Coughing or Choking?

Went on a short hiatus over the weekend as I was down with a viral infection. In fact, I’m writing this post with a pile of used tissues right beside my mouse and keyboard. It’s getting increasingly hard to maneuver through the heap.

Thought it would be most appropriate to discuss coughing in animals since I’ve fallen victim to a nasty cough myself.

We often get panicked phone calls from clients, describing what seems like a choking puppy/ dog. On further questioning, there had been no access to any toys/ bones/ material that could potentially cause an obstruction in their trachea or throat and often the animals are well after that “choking” episode. Witnessing a coughing fit/ coughing episode in an animal can be extremely distressing for a client. This is especially so if the coughing is followed but salivation, drooling, vomiting (often unproductive)

There are many conditions that can cause an animal to cough. As we discussed in my article on how common things occur commonly, I will attempt to cover the most common causes of a coughing dog. To avoid an extremely lengthy post (and to ensure that I can complete this article before I have to retreat back to bed), I’m going to be dividing this topic into 1) Young coughing dogs, 2) Geriatric coughing dogs .

If your dog falls in the falling categories:

  • Just returned from boarding
  • Puppy that was just purchased
  • Young dog that goes out to the local park and plays with other dogs
  • Appears to be coughing/ honking and then attempts to “vomit” (unproductive vomiting) SEE VIDEO


Then Kennel Cough would be highest on the differential lists.

Kennel cough (Canine infectious tracheobronchitis) is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is often a self limiting disease; however immunocompromised patients may fall victim to bronchopneumonia due to secondary infections.  Clinical signs may appear approximately 3-7days after initial exposure. This may be spread via aerosols, dog to dog contact or contact with infected toys/ water.

Vaccination does NOT confer 100% protection as a multitude of different bacterial/ viruses (sometimes a combination of both) can result in kennel cough. However a vaccinated animal often shows less severe clinical signs than an animal that is unvaccinated.

As mentioned earlier, this disease is often self limiting, however some vets may prescribe a course of medications to assist recover and/ or minimize symptoms. Typically, a healthy animal recovers from this within 10-14 days. However, some animals may require up to 6 weeks for symptoms to resolve. My own Labrador pup took 5 weeks to recover from her bout of KC.

Vets may also recommend further diagnostics such as radiographs (X-ray of chest), blood tests, BAL (bronchoalveoloar lavage) or treatments such as nebulization, intravenous antibiotics etc if deemed required in a sick animal.

Here are some dos/ don’ts I regularly tell my client when the patient has KC.
1. No neck collars as this may result in an increase of pressure on their trachea
(esp when the animal has increased tracheal sensitivity when they have KC). Body harnesses are OK.

2. Isolation from other dogs for at least 2 weeks. This is an extremely infectious condition – thus limiting it’s spread and also reduces the chance of the animal picking up secondary infections

3. Avoid extremely strenuous exercise and this may place increase pressure on their respiratory tracts.

4. Provide well-humidified environment. I get clients to place their animals in the bathroom (NOT IN THE SHOWER) when they take a warm bath.

5. Offer small meals and allow small drinks instead of large meals/ guzzling of water. The coughing episode may place pressure on your dog’s stomach which may result in productive vomiting associated with the coughing episode.

Photo 7-3-17, 1 48 23 PM.jpg
Here’s a picture a client sent to me of her dog Fudge after he recovered from his bout of KC.

Foreign body lodged in throat

If you are aware that your animal has swallowed something or just returned from the outdoors and is coughing/gagging, then there is a chance that a foreign material is stuck in it’s throat/ airway/ behind soft palate. Foreign objects could range from anything such as a blade of grass, toys, stones or even a bone.

This could potentially be a medical emergency requiring immediate intervention if the object is causing compromise to your animal’s respiratory function.
Active drooling/ salivation may support this diagnosis.

Please seek immediate veterinary attention if your animal presents similar to the above.

Reverse sneezing

This is often mistaken as a cough/ choke. It is typically seen in small breed dogs and brachycephalic breeds (flat faced breeds such as pugs).
In a reverse sneeze, air is inhaled in rapidly through the nose followed by a snort or a gag.

It is caused by a spasm  of the soft palate/ tracheal that can be triggered by an irritant, pollen, allergen, excitement, or even a change in temperature.
Most dogs do not require treatment for this condition.

Tips I tell clients if their animal is showing such signs

  1. Record a video! It is the best tool to show your vet as animals often do not show signs of illness or do not reverse sneeze (just as we need them to).
  2. Gently massage your dog’s throat to soothe him/ her
  3. Lightly blowing in their face may alleviate/ cease signs as this will often cause them to swallow to stop the spasm.
  4. Talk to your animal! Simply calming it down may stop it’s signs.


These are the top 4 common causes of a young healthy dog/ puppy.
IN my next article, I will attempt to cover the common causes that my inflict a more mature/ geriatric dog. So keep reading!

But now its time for me to hit the sack and hopefully I’ll be well enough to write again tmr!


Please see your local veterinarian if your dog does not improve within the expected time frame or shows symptoms of rapid breathing, irregular breathing, inappetance, lethargy, as this may be an indication of that condition as exacerbated or there may be another underlying condition.







One thought on “Coughing or Choking?

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: