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Your Dog’s Cough Could Mean Heart Trouble!


Dr. Megan King, Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist at CARES lists the top five coughs, their causes and why heart disease leads the list.

Hacking, gagging and honking like a goose. They’re just a few of the coughing sounds that can potentially puzzle concerned dog parents. So, when is a cough serious enough to warrant a veterinary visit? Dr. Megan King, Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist at CARES (The Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services) in Langhorne, PA, says even the most common sounding cough can be an indication of a very serious health problem, like heart disease and heart failure.

Like humans, dogs also cough. Dog coughs can vary in sound, seriousness and cause, adding to the confusion for pet owners. As a specialist, heart disease and heart failure top the list of reasons Dr. King treats coughing dogs. According to Dr. King, a cough is one of the first signs a pet may be suffering from heart disease, which can be fatal.

Of course, there are many more reasons why dogs cough. Dr. King has created the following list of the five most common reasons dogs cough.

1. Heart Disease and Heart Failure:  Dogs with serious heart problems, like congestive heart failure, often experience bouts of coughing. Heart disease in dogs, like humans, can be hereditary or developed over the life of the dog.

Canine Heart Disease Quick Facts:
• Approximately 3.2 million dogs in the U.S. have some form of acquired heart disease (developed during middle age)
• About 11% of all dogs have heart disease
• The incidence of heart disease increases dramatically with age
• About 15% of younger dogs have heart disease
• The incidence of heart disease increases to more than 60% in aged dogs
Sources: American Veterinary Medical Association and

2. Respiratory Airway Disease:  Similar to asthma, symptoms include wheezing, coughing and fatigue. Dogs can also develop allergies to pollen and other inhaled irritants, which can trigger a reaction in the mucus membranes lining the respiratory tract. This can lead to a cough that waxes and wanes depending on the dog’s exposure to allergens.

3. Collapsing Trachea: Coughs associated with a collapsing trachea often sound like a goose honk. It’s a huge problem for small breed dogs, but the good news is it’s often successfully medically managed.

4. Infectious Diseases: Kennel Cough, Canine Distemper and other airborne infectious causes of pneumonia can certainly cause coughing and must be treated. Parasites affecting the intestinal tract, like roundworms, can trigger coughing when the parasites migrate up the intestine and into the respiratory tract. Heartworms can also trigger coughing, as immature heartworm parasites migrate into the lungs, causing irritation as they develop and mature.

5. Cancer: Cancer involving any part of the airway can cause irritation, inflammation and coughing.

Treating Coughing Dogs
The method of treatment for a coughing dog is determined, first, by diagnosing the underlying cause. Dr. King says taking X-rays of the dog’s chest is the best way to ‘picture’ what’s going on in the lungs. She looks for an enlarged heart and any abnormalities of the lungs and chest.

The good news is, in most cases, there’s always something that can be done to treat a cough. From diuretics used to treat heart failure, antibiotics used to treat infectious causes, to cough suppressants used for collapsing trachea, there are many options for therapy. Dr. King’s best advice to pet parents is to keep up with routine veterinary care. Early diagnosis and preventative medicine can not only save pet owners money by avoiding unnecessary veterinary bills later. It can also save your dog’s life.

About The Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES)
CARES is a full service, specialty referral, 24-hour emergency and critical care veterinary hospital with one clear goal: to provide a gold standard of care for your pet. The highly trained and compassionate team of veterinarians at CARES collaborate between specialties as well as with referring veterinarians to optimize the care of your pet. CARES ensures the latest, most advanced and best treatments available. Specialty and referral services include: Anesthesiology, The Cancer Center at CARES, Cardiology, Clinical Pathology, Critical Care, Diagnostic Imaging, Internal Medicine, Neurology, Ophthalmology and Surgery. Specialty cases are seen by referral from your primary care veterinarian. CARES also offers 24-hour emergency care. For more information, visit You can also find CARES on Facebook at