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Quiz Result: My Old Dog Has a Dry Cough and Does Not Appear to Feel Well

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A dry cough in a senior dog that isn’t feeling well may represent a minor ailment but could also be serious. When your older furry friend isn’t feeling well, it’s natural to be concerned.

A cough by itself is not a disease condition but is a symptom of some type of dysfunction of the dog’s respiratory tract. When they also are not feeling well, including acting lethargic or not eating, it is a strong indicator that something is amiss.

These signs may be caused by many issues but are most often the result of an infectious process. Additionally, inflammatory conditions or cardiac disease may be to blame. In older pets, lung cancer, whether primary or secondary, is also a concern.

Most Likely Causes for a Dry Cough in a Senior/Old Dog Not Feeling Well

Just as with humans, our geriatric pets often combat different diseases and conditions than their more youthful counterparts.  In the instance of a senior dog with a dry cough and not feeling well, I would be more concerned about heart and lung issues.

Early intervention is key in these instances, so if your senior dog begins coughing, they need to be seen by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Evaluating the type of cough, as well as the dog’s overall health, can give us a clue as to what is the mostly likely cause. The most common causes of a dry cough in a dog that is also exhibiting signs of illness are the following:

1. Heart Disease

In dogs, the most common type of heart disease we see is dilated cardiomyopathy. This heart condition results in a “stretched out”, flabby heart that loses the ability to properly contract. This leads to sluggish blood flow and fluid build up in the lungs and abdomen.

Dogs with heart disease often cough first thing in the morning or after getting up from lying down. This is due to the fluid pooling in the lungs. It can be difficult to ascertain if the cough is “dry” or “wet” from simply hearing the dog cough. Poor oxygenation and difficulty breathing may lead to the dog not feeling well.  At this point the dog is in congestive heart failure and it is an emergency.

There are treatments available to help ease congestive heart failure, however it cannot be cured. Depending on the severity of the condition when diagnosed, costs may range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

2. Pneumonia

Another common cause for a dog that is coughing and doesn’t feel well is pneumonia. Caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungal organisms, these dogs are systemically ill. Though many pneumonias cause more of a “wet” cough, it can be difficult to determine by just listening to the dog cough.

A dog coughing and not feeling well needs to see their veterinarian right away. Dogs with pneumonia are sick and if left untreated, the condition may become fatal.

Pneumonia is treated with hospitalization, medications to treat the infection, medications to lower fever and ease pain, and intravenous fluids to correct dehydration. The cost for medical care for a dog with pneumonia is highly variable and depends on the cause, the severity, and the length of hospital stay.

3. Upper Respiratory Infections

Infectious respiratory diseases, including viruses and bacterial causes such as “kennel cough”, are extremely common. However, if the dog is also not feeling well, it is possible they have a more severe case or that they have developed a secondary issue.

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

Dogs may pick up the bacteria or viruses that cause these upper respiratory infections anywhere where they come into contact with other dogs. Common places are boarding and grooming facilities, vet’s offices, doggy day care, and dog parks.

If your dog isn’t feeling well, it is likely they have a fever or a more serious infection, such as canine influenza. A prompt visit to the veterinarian is a must. These infections may be treated with antibiotics, if bacterial, or medications may be given just to ease clinical signs.

Dogs may require anti-inflammatories, cough suppressants, expectorants, and often hospitalization.

The cost to treat a more serious upper respiratory infection varies widely depending on diagnostics and treatments needed. Typically, this trip to the vet will run anywhere from $100 to $500. If the dog requires hospitalization and IV fluids due to dehydration, the cost will be higher.

How To Help a Senior Coughing Dog at Home

If your old dog is coughing, they need to be seen by your veterinarian. There are many causes of dog coughs, and the treatments are varied (you can also read our article about home remedies for a coughing dog).

If left untreated, many conditions will worsen and may become life-threatening. The sooner your dog is seen and treated by a veterinarian, the sooner they will be feeling better. If your dog is coughing and does not feel well, it is imperative to have them seen by a veterinarian immediately. Respiratory distress can come on quickly and be hard to recognize. Your dog may need oxygen therapy.

You should not administer any over-the-counter medications to your pet, either human or veterinary, without permission from your veterinarian. These medications may be toxic, contraindicated in your specific dog’s situation, or even make the condition worse.


  • Dr. Jamie Whittenburg is the Director and Owner of Kingsgate Animal Hospital, a a full-service animal hospital providing comprehensive pet healthcare services in Lubbock, TX. She graduated from Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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