While I see and treat dogs with allergies on a daily basis, a cough is rarely the reason they come to our veterinary practice. More often, the owner is concerned about itchy skin or chronic diarrhea. However, for a subset of allergic dogs, their main symptom will be coughing.
When a cough is caused by allergies, the dog will be reacting to something they are inhaling in their daily life. This can be e.g. mold, dust or smoke. When signs are seasonal and occur during the Spring and Summer, grasses, trees and pollens will usually be the culprit.
What does allergy couching sound and look like?
A cough caused by allergies will typically be dry and hacking, as the airways can narrow and mucus is produced locally. The dog can have a persistent cough for a long time and it can be difficult to get a definitive diagnosis, making this a frustrating condition to diagnose and manage.
How is it typically been treated?
Any cough should be addressed by a vet, particularly one that is persisting longer than one or two weeks. Dogs can benefit from treatments including bronchodilators and steroids, to reduce the inflammation in their airways. We know that most dogs respond to bronchodilators, which is medicine to open their airways. We also know that these dogs are generally not dealing with a bacterial infection (1) and that antibiotics should not be needed.
Types of allergies causing coughing in dogs
A variety of allergens can trigger coughing in dogs, and many dogs react to more than one allergen in their environment. Some of the most common include:
1. Dust mites
Dust mites tend to cause itching and pink skin in dogs, but we do sometimes also see a chronic cough. Signs tend to be worst in winter when the central heating is on, as this is when the dust mites proliferate.
All homes will have dust mites to some degree, but owners can try to keep numbers down by damp dusting regularly and keeping the home well-ventilated and not too humid. Owners should try to ensure their dog does not lie on things like carpets, fabric sofas or blankets. They should use a hypoallergenic dog bed that is regularly hot-washed. One interesting study found a much higher number of dust mites in dog beds over a year old (2), so regularly changing your dog’s bed is advised.
2. Mold spores
When a dog inhales mold they can go on to develop signs including a dry cough and nasal discharge. They might also have wheezy and labored breathing. Many dogs who react to mold also have itchy skin and, indeed, this would be a more common presentation.
Where possible, keep your dog out of damp and moldy environments and have any mold problems in the home treated promptly.
Like with other inhaled allergies, we cannot cure the allergy but it can usually be well managed. As with other environmental allergies, there is the option of immunotherapy, which means injecting small amounts of the mold under the skin of the dog to increase tolerance. This works well in some individuals though is a costly treatment option.
3. Pollen, trees, grass
Allergy tests can identify which triggers a dog is reacting to, so an owner can try and choose walking routes to avoid them. It can also help to use doggy wet wipes to wash down dogs after they come in from outside. For about one in three dogs, regular anti histamines can reduce symptoms.
For most dogs, they will require prescription medication to help them manage their symptoms during the warmer weather.
Studies have shown that dogs who are exposed to a significant amount of second hand smoke are more prone to allergies as well as respiratory issues like chronic bronchitis (3) and certain cancers. Smoke is an airway irritant that causes swelling within the airways and affects a dog’s ability to breathe.
When possible, owners must not smoke around their pets and should try to smoke only outside the home or in very well-ventilated areas. Dogs should not lay on fabric that smells strongly of smoke.
What allergy coughing sounds like
Take a look at this video of a small dog with chronic bronchitis:
We can hear that it is a harsh and dry cough. Many dogs will gag after they cough and some owners can confuse this with nausea and attempts at vomiting.
What to do if your dog is coughing from allergies
First things first, owners want to try and identify the coughing trigger(s). This can mean keeping reaction diaries and noting when the dog’s cough is worse and when it is better.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Owners should be critical of their home, checking for things like dust and mold and ensuring the environment is clean and well-ventilated.
It can help to use air filters and de-humidifiers, depending on what is triggering the cough.
Regularly bathing your dog is key, as is the use of doggy wet wipes to wipe down their paws and bellies after contact with their allergen(s).
For any dog with suspected allergies, scheduling a vet visit is crucial. This way, we can confirm the diagnosis is correct and start the right treatment plan for them.
Are there products that can be tried safely at home?
Many vets will advise on using anti-histamines, particularly for milder signs. However, these over the counter medications will only work in about one in three patients. Drugs like Piriton and Zyrtec may be trialled. Remember to always talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog any medication or supplement.
Grooming wipes are an important part of allergy management. It is not possible to completely avoid pollens, grasses and trees when outside. While we can stick to pavement or beach walks, dogs will inevitably come into contact with their allergen. So, rubbing them down when they come inside is a great idea. The less allergen on a dog’s skin, the less they will be inhaling it.
- Nuesta Pets extra large and thick no-rinse grooming wipes for dogs and cats are a naturally derived, plant based and handy daily pet grooming solution for cleaning and deodorizing your furry friend.
HEPA air purifiers are a great investment and help to keep allergen levels low in the air at home. These filters can capture a range of particles, including smoke and pollen. Most owners of allergic dogs will use these all year round.
- High Air Circulation: Newly designed with 360-degree air outlet technology, our air purifier refreshes air per hour in rooms up to 215 ft² / 20 m², completely covering and refreshing every corner to create a more healthy space, perfect air purifiers for bedroom
How to distinguish coughs caused by allergies from other conditions
Importantly, there are many potential causes of a dry cough in a dog, including viral infections, heart disease and tracheal collapse, as well as allergies. We must never assume our dog has allergies and they will always need a vet assessment before a diagnosis can be confirmed.
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Your vet will listen to your dog’s history and perform a thorough exam. They may also discuss further testing such as a chest x-ray, airway exam and/or allergy blood tests.
When to seek veterinary care if your dog is coughing
As a general rule of thumb, a cough lasting more than 10 days should be investigated. You should also consult a vet if your cough has a cough as well as other symptoms, such as a fever, lethargy or weight loss.
In some cases, your dog may already have a diagnosis of allergic bronchitis and they are still coughing, despite their medicine. This would warrant a re-check, as your vet may need to adjust your dog’s treatment protocol.