Too often I am presented at my hospital with a coughing dog. The owner is usually quite concerned and wants immediate results in terms of treatment because they think the dog is suffering and is uncomfortable. But coughing is a reflex, initiated by an irritation in the airway.
Coughs are caused by respiratory infections, congestive heart failure, chronic bronchitis, respiratory tract tumors, collapsing trachea, pressure from tight collars, heartworms, inhaled irritants such as smoke and fumes and food particles. Coughs are self-perpetuating.
Coughing dries out the mucus membrane and irritates the breathing tubes, leading to further coughs. As veterinarians we have to ask certain questions to come up with a diagnosis. When is the coughing prominent? In the day, night, or after exercise? How frequent is the cough and how long is the time between periods of coughing? What type of cough is it? Is it a prolonged cough? Or is it a soft, infrequent cough? Is it a productive cough with fluid or mucus, or is it a dry, hacking cough? Has there been a recent change in the environment, or have they been exposed to other animals at a grooming or public veterinarian clinic? The type of cough often suggests the diagnosis.
A nasal, bubbly cough indicates fluid or phlegm in the larynx.
A high, weak, gasping cough, followed by swelling and licking the lips is characteristic of a sore tonsil and throat.
A spasm of prolonged coughs that occurs at night or when lying, suggests heart disease.
A goose or donkey cough indicates a galloping trachea.
Coughs accompanied by labored breathing, a discharge from the eyes or nose, or coughing up bloody sputum, indicates that a dog should be seen and treated by a veterinarian.
Breaking the cough cycle is an important part of treating an irritant cough.
Cough suppressants should be used selectively and only for short periods. Robitussin-DM is an over-the-counter drug that can be used for home veterinary use. When stronger cough suppressants are needed, consult your veterinarian.
o Dr. Basil Sands can be contacted at the Central Animal Hospital at 325-1288.
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