PetMeds®: Chronic Coughing or Gagging in Dogs and Cats

Filed under Dr. Dym's Vet Blog
Hairballs may not be the cause of your cat's constant 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 include 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, Laxatone or Lax’aire, 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 known as 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.

Read Related Posts on PetMeds® Blog:

  1. Chronic Coughing in Pets
  2. How Heartworm Disease Affects Pets Differently
  3. PetMeds® Why is My Dog Coughing?
  4. PetMeds®: Feline Bronchial Disease (Feline Asthma)
  5. Pet meds to Help Wheezing in Dogs and Cats


  1. mary phillips
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

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


    Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarian Reply:

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


  2. kashea
    Posted June 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    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


    Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarian Reply:

    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.


  3. Posted September 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    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?


    Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarian Reply:

    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.


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