Why Is My Dog Coughing and Gagging?

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on May 31, 2024
A dog coughs and gags.

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There it is again—that horrible sound coming from your dog at night that reminds you of a goose honking. It’s almost always followed by a harsh gagging sound.

While dog gagging can be a harmless behavior, there are things you need to know and be aware of so that you know when it's time to visit your veterinarian.

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Coughing vs. Gagging vs. Vomiting

Dog gagging is sort of a nonscientific description of the noise an animal makes usually just before or after a cough. It sounds sort of like they are trying to vomit while also coughing.

There is a difference between coughing, vomiting and dog gagging, and it's important to be able to distinguish between them. If you can take a video of the behavior, it will help your veterinarian to distinguish what's happening.

Loosely speaking, however, when a dog coughs, this really doesn’t bring anything up, other than perhaps spraying some saliva or some mucus, which is usually quickly swallowed.

When a dog vomits, it's usually pretty obvious because food or stomach contents wind up on the floor. 

Dog gagging usually happens in conjunction with a cough.

When a dog is gagging, they may widely open their mouth and make a retching sort of sound. But unlike with vomiting, nothing will come out of the dog’s mouth except just a small amount of mucus that may or may not be swallowed.

With gagging, there will be no expulsion of stomach contents.

Why Is My Dog Coughing and Gagging?

Gagging is caused by inflammation around the larynx. There are several things that can cause a dog to gag, and it will often require a veterinary exam to sort the problems out. 

Two very common things that can cause gagging in dogs are infectious problems and laryngeal paralysis.  

Kennel cough, which is a type of respiratory infection, is a common cause of dog gagging, which results in a harsh, goose-like cough, sometimes followed by a gag.

There are other infectious diseases that can also cause gagging, and a more severe disease—pneumonia—can sometimes cause gagging in dogs, as well.

Laryngeal paralysis can occur often in older Labrador Retrievers.

In this condition, the larynx no longer closes properly, allowing some food and fluid to access the airway. Another feature of this condition is a very loud, harsh panting. Laryngeal paralysis often starts out subtly and worsens with time.

Often, a dog will cough hard (for any variety of reasons), triggering inflammation and mucus in the back of the throat, which will then trigger a gag—which is sometimes even pink tinged from the irritation.

When Should I Be Concerned About a Dog Coughing and Gagging?

Similar to humans, dogs may sometimes swallow wrong and have a bout of dog coughing and gagging. So, this isn’t a problem to immediately be concerned about.

If your pet is bright, alert, breathing normally, eating and drinking as expected, and appears to be feeling fine, you can usually monitor the problem for 48 to 72 hours. 

If the gagging lasts longer than this, it may be something more significant than just some minor reaction from swallowing wrong.

Visit your vet immediately if the following symptoms occur:

Diagnosing the Cause of a Dog Coughing or Gagging

Diagnosing dog coughing and gagging will vary depending on the specifics of the symptoms your pup has. In all cases, a complete physical exam performed by your vet is needed.

Sometimes, your vet may be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on this exam alone. Other times, some additional tests may be required.

The most common initial tests include blood work (looking specifically for signs of infection) as well as radiographs of the neck and lungs.

If your veterinarian is concerned that laryngeal paralysis is a possibility—or if your dog may have swallowed foreign material—sedation may also be required for a complete exam of the larynx.

Treatment for Dog Coughing and Gagging

Most cases of dog gagging are relatively straightforward to treat.

Even the causes that are more significant—such as from pneumonia or laryngeal paralysis—have treatments available to either cure or significantly reduce the gagging and make your dog more comfortable.

Once a diagnosis is made, your veterinarian may recommend specific treatments to address the underlying reason for the cough (such as antibiotics for an infection), or medications designed to reduce the severity of the cough. 

In some cases, it may be necessary to consider lifestyle changes such as elevating food and water bowls to minimize the effect of laryngeal paralysis.

You may even consider changing your pup's collar and leash to a harness to reduce the effects of a collapsing trachea

The exact approach for treatment will depend on the reason your pup is coughing in the first place.

How to Prevent Dog Coughing and Gagging

There are some basic steps you can take to try and help prevent your dog from gagging and coughing. 

Be sure your pup is completely up to date on vaccinations, including the Bordetella vaccine, which addresses the major infectious upper respiratory problem that causes coughing in dogs. 

For high-risk dogs (such as those that board, go to puppy daycare, or attend dog shows), veterinarians may recommend vaccinating against Bordetella several times per year.

If your dog is a fast eater and tends to gobble their food, use food puzzles. This can slow your dog down and may help prevent coughing spells.

Although the occasional cough is normal, if it's frequent or severe, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian to determine the underlying problem. Then, you can find the best way to treat and prevent the problem in the future.


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP

WRITTEN BY

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP

Veterinarian

Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...


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