wIf your older dog is coughing, we can help you understand why and what you can do about it.
(Note: if your dog is wheezing, see our article: my old dog is wheezing).
Is it the sort of cough that lingers or is chronic? If so, it could be a sign that there’s something serious going on ‘behind-the-scenes’.
Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why a dog might cough, and many of them are not a cause for concern.
But in older dogs, couching can be more serious, and while there are many possible causes of coughing, there are three which you should be aware of.
What Causes Coughing In Older Dogs?
Unfortunately, older dogs are more likely to develop health conditions. Some will be minor and others more serious. Let’s first look at the (relatively) minor reasons.
Your older dog’s cough might sometimes just be due to a tickle in his throat, allergy, respiratory infection or ‘old dog lungs’. The latter is a normal, age-related change which results in the lungs becoming less elastic, and more fibrous, which in turn causes them to be less pliable when breathing in and out. However, all these conditions are rarely serious, and most can be treated or managed by your veterinarian.
But even though coughing is sometimes no need for concern, it can also be a result of a serious ailment. Therefore, it’s important to take your senior dog to the vet if the coughing is persistent, forceful or if your dog is experiencing breathing difficulties or other symptoms.
Of the three serious conditions further mentioned below, heart disease is the most common in senior dogs, and the longer it is overlooked, the worse the prognosis. Therefore, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian to check over your golden oldie to determine the cause for his cough.
Dogs don’t have heart attacks the way we humans do, and the signs of canine heart problems are quite varied, and sometimes very subtle.
A persistent cough is just one of them, but it’s a good indicator that something isn’t right with your dog’s heart. This is also often coupled with symptoms such as lack of energy, fainting or collapsing, and difficulty breathing, however sometimes a soft, persistent cough is all that’s apparent.
Coughing, especially after exercise, when lying down, or on waking up, is a common symptom of Congestive Heart Failure in dogs. This is when the heart is no longer pumping effectively, resulting in fluid buildup in the lungs.
However, coughing can also be a result of an enlarged heart. Just above the heart sits a cluster of cough receptors, at an anatomical site called the bronchial bifurcation (which is just a scientific name for where the bronchi split to go to each lung). The heart pressing on this area can also result in coughing.
Heart failure in smaller, older dogs is most often the end result of mitral valve disease. This is a condition where a valve in the heart does not close effectively. Due to this, some blood is forced backwards when the heart pumps, meaning the heart has to work extra hard to still pump the same amount of blood as before.
Other causes of heart failure, particularly in larger breed dogs, include dilated cardiomyopathy, cordae tendinae rupture and causes of arrhythmias, such as an atrioventricular block. Congenital heart diseases also occur, however often become apparent at younger stages of life.
It’s important to consider that non-structural heart conditions can also lead to heart failure. These can happen at any age, and include cancer, pericardial infections, pericardial effusion, and heartworm.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
Damage from a heartworm infestation can cause your dog many of the same symptoms.
If your older dog’s coughing as well as showing other signs of heart problems (and he isn’t taking a monthly heart preventative) then your vet will want to rule out heartworm as the cause of the problem.
Over time, the extra workload that this puts on the heart muscles, causes your dog’s heart to become enlarged as the muscle walls thicken.
This can put pressure on the trachea.
It’s the combination of these two things that produce the characteristic, and chronic, cough that senior dogs with heart disease develop.
A dog heart-failure-induced cough might sound ‘dry’ or ‘hacking’ … sort of like a ‘barking cough’.
Or it could be ‘wet’…. this means it sounds as though there is mucus or fluid in his chest, he may gag a little too.
A lot depends on the stage the heart problems have reached, and what’s going on inside your older dog’s chest.
Although there’s no ‘cure’ for heart failure, it can often be ‘managed’ with medication which reduce symptoms and improve your dog’s quality of life.
Heart medications may help the underlying problem, but they often don’t do much to alleviate a cough.
But, PawHealer Hound Honey Heart Syrup just might. This is an all-natural cough suppressant formulated specifically for dogs who have a heart-related cough and are on heart medication.
It’s for the cough only, not the underlying heart condition, but it can make your senior dog feel much more comfortable, sleep better, and reduces gagging and wheezing too. Please note: this is a symptomatic treatment only, and you should still seek veterinary attention to treat the heart condition. Remember to tell your vet about other medications your dog is taking, as well as their diet, as this can influence the treatments prescribed.
