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Understanding Cough in Cats and Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Understanding Cough in Cats and Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Is your cat or dog struggling with frequent coughs? It can be pretty worrying, right? Coughing in our pets is more common than you might think. Knowing what's causing that cough, spotting the symptoms, and determining the best treatments are key to keeping them healthy and happy.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the reasons your pet might be coughing, the signs to keep an eye on, and a variety of treatment options—including some natural and homeopathic remedies. Let’s get right into it!

A cat and a dog are lying down on the floor.

What is Cough?

Coughing is a common reflex action that helps to clear the throat, airways, or lungs of irritants, foreign bodies, mucus, or pathogens. Coughing in pets can be an occasional, harmless reaction or a sign of a more severe health issue.

Understanding the Basics

Coughing occurs when the respiratory tract is irritated or inflamed. The respiratory system includes the nose, throat, windpipe (trachea), and lungs. When something irritates these areas, the body responds with a cough to try to expel the offending substance.

Types of Cough

  1. Dry Cough: This cough sounds harsh and doesn't produce mucus. It's often a sign of irritation or inflammation in the throat or upper airways. Common causes include kennel cough in dogs or a viral upper respiratory infection in cats.
  1. Wet Cough: This cough is accompanied by the sound of mucus or phlegm moving in the airways. It might indicate the presence of fluid in the lungs or airways, which can be due to infections like pneumonia or chronic bronchitis.
  1. Hacking Cough: This persistent, forceful cough can sound like gagging or retching and might be a sign of a more serious condition, such as tracheal collapse or severe respiratory infection.
  1. Honking Cough: This sounds like a goose honk and is typically associated with tracheal collapse, especially in small dog breeds.

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Recognizing When Coughing is a Problem

While an occasional cough may not be a cause for concern, frequent or severe coughing warrants a closer look. Persistent coughing can indicate underlying health issues that require veterinary attention. Here are some signs that the cough might be severe:

  • Duration: If your pet's cough lasts more than a few days, consult a vet.
  • Severity: Strong, forceful coughing that disrupts your pet's usual activities or sleep needs to be addressed.
  • Accompanying Symptoms: Symptoms like difficulty breathing, lethargy, weight loss, nasal discharge, or coughing up blood are red flags.

Understanding the nature of your pet’s cough and recognizing when it’s more than just a simple reflex can help you seek timely veterinary care and ensure your pet stays healthy and comfortable.

Common Causes of Cough in Pets

Coughing in cats and dogs can be caused by various factors. Understanding these causes can help pet owners identify potential issues early and seek appropriate treatment.

  • Infectious Causes


  •  

Kennel Cough (Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis)

This is a highly contagious respiratory infection in dogs. It's often caused by a combination of bacteria and viruses, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. Symptoms include a dry, hacking cough, sometimes accompanied by nasal discharge and sneezing.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

Similar to a cold in humans, this infection is common in cats and can be caused by viruses like feline herpesvirus or calicivirus. Symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, eye discharge, and coughing due to irritation in the throat and airways.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, common in both cats and dogs, that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It results in a wet cough, fever, difficulty breathing, and lethargy.

  • Non-Infectious Causes


  •  

Allergies

Pets can be allergic to environmental factors such as pollen, dust, mold, or certain foods. Allergies can cause coughing due to inflammation and irritation in the airways.

Heart Disease

Conditions like congestive heart failure can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs, causing a persistent cough. This is often seen in older dogs or certain breeds predisposed to heart conditions.

Tracheal Collapse

This condition is common in small dog breeds like Yorkies and Pomeranians. The trachea, or windpipe, collapses, causing a honking cough, especially during excitement or exercise.

Asthma

Feline asthma is a chronic condition where the airways become inflamed and narrow, leading to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Triggers can include allergens, smoke, or stress.

  • Environmental Factors


  •  

Irritants

Exposure to smoke, strong odors, dust, or chemicals can irritate the respiratory tract, leading to coughing. Keeping the living environment clean and free from harsh irritants can help reduce this risk.

Foreign Bodies

Objects like grass, seeds, or small toys can accidentally be inhaled or swallowed, getting lodged in the throat or airways. This can cause sudden, severe coughing as the body attempts to expel the object.

Temperature and Humidity

Extreme temperatures or very dry air can irritate the respiratory system, leading to coughing. Using humidifiers and maintaining a comfortable living environment can help.

Recognizing these common causes of coughing can help you understand what might be affecting your pet. If you notice persistent or severe coughing, it's important to consult a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

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Symptoms to Watch For

Recognizing the symptoms associated with coughing in pets can help determine when to seek veterinary care. While a single cough might not be concerning, persistent coughing accompanied by other symptoms can indicate a more serious issue.

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  1. Nasal Discharge

Description: Runny or thick discharge from the nose, which can be clear, cloudy, or colored.

Possible Indications: Respiratory infections, allergies, or foreign bodies.

  1. Sneezing

Description: Frequent or violent sneezing.

Possible Indications: Allergies, infections, or irritants like dust and smoke.

  1. Difficulty Breathing

Description: Labored or rapid breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

Possible Indications: Asthma, heart disease, pneumonia, or severe respiratory infections.

