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Why Is My Dog Coughing and Gagging?

It can be alarming if your dog suddenly starts making gagging movements or coughing. Sometimes a cough or phlegm is a one-time occurrence, while other times it is a chronic issue.

If these symptoms are neglected and there is an underlying disease causing them, the situation could become life-threatening. It is important to determine the causes of coughing or choking in dogs and take necessary steps to prevent further complications.

1. Coughing vs. Gagging

Coughing and gagging are two distinct but easily confused actions. When your dog coughs, they make a harsh, hacking sound as they force air from their throat and mouth.

A gag, on the other hand, is a retch similar to vomiting, with the exception of a small amount of phlegm or mucus. Occasionally, a dog will cough and then gag at the end of the cough, but either can occur on its own.

As a pet expert, it is essential to observe your dog’s behavior and distinguish between coughing and gagging. If you notice either of these symptoms in your dog, it is important to determine the underlying cause and seek veterinary attention if necessary.

In some cases, coughing and gagging can indicate significant health problems that require immediate medical attention.

Additionally, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of prevention. Regular veterinary check-ups, a nutritious diet, and avoiding environmental irritants can help reduce the risk of coughing and gagging in dogs.

As a dog owner, it is important to be aware of your dog’s health and behavior and take necessary steps to ensure their well-being.

2. Causes of Coughing or Gagging in Dogs

Coughing and Gagging

Airborne debris, food, diseases, and other factors can cause your dog to choke or cough. Identifying the cause of your dog’s symptoms can help you determine the severity of their condition.


Sometimes, a dog eats too quickly, causing the food to enter their trachea instead of their esophagus. This can result in wheezing or choking as the dog tries to get the food from the wrong tube.

In this situation, you can encourage your dog to eat more slowly by using a bowl that is appropriate for their size. Slow feeders and elevated dog dishes may also be helpful.

Respiratory Disease

If a dog has a respiratory disease, coughing and/or vomiting may occur. This is caused by inflammation and irritation of the trachea or airways, and the coughing and gagging will persist until the disease is treated.

Other respiratory diseases that require veterinary care include pneumonia, kennel cough, influenza, tracheitis, lungworm infestations, fungal infections, distemper, and others.

Heart Disease

Certain types of heart disease can cause coughing in dogs. Fluid accumulation in the airways can cause coughing and respiratory difficulties.

Heartworm disease can also harm cardiac function and lead to pulmonary inflammation. A dog with these conditions may wheeze and choke in an attempt to clear their airway, but these behaviors are ineffective. Only veterinary care can provide your pet with relief.


If a dog is nauseated or experiencing gastrointestinal distress, gagging may occur. Chronic reflux in dogs can cause chronic coughing as well.

Collapsed Trachea

Certain dogs, particularly small breeds, are prone to tracheal collapse. This occurs when the cartilage that holds the trachea open becomes weakened, leading to a reduction in airway aperture and resulting in coughing.

3. Treatment for Coughing or Gagging

If your dog is wheezing or gagging, you should take them to the veterinarian for a complete physical examination and medical history. Depending on the suspected cause of the problem, the vet may need to conduct additional tests such as X-rays, bloodwork, and echocardiograms.

The treatment plan for your dog’s wheezing or vomiting will depend on the underlying cause. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and cough suppressants may be prescribed if your dog has a short-term illness or condition. In cases of heart disease, lifelong medications may be necessary to manage the disease and its symptoms.

To ensure the best possible outcome for your dog, it is crucial to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and administer medications as directed. In some severe circumstances, oxygen therapy may be required.

As a responsible pet owner, you must provide your dog with routine veterinary care and preventive measures, such as a healthy diet and avoiding environmental irritants, to reduce the risk of respiratory diseases and other health problems. By staying informed and acting quickly when your dog exhibits symptoms of wheezing or gagging, you can help maintain their health and happiness.

4. How to Prevent Coughing or Gagging in Your Dog

While it’s impossible to prevent all causes of coughing or gagging in dogs, there are still several things you can do to help reduce the risk. Keeping your dog up to date on vaccinations and heartworm prevention can help protect them from respiratory illnesses. Additionally, it’s important to avoid contact with dogs that are not fully vaccinated or are sick.

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can also aid in prevention and early detection of respiratory issues. By catching potential problems early, your vet can start treatment as soon as possible, leading to a better outcome for your dog.

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Dr. Heidi Bigham

Dr. Heidi H. Bigham, DVM is an expert in small animal veterinary care, specializing in emergency medicine, geriatric pet health, and internal medicine. She has five years of expertise as a general practitioner of small animal medicine in facilities that provide preventative care, surgery, and 24-hour emergency treatment. 

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Heidi Bigham


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