My Old Dog Is Coughing And Gagging, What Does It Mean?

As our dogs reach their senior years, they may begin to develop new symptoms or medical conditions. A coughing old dog can point to many different causes, ranging from minor illness to serious health complications. So why would your old dog be coughing and gagging?

In this article we will discuss the details of coughing and gagging in our senior friends, and help you better understand how to help your pup going forward.

What Could Cause Coughing and Gagging In An Older Dog?

My Old Dog Is Coughing And Gagging, What Does It Mean

There are a variety of possible factors behind coughing and gagging in our older canine friends. To help you get to the bottom of your old dog’s coughing, let’s list some of the most common causes below.

Canine Allergies

Allergies can be extremely irritating to our pups, causing some senior dogs to cough and gag. Dogs can develop allergies to virtually anything in their environment, ranging from plant material to the food they eat each day.

When an allergen makes its way into your dog’s throat and nasal cavity, this can lead to sudden irritation. This may cause a dog to cough in effort to relieve the itch, often leading to gagging as well.

Dogs with allergies may also experience sneezing, runny eyes, runny nose, itching, skin redness, hair loss, and more. If you think allergies may be the cause of your old dog’s coughing, it’s best to speak with your vet about the best treatment going forward.

Environmental Irritants

Similar to canine allergies, environmental irritants can cause a dog to cough and gag. Dogs can have sensitivities to many things within our home, ranging from dust to strong fragrances.

Similar to the feeling we experience when someone sprays a powerful perfume in our direction, our dogs can experience this same reaction as well. Environmental irritants can cause a dog to sneeze, cough, gag, and even paw at their face from irritation.

Kennel Cough

Senior dogs can fall victim to kennel cough as well. Kennel cough is a contagious respiratory illness that is common in public settings, especially those that dogs frequent. While your dog can’t suddenly acquire kennel cough if they never leave the house and are not exposed to other dogs, they can get it if they spend any time in a contaminated setting.

Some of the most common ways that dogs get kennel cough is from grooming facilities, dog parks, dog shelters, dog daycare, and playing with infected dogs.

Kennel cough is fairly easy to treat with antibiotics and cough tablets, but it should be treated as soon as possible to avoid any respiratory complications.

Respiratory Infections

There are other respiratory illnesses outside of kennel cough that can impact our senior pups. Respiratory disease can include canine influenza, canine adenovirus, canine coronavirus, and canine distemper. Each of these infectious diseases can cause serious respiratory symptoms in senior dogs, ranging from severe coughing to difficulty breathing.

Dogs can fall victim to these diseases if they frequent areas that have other dogs, especially when they are not current on their vaccines. There is a vaccine to protect against each of the illnesses we mentioned above, making it so important to keep up with vaccines if your senior dog is still out and about.

If you fear that your dog was exposed to any of the above diseases, it’s best to contact your vet for further advice.

Collapsing Trachea

Collapsing trachea is a fairly common condition in older dogs. The trachea is filled with rings of cartilage that help the trachea keep its form, and allows air to flow freely to the lungs.

When a dog has a collapsing trachea, the tracheal rings have begun to weaken over time. This causes the trachea to collapse on itself, often causing a harsh cough and gagging in old dogs.

Tracheal collapse in senior dogs can cause coughing, gagging, difficulty breathing, honking when breathing, decreased stamina, and respiratory infections.

Collapsing trachea can be managed with daily medications and corrective surgery in some cases, but will require the close management of a veterinarian.

Obesity

Obesity in old dogs can cause many complications for our furry friends. Similar to a human that has decreased stamina after putting on some extra pounds, our older dogs can struggle with this as well.

Weight gain in senior dogs can cause them to cough and gag when participating in physical activity, often only resolving once they have settled down.

If your old dog is struggling to catch their breath after putting on some extra weight, it’s best to speak with your vet about a safe weight loss plan.

Asthma

Just like us, our senior dogs can experience asthma attacks. Asthma in dogs is simply inflammation of the airways due to exposure to an irritant, and as we mentioned above, there are many potential irritants in a dog’s environment.

Similar to asthma attacks in humans, dogs can experience coughing and wheezing as a result. Some dogs may even gag due to the severity of their coughing, even struggling to breathe in some cases.

If you think your dog may be having an acute asthma attack, it’s best to contact your vet immediately. Asthma attacks can be a medical emergency in dogs, causing severe respiratory distress in some cases.

Cardiac Disease

Cardiac disease is another common culprit of coughing and gagging in old dogs. When a dog has cardiac disease of any form, this causes their heart to function improperly. Due to the heart’s inability to pump blood effectively, this can result in a backflow of blood to the heart. This stagnant blood can cause fluid to seep into the lungs, resulting in a chronic cough.

