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Quiz Result: Your Senior Dog is Coughing Up Phlegm or Mucus, and Does Not Appear to be Well

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There are many different types of coughs. A cough that sounds “wet” or results in the production of mucus and phlegm, which is coughed up, is often termed a “productive” cough. A wet cough combined with a dog that isn’t feeling well is a cause for immediate concern.

Signs That You Need to Monitor When Your Dog Is Coughing

Signs of a dog not feeling well that you need to pay particular attention to include the following:

  • Not eating well
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Any difficulty breathing.

If your dog is coughing up phlegm or mucus and any of these above signs are also seen, please take your dog to their veterinarian as soon as possible. Wet coughs in dogs that are not feeling well may be caused by pneumonia, heart disease, or cancer, so it’s important to work with your veterinarian on a treatment plan.

Most Likely Causes for a Wet Cough (Phlegm/Mucus) in an Old Dog Not Feeling Well

Like humans, our senior pets often combat different diseases and conditions than their more youthful counterparts. In the instance of a senior dog with a wet cough and not feeling well, the primary concerns are the following:

1. Heart Disease

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

Sadly, cancer is very common in older dogs. A wet cough in an also sick dog may indicate a primary lung cancer or the presence of metastasis from a cancer located elsewhere in the body that has spread to the lungs. Depending on the situation, treatment may be possible, but the prognosis for these pups is usually poor. If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, you may want to work with a veterinary oncologist to formulate a treatment plan.

3. Pneumonia

Pneumonia occurs when there is fluid in the lungs. This may result from a contagious infection caused by a virus or bacteria, cancer, heart disease, aspiration, or a fungal infection. It is essential to decipher what is causing the pneumonia, so it may be successfully treated. Typically, this will include chest x-rays, blood work, and possibly using endoscopy to obtain lung fluid and tissue samples for evaluation.

All of the conditions that cause pneumonia are serious and require prompt medical care. Treatment will depend on the cause and the severity, and costs will also vary widely. If your dog has any difficulty breathing, this is an absolute emergency, and you must take them to the nearest veterinarian right away.

How To Help a Coughing Old Dog at Home

If your old / senior dog is coughing and does not appear to be well, they need to be seen by your veterinarian. There are many causes of dog coughs, and the treatments are varied. If left untreated, many conditions will worsen and may become life-threatening. The sooner your dog is seen and treated, the sooner they will be feeling better!

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

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.

Learn more about coughing issues in senior dogs and treatment options.


  • 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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