A tumor due to primary lung cancer, or cancer which has spread to the lungs, is also a common cause of an older dog coughing.
Dogs don’t smoke, but if their owners do then they’re at as much risk of second-hand smoke as the rest of us are!
If you live a big city, where there’s a lot of traffic or pollution, this can also cause lung problems for your dog, including lung cancer.
Tumors in your dog’s lung/s could also be secondary tumors… which means that they’ve been ‘seeded’ from the original tumor which could be in another part of his body.
In senior dogs, secondary tumors are the most common kind, but primary lung cancer can also happen.
The most obvious sign of a lung tumor is a persistent cough. Often, it’s a ‘wet’ cough, which sounds as though there is fluid/mucus in his lungs.
A common tumor in large breed, older dogs is a bone tumor. This is known as an osteosarcoma. It very quickly spreads to the lungs, and as well as coughing, you are likely to notice lameness as well.
It is important to consult your veterinarian to diagnose whether your dog has cancer early on. The earlier on in the disease process your dog receives treatment, the better his prognosis will be.
Depending on what he finds, your vet may be able to completely remove the tumor, and he may recommend other additional treatments depending on how advanced (or widespread) the cancer is. Veterinary treatments in the cancer field are now very advanced, and so even though cancer can be a distressing diagnosis, there are often many options to treat it and keep your dog’s quality of life good for as long as possible.
Another common old-dog cause of coughing is laryngeal paralysis, which happens when something goes wrong with the muscles and nerves that control your senior dog’s laryngeal function. It is particularly common in larger breeds, especially Labradors.
The larynx is the structure at the back of your dog’s (and your) throat, which helps to keep the airways open.
It’s a partial paralysis and Fido can still breathe, but he can’t move as much air as normal through his larynx and into his lungs.
This can make him cough or gag, especially when he’s eating, excited or exercising. He may seem to have trouble breathing, pant a lot, gasp, or sound ‘wheezy’.
Symptoms tend to appear gradually over a period, and the earlier you achieve a diagnosis, the simpler and more effective the treatment.
If your older dog is showing any of these symptoms, and especially if his bark sounds different (hoarse, lower pitched or just ‘rough’) too, he could have laryngeal paralysis.
If this cause of old dog coughing isn’t recognized and treated early, it can worsen until you have an emergency where your dog can’t breathe due to exacerbation and inflammation of the larynx.
Don’t take a wait-and-see attitude here!
Your veterinarian will use a few different tests to confirm a diagnosis and determine what’s causing the paralysis. This might involve sedating your dog to visualize the larynx and intubate it if he is struggling to breathe.
Depending on the results of those tests, and how severe your older dog’s symptoms are, a treatment plan will be put in place.
There are several surgical options, and which one is best for your dog can only be decided by a veterinarian.
But it’s up to you to make sure that you discuss all options with your vet so that you know what route he’s going to take and what the prognosis is.
Other Reasons An Old Dog Might Cough
The three conditions above are the most common reason behind old dog coughing, but of course there are other conditions and diseases that cause a dog (of any age) to cough.
- Upper Respiratory Infection
- Kennel Cough
- Foreign body stuck in throat or esophagus
- Acid reflux
- Valley Fever (a fungal infection)
Natural Remedies & Coughing
Obviously, it’s vital to have your golden oldie checked out by your veterinarian to make sure that you know why he’s coughing and get any medication or treatment started as soon as possible. But, once you’ve got all that in place, one of these natural cough preparations may be just what you need to soothe an irritated trachea, help with the symptoms of kennel cough, and generally reduce coughing episodes.
PawHealer has a range of natural herbal cough medicines formulated for dogs, and for different types of coughs.
There are many natural cough remedies on the market, and while they may soothe a tickle in the throat, it’s important to determine the underlying cause of the cough first with the help of your veterinarian. He will be able to advise you on the best course of treatment for Fido, and whether any natural remedies will also be beneficial.
PawHealer syrup for Kennel Cough:
For collapsed trachea & more:
After all, if your dog is happier, you will be happier too!
Related Article: Our Top 5 Tips to Care for Your Senior Dog
by Veterinarian Alex Crow.