV/FIV, FIP, as well as testing for toxoplasmosis. Stool samples should be checked as well for parasites sometimes involved in coughing pets.

Of course chest x-rays are also part of this minimum data base in a chronically coughing cat. I also want to state that most coughing cats DON’T have heart disease, other than the possibility of heartworms in cats, which we are just increasingly starting to recognize. In order for veterinarians to be on top of this problem before it occurs, it is important for guardians to understand that coughing could mean more than just hairballs. The act of coughing brings up a whole different list of possible diagnoses that need to be worked through, versus a cat that is retching and vomiting, although there can be some overlap of possibilities in both of these cases.

As for dogs with a chronic cough, certainly infectious viral and bacterial diseases are possible. However, more common causes of chronic coughing in dogs can include inflammatory or allergic airway disease, anatomic problems of airways (both of these commonly known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD), parasitic problems, including heartworm infection, heart disease (especially in older dogs).  It’s not usually worth it for clients to self treat middle age and older pets at home for chronic coughs longer than a few weeks duration, because thorough workups are needed so that your veterinarian can come up with a correct diagnosis and the best therapeutic plan.

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  2. i have a 13 yr old lab who suddenly sounds hoarse when barking and also is gagging alot. nothing comes up.

  3. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 22, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Many possibilities including laryngeal paralysis, which is common in labs. I recommend vet exam and evaluation for proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

  4. I have a 8 year old chiuachawa if that’s how u spell it but he sounds like a horse and has a rough bark and keeps gagging but nothing comes up also He’s nose is runny and I took him to the vet and they gave him zepquien a 25mg pill they told me to give it to him for 7 days is that a good thing for him and the vet also said if it doesn’t gt better he needs a xray but it cost so much is the extra things they want me to do worth it because He’s a older dog

  5. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJune 29, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    This antibiotic is fine. If no improvement within 7-10 days, I would consider x rays of chest and trachea to check for tracheal collapse in this breed, as well as size of heart. If no heart murmur heard on exam and normal heart rate and rhythm when listening to it, then you could ask vet about prescription cough medicine like temaril p which you can get from 1800petmeds.

  6. My dog is an Ori-Pei (pug/shar pei) . He doesn’t have the pug face. He looks just like a Shar Pei. About 65 pds. Over weight . He is 12 an has started gagging. No coughing, runny nose or sneezing. Just gagging with nothing coming up but once in a while. When he has thrown something up it’s very little, and it is just maybe a half tsp of liquid. Any ideas?

  7. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Many possible causes of gagging cough in pet this age. Best to have full blood panel, heartworm test, as well as x rays of chest/abdomen before I can advise.

  8. Our 9 year old cat has been diagnosed with Chylothorax. Our vet has tapped his chest 3 times in 4 days and removed over 400 cc’s of a pink fluid.
    An ultrasound shows some bulge on the lobe of his right lung. He shows signs of heart disease although she does not think this is causing the build up of fluid in his chest cavity.
    We have him on an antibiotics and a diuretics. For the last two days he seems to be doing a bit, only a bit better.
    Is this disease a death sentence? Or is there some medications that could help with this terrible disease?

  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    I would work with a constitutional homeopath on a case like this, which may offer a slightly improved chance at a positive outcome than the traditional drugs alone. Some cats are surgical candidates through thoracic duct ligation, but you would have to have surgical consult to see if he is candidate. Also the supplement Rutin, from health food store has helped some kitties reabsorb fluid and/or seal leaky vessels. I would work with a constitutional homeopath on this one. To learn more about homeopathy, go to Many homeopathic vets also offer phone consultations.

  10. Thank you Dr. Dym for the advise.
    We have had him on a diuretic and an antibiotic. It seems that right now this has helped him.
    We do have the Rutin and I will start to give this to him again.
    Much appreciation!

  11. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 26, 2014 at 12:50 am

    You are very welcome.

  12. I was wondering if it is okay to mix the Rutin in with his antibiotic? It seems this might be the only way for him to get some in his system.

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    I dont see a problem mixing rutin with an antibiotic if that helps him take it better.

  14. I have a 2 yr old shih tzu. He has had this horse cough for a while now, theres times when it sounds like he’s choking but brings up nothing.

  15. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 7, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Best to have vet exam and evaluation to rule out collapsing trachea, infection, etc


  17. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 9, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    Could be simple kennel cough. Take him to vet for exam and evaluation, as may need antibiotics, etc

  18. 13 yr old pug diagnosed with bronchial collapse. Tried torbutrol, did not seem to be too helpful. Did not like her on the steroid. Any suggestions?

  19. My 2 year old female Burmese cat gags several times every day; some days will be about 2 dozen, others 2-4 times per day. We got her through PAWS before Xmas in which the person in charge told us to feed her only IAMS dry cat food & use the cheap litter from Walmart because she had allergies from everything else. After trying these remedies, she’s still gagging all day long. We’ve had a stomach X-ray but nothing showed up. The person from PAWS says they have tried different foods & litters. We don’t know what to do next., can you point us in the right direction? Thank you.

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