Pets cough for numerous reasons, with some conditions being more serious than others. When a benign irritant causes your pet to cough, you have no reason to be concerned. However, some conditions that cause your pet to cough require emergency veterinary attention. To determine whether your four-legged friend’s cough requires veterinary care, read our Urgent Pet Care of Omaha team’s guide to coughing in pets.

What causes coughing in dogs?

Some conditions that cause a pet to cough are benign, but some ailments require immediate veterinary care. Consider these conditions that cause dogs to cough:

  • Infection — Bacterial and viral infections, such as kennel cough and canine influenza virus, can infect a dog’s upper respiratory tract, lung tissue, and airways, leading to coughing. Other signs may include fever, nasal discharge, and lethargy. Most respiratory infections are relatively mild, and can be treated by your pet’s regular veterinarian.
  • Reverse sneezing — A reverse sneeze is not technically a cough, but the sound can easily be mistaken for coughing. Any irritation to the nose, sinuses, or back of the throat can trigger reverse sneezing, and episodes tend to happen in clusters. Your family veterinarian can diagnose this condition.
  • Heart disease — Heart conditions, including mitral valve degeneration, dilated cardiomyopathy, and congestive heart failure (CHF), can lead to coughing because fluid accumulates in the lungs, or the enlarged heart pushes against the trachea, causing irritation.
  • Collapsing trachea — Some dogs experience tracheal cartilage ring weakening, which causes the trachea to narrow when the dog inhales. This narrowing irritates an affected dog’s trachea, causing a chronic cough, typically described as a honking noise. Tracheal collapse can be diagnosed and treated by your family veterinarian.
  • Heartworm disease — Heartworms significantly damage the heart and associated vasculature. A persistent, soft cough is a common sign of this deadly disease.
  • Laryngeal paralysis — Dogs who have laryngeal paralysis can’t fully open their larynx because the nerves that control the surrounding muscles are weak or paralyzed. This causes coughing, noisy breathing, and breathing difficulties. 
  • Toxin ingestion — A dog who ingests a toxin, such as an anticoagulant rodenticide, can develop blood accumulation in their chest cavity, which causes them to cough.
  • Foreign body — If your dog inhales a foreign body, such as a blade of grass or foxtail, their airway can become irritated, and they cough.
  • Lung lobe torsion — This occurs when the lung rotates, blocking the airway. Other signs include pain, fever, lethargy, and coughing up blood. Lung lobe torsions are most common in dogs who have heart disease or other conditions that cause fluid accumulation in their chest.

What causes coughing in cats?

Some conditions that cause a pet to cough are benign, but some ailments require immediate veterinary care. Consider these conditions that cause cats to cough:

  • Hairballs — Sometimes when your cat brings up a hairball, it sounds like coughing. The occasional hairball is normal. However, if your cat brings up more than two or three hairballs per month, you should let your veterinarian know.
  • Infection — Respiratory infections, such as feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and Bordetella, can lead to coughing. Other signs include ocular and nasal discharge, sneezing, and lethargy.
  • Asthma — Feline asthma is caused by an allergic reaction, typically triggered by allergens such as grass and tree pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, and mold. In addition to coughing, asthma signs include breathing difficulties, open-mouthed breathing, wheezing, and vomiting.
  • Respiratory irritants — Household items, such as perfume, hairspray, carpet cleaner, air freshener, scented candles and laundry detergent, household chemicals, and diffused essential oils can irritate a cat’s airways, leading to coughing.
  • Tumors — Tumors in the larynx and pharynx can cause coughing.

When should I seek veterinary care for my pet’s cough?

If your pet coughs once but otherwise seems healthy, you can monitor their condition. Instances when you should schedule a veterinary appointment include:

  • Persistent cough, continuing for more than a few days
  • Worsening cough
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Nasal or ocular discharge, although your cat seems bright and has a normal appetite

As long as your pet is eating, drinking, and not having difficulty breathing, urgent care is likely not necessary, and you should schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian. 

When should I seek emergency veterinary care for my pet’s cough?

Although some coughs are benign, some are not. Instances when your pet needs immediate veterinary care include:

  • Breathing difficulties — If your pet has difficulty breathing, their signs may include increased respiration rate and effort, wheezing, and open-mouthed breathing.
  • Blood — If your pet coughs up blood, seek immediate veterinary care.
  • Other signs — If, in addition to a cough, your pet has other signs, such as extreme lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, or diarrhea, your veterinarian should evaluate your furry pal as soon as possible. 
  • Discharge — If your pet has ocular or nasal discharge and they are lethargic or not eating, they may have a serious infection. Your veterinarian should evaluate your pet promptly.
  • Color change — If your pet’s tongue or gums turn blue or grey when they are coughing, they aren’t getting enough oxygen and need veterinary care.
  • Wet cough — If your pet’s cough sounds wet and deep in their chest, they could have pneumonia. The sooner your veterinarian initiates your pet’s treatment, the better your furry pal’s prognosis.

What should I expect if my pet needs emergency care for their cough?

To make a definitive diagnosis for the cause of your pet’s cough, our Urgent Pet Care of Omaha team will perform several tests. We may perform the following diagnostics:

  • Physical examination — We perform a thorough physical examination, listening to your pet’s heart and lungs and taking their temperature.
  • Blood work — Our team will run a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to assess your pet’s overall health and detect infection.
  • Chest X-rays — In some cases, our team may perform a chest X-ray to evaluate your pet’s heart and lungs.

If your pet’s cough requires immediate veterinary attention, contact our Urgent Pet Care of Omaha team so we can determine the cough’s cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.