  1. Lethargy

Description: Unusual tiredness or lack of energy.

Possible Indications: Systemic infections, heart disease, or other severe conditions.

  1. Loss of Appetite

Description: Reduced interest in food or complete refusal to eat.

Possible Indications: Illness, pain, or significant respiratory distress.

  1. Weight Loss

Description: Unexplained and noticeable loss of body weight.

Possible Indications: Chronic illness, heart disease, or severe infections.

  1. Coughing up Blood

Description: Presence of blood in the saliva or mucus after coughing.

Possible Indications: Severe respiratory infection, trauma, or tumors in the respiratory tract.

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When to Seek Veterinary Care

A persistent cough in your pet that lasts for more than a few days or shows no signs of improvement should be a cause for concern. It's important to monitor the duration and consistency of the cough to determine if it requires veterinary attention.

If your pet's cough is severe, characterized by its intensity, frequency, or if it prevents your pet from eating, sleeping, or playing normally, immediate veterinary consultation is advisable. 

When the cough is accompanied by other symptoms, such as those previously listed, it becomes even more crucial to seek veterinary help. The presence of additional symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition that needs prompt medical attention.

Noticeable changes in your pet's behavior, such as unusual lethargy, depression, or any significant behavioral changes, should also prompt a visit to the veterinarian. Behavioral changes can be indicative of illness or distress, and addressing them early can prevent further complications.

A picture of a sleepy dog.

Paying close attention to these symptoms can help you identify when your pet's cough is more than a minor irritation. Early detection and treatment ensure your pet remains healthy and comfortable.

Conventional Treatment Options for Cough in Pets

When it comes to treating coughs in cats and dogs, veterinarians use a variety of effective methods to ease symptoms and tackle the root causes.

First, antibiotics are often prescribed to combat bacterial infections like kennel cough or pneumonia. These medications work to eliminate the bacteria responsible for the infection, providing relief to your pet.

Anti-inflammatory drugs are also commonly prescribed. These medications are particularly useful in reducing inflammation within the respiratory tract. By doing so, they help lessen the coughing and discomfort your pet might be experiencing.

For persistent, non-productive coughs, veterinarians may recommend cough suppressants. These are designed to control continuous coughing, allowing your pet to rest and recover more comfortably. If your pet is struggling with asthma, bronchodilators can be extremely helpful. These medications work by opening up the airways, making it easier for your pet to breathe.

Diuretics are sometimes administered to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs. This is especially beneficial for pets dealing with heart disease, as it helps alleviate some of the associated respiratory issues.

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Natural Remedies for Cough in Pets

In addition to conventional treatments, several natural remedies can help alleviate coughing in cats and dogs. These remedies, can support overall respiratory health and provide relief from coughing. 

Herbal Remedies

  1. Licorice Root

Benefits: Licorice root has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that can help calm irritated airways.

Administration: It can be given as a tea, tincture, or capsule. Consult your vet for the correct dosage.

  1. Marshmallow Root

Benefits: Known for its mucilage content, marshmallow root helps coat and soothe the throat and respiratory tract.

Administration: Can be administered as a tea or in capsule form. Check with your vet for appropriate dosages.

  1. Thyme

Benefits: Thyme has antibacterial and antitussive (cough-suppressing) properties.

Administration: It can be made into a mild tea and given to your pet. Ensure it is given in small, safe amounts, as recommended by your vet.

Dietary Changes and Supplements

  1. Honey

Benefits: Honey is a natural cough suppressant and throat soother.

Administration: A small amount (1/2 teaspoon for small dogs and cats, 1 teaspoon for larger dogs) can be given directly or mixed into food. Avoid giving honey to puppies or kittens under one year old.

  1. Coconut Oil

Benefits: Coconut oil has antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help boost the immune system.

Administration: Start with a small amount (1/4 teaspoon for small pets, up to 1 teaspoon for larger dogs) and gradually increase. Mix it into their food.

3.Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Benefits: These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce airway inflammation.

Administration: Can be given through fish oil supplements. Consult your vet for the correct dosage based on your pet's weight.

Environmental Modifications

  1. Air Purifiers

Benefits: Helps reduce allergens and irritants in the air that can trigger coughing.

Use: Place an air purifier in the room where your pet spends the most time to keep the air clean.

  1. Humidifiers

Benefits: Adding moisture to the air can help soothe irritated airways, especially in dry environments.

Use: Use a humidifier in your pet’s living area to maintain optimal humidity levels.

  1. Smoke-Free Environment

Benefits: Reducing exposure to cigarette smoke and other pollutants helps prevent respiratory irritation.

Use: Ensure your home is smoke-free, and avoid using strong chemicals or aerosols around your pet.

Proper Hydration

Benefits: Staying well-hydrated helps thin mucus and makes it easier for your pet to expel it.

Encouragement: Always provide fresh water and consider adding water to their food to increase their intake.

Rest and Stress Reduction

Benefits: Adequate rest and a stress-free environment support the immune system and overall health.

Encouragement: Ensure your pet has a quiet, comfortable place to rest and avoid stressful situations whenever possible.