As cardiac disease progresses in your dog, you will often begin to see additional symptoms develop. Your senior dog may cough, gag, cough up fluid, have difficulty breathing, have decreased stamina, and even experience swelling of the abdomen.

These symptoms are a sign of serious complications in your furry friend, so it’s best to have them seen by a vet immediately if your pup displays any of these behaviors.

Laryngeal Paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis is another potential cause of coughing and gagging in old dogs, especially in large breeds. Laryngeal paralysis (LARPAR) in dogs occurs when the muscles and nerves in the larynx do not function properly, making it challenging to move air normally to the lungs. This can cause a dog to cough and gag when they are having an attack, even causing wheezing in some cases.

LARPAR often has a gradual onset, and may begin with your dog simply sounding hoarse when they cough. The condition will then progress to coughing and wheezing when they exert themselves, eventually making a huge impact on their wellbeing.

LARPAR is best managed when it is caught early, so it’s important to contact your vet at the first sign of any distress.

Esophageal Tumors

Esophageal tumors in old dogs are another potential cause of coughing and gagging in your canine friend. While this type of tumor is more rare than other cancers in dogs, it is never off the table.

Esophageal tumors can block the passage of food to the stomach, causing a dog to gag and choke when consuming their meals. This can also cause them to cough if they struggle when eating.

Some of the most common signs of esophageal tumors in dogs include difficulty swallowing, regurgitating their food, gagging when eating, and eventual weight loss as a result.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your senior pup, it’s time to make a trip to the vet’s office.

Lung Tumors

While you may not think lung tumors can cause a dog to gag, this is actually a common symptom to the disease in older pups. When a dog has lung cancer, they often have a tumor that begins to infiltrate the lungs.

Not only can the cancer in their lungs make it challenging to breathe, but it can also begin to press down on the esophagus in some cases. This can cause your senior pup to cough, gag, cough up fluid, struggle to breathe, experience weakness, and other signs of respiratory distress.

Whether your dog’s cancer originated in the lungs or is a result of metastasis, it can result in serious respiratory complications.

Lung cancer will need to be diagnosed by your veterinarian in order to find the best management plan, and to give your dog the best chance at comfort.

My Old Dog Is Coughing Up Fluid

An old dog coughing up fluid should always be taken seriously. Coughing up fluid can be a result of cardiac disease, pneumonia, lung cancer, and other serious complications in our canine friends.

While you should always seek guidance if your old dog begins to cough or gag, you should seek immediate care if they begin to cough up fluid.

My Old Dog Is Wheezing

Wheezing is a sign that your dog is struggling to breathe for some reason. While the list of possibilities can be long in our senior pups, wheezing can be your dog’s way of telling you that they need help.

An old dog may wheeze due to respiratory infections, cardiac disease, collapsing trachea, and any of the other possible causes we mentioned above.

Wheezing is a sign of inflammation in the airways or other forms of respiratory irritation, and should always be taken seriously when it occurs.

When To See The Vet For A Coughing Old Dog

If your old dog begins to cough and gag, it is always best to have them seen as soon as possible. Even minor respiratory conditions can progress quickly, leading to potential lung infections and other complications.

Another thing to keep in mind is how most conditions are easiest to manage when they are caught early. While a few coughs and gags may not seem like a big deal, it may be your window to intervene early on.

Diagnosing Coughing In Old Dogs

If you take your old dog to the vet for coughing and gagging, there are a few diagnostic options your vet might offer.

First, your veterinarian will gather a thorough history of the time leading up to their first symptom. By examining their life and the current struggles they are experiencing, this can help them paint a clear picture.

Next, your vet will likely recommend an x-ray of the chest to search for any evidence of heart or lung disease. This is a critical diagnostic for a coughing dog, as there is no other way for your vet to know exactly what is occurring in the chest.

The last possible diagnostic option will include a full panel of bloodwork. This can help your vet determine if your dog is struggling with any metabolic issues, as well as guide them in prescribing the right medications.

Some medications can be harsh on the kidneys and liver, so this will ensure that your pup can properly metabolize them.

Ways To Stop Your Dog From Coughing or Gagging

While the best way to stop your dog from coughing and gagging is by visiting the vet, there are a few other tools to implement at home.

Some of the best ways to offer your dog relief alongside a veterinary diagnosis include:

  • Running a humidifier in your home
  • Keeping your home free of any common irritants such as dust or strong fragrances
  • Keeping your dog as calm as possible while they heal to avoid respiratory distress
  • Avoid any strenuous exercise
  • Make sure their environment is nice and cool, as heat can exacerbate respiratory distress

Final Thoughts

Our senior pups may cough and gag for multiple reasons. Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can find the best solution for your coughing pup going forward!

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