A cat is sleeping on the table.

These natural remedies can help your pet recover and improve its respiratory health. Always discuss new treatments with your veterinarian to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your pet's needs.

Homeopathic Treatments for Cough in Pets

Principles of Homeopathy

Homeopathy operates on the principle of "like cures like," where substances that cause symptoms in large amounts are used in small, diluted doses to treat similar symptoms. These remedies are tailored to the individual, considering their specific symptoms and overall health.

Common Homeopathic Remedies

  1. Drosera

This medicine is useful for a dry, hacking cough that is worse at night or after lying down. It is often recommended for coughs that sound deep and hoarse.

  1. Spongia Tosta

Effective for a dry, barking, or honking cough that improves with warm drinks. It is often used for coughs associated with tracheal collapse.

  1. Aconite

Used for sudden onset of cough, often after exposure to cold, dry wind. Suitable for coughs that are accompanied by restlessness and anxiety.

  1. Hepar Sulphuris

Helps with a deep, rattling cough that is productive, often with yellow mucus. Beneficial for pets with respiratory infections.

  1. Belladonna

Useful for a sudden, intense cough that comes with a fever. Often used when the cough is dry and spasmodic.

If you are considering homeopathy for your pet, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in this area. They can guide you on the right remedy and dosage for your pet, ensuring the treatment is both safe and effective.

As you start the homeopathic treatment, keep a close eye on your pet. Watch for any changes in their symptoms or any new side effects. It's important to remember that these treatments might take some time to show results. However, if you notice any worsening of symptoms, don't hesitate to contact your vet right away.

Homeopathic remedies can often be used in conjunction with conventional treatments. Make sure to discuss this with your vet so they can help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan. This way, you can address all aspects of your pet's health and well-being.

Homeopathic treatments can offer a gentle and natural approach to managing cough in pets. By consulting with an experienced veterinarian and carefully following the recommended remedies and dosages, you can provide additional support for your pet’s respiratory health.

Preventing Cough in Pets

Preventing cough in cats and dogs involves a combination of good hygiene, regular veterinary care, and a healthy lifestyle. Taking proactive steps can help reduce the risk of respiratory problems and keep your pet healthy.

A vet is checking a dog.

Regular Veterinary Check-ups

  • Routine Exams: Schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your pet’s overall health and catch any potential issues early.
  • Vaccinations: Keep your pet up-to-date with vaccinations, especially for diseases like kennel cough (Bordetella) in dogs and upper respiratory infections in cats.
  • Dental Health: Ensure your pet’s teeth and gums are healthy, as dental issues can sometimes lead to respiratory problems.

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Environmental Control

  • Clean Living Space: Keep your home clean and free of dust, mold, and other irritants affecting your pet's respiratory system.
  • Air Quality: Use air purifiers to remove allergens and pollutants from the air. Avoid exposing your pet to cigarette smoke, strong chemicals, and aerosol sprays.
  • Humidifiers: Maintain proper humidity levels, especially in dry climates, to help keep your pet’s airways moist and reduce irritation.

Healthy Diet and Exercise

  • Balanced Diet: Feed your pet a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients to support their immune system and overall health.
  • Hydration: Ensure your pet has access to fresh water at all times to stay hydrated, which helps keep their respiratory system functioning well.
  • Regular Exercise: Provide regular exercise to keep your pet fit and healthy, but avoid overexertion, especially in pets prone to respiratory issues.

A woman feeding her cat.

Avoiding Contagious Situations

  • Socialization: While socialization is important, avoid exposing your pet to large groups of animals if they are not fully vaccinated or if there is a known outbreak of respiratory illness.
  • Boarding and Daycare: Choose reputable boarding facilities and daycares that require vaccinations and maintain good hygiene practices to minimize the risk of contagious diseases.

Stress Reduction

  • Calm Environment: Create a calm and safe environment for your pet to reduce stress, which can weaken their immune system.
  • Routine: Maintain a consistent daily routine to help your pet feel secure and reduce anxiety.
  • Parasite Control
  • Regular Treatments: Use veterinarian-recommended flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives to protect your pet from parasites that can affect their respiratory health.
  • Environmental Control: Keep your home and yard free from parasites by regularly cleaning and treating these areas.

Recognizing Early Signs

  • Observation: Pay attention to changes in your pet's behavior, eating habits, or respiratory patterns. Early detection of symptoms like coughing, sneezing, or difficulty breathing can lead to prompt treatment.
  • Prompt Action: If you notice any signs of respiratory distress, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice and possible examination.

Following these preventive measures can help ensure your pet stays healthy and minimize the risk of developing respiratory issues. Regular care and a supportive environment are key to maintaining your pet's well-being.

A picture of a woman and her dog and her cat.

The Bottom Line

Understanding and managing cough in cats and dogs is essential for their health and well-being. By recognizing the causes and symptoms early, you can take proactive steps to seek veterinary care and implement appropriate treatments. 

Whether using conventional medications, natural remedies, or homeopathic treatments, working closely with a veterinarian to tailor a treatment plan suited to your pet's specific needs is recommended.

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