Why is My Old Dog Coughing (top diseases)

If you’re wondering why your old dog is coughing then you need to know that some of the causes can be really serious. Find out the main causes and how your old dog’s coughing problem can diagnosed.

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I have attached a video of a friend’s dog. It has a weird bark and he is confused by multiple diagnoses from their vet. Any idea of what this is?

Right, so let's jump into the first question and this one was sent in by Paul asking about a friend’s dog with a strange bark.

Strange bark or cough?

What really helps is the inclusion of a video, something I’ve spoken about many times before! Have a listen and see what you think.

Okay so what did you think that sounds like?

Well, to me it sounds very much like a cough, and as far as the cough goes, it really could be anything. There's no way to specifically give a diagnosis based on what a cough sounds like. One reason it really looks like a cough, rather than a bark, is because the dog actually does swallow after making this noise This likely indicates that he's coughing up mucus, which is then being swallowed.

Video helps

And this actually just highlights the importance of a video. So always take one of your pet doing the thing that you're concerned about because when we describe something, it's actually very, very difficult to get a true picture of that. unfortunately, a lot of the time, our dogs and our cats, they don't perform whatever it is they're doing at home at the veterinary clinic.

So having a video makes a really big difference and in this case it could mean the difference between actually investigating a cough and investigating something completely different, which isn't what's going on. So a video is really important and I think this highlights that really nicely.

Causes of Old Dog Coughing

  • Infection

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Collapsing trachea

  • Laryngeal paralysis

  • Heart disease

  • Cancer


Now it could be an infectious problem such as a kennel cough, a viral disease, or something like that. Even a start of a pneumonia depending on how well the dog is.

Chronic bronchitis

With an old dog though, I'd also be wondering about chronic bronchitis as well with the possibility of a collapsing trachea. Although this tracheal collapse is not quite as common as just a chronic bronchitis, it is much more of a small breed problem.

Laryngeal paralysis

If his breathing is noisier at other times as well, and his bark is actually a little bit weird or it sounds a bit strange, then laryngeal paralysis is a possibility as well. Now that's normally with kind of a bigger dog but it absolutely could be the case in a small breed dog as well.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is also a possibility. You would expect an abnormality to be heard with a stethoscope. So that's something that should be picked up in an examination with a veterinarian but what happens here, if the heart's failing, then the lungs can effectively develop a little bit of fluid which can cause coughing. But more likely you get an enlargement of some of the chambers of the heart and that compress some of the small airways and trigger this coughing.

So with heart failure and small dogs we will also often get a cough and it can be very tricky sometimes to determine whether the heart is causing a problem or there is a problem with the lungs. This is because murmur on the heart being heard on examination doesn't always necessarily mean that's heart failure either so that kind of needs to trigger some more investigations.


Unfortunately, cancer also needs to be on this list. Especially in older dogs. The lungs are a common place for cancers in other parts of the body to spread to. While coughing isn’t always present, growths within the lungs are definitely something to consider.

Investigating the Cough


So really you can see a lot depends on the history, what else is going on at home and examination findings. So what can we hear when we're listening to the heart and to the lungs and to the throat and the larynx, the voice box with a stethoscope and other kind of body changes as well. So that’s temperature, checking the abdomen, the gum color and how quickly that’s changing when you put pressure on the gum.

So there's a lot to consider here and really an examination is key, but an examination isn't the be all and end all and it often can’t give us a definitive diagnosis.

So diagnostically really, if things don't seem to be progressing with whatever treatments are being trialed, and sometimes we will just trial a treatment and see what happens, see if it works, and then make a presumptive diagnosis. But there are other tests that can be done.

Other tests

So we can do blood tests and we can actually do a specific blood test to look for markers of heart damage and heart stress, which is something called a proBNP test. We can also anesthetize an old dog to actually look at the larynx to look at the voice box to see if there is any sign of paralysis. We can also take X-rays and that can look at signs of heart failure, for cancer, which is a possibility, and for lung disease as well.

And then finally we can also take some flushing samples from the lungs, something called a BAL or a bronchoalveolar lavage. Effectively what happens here is, while the patient is anesthetised to have the x-rays and to have the other tests done, is they can have either a little endoscope, so a small camera passed down into the lungs and a sample retrieved that way, or we can pass a little catheter down the tube that's delivering the anaesthetic gas, add some water and suck that back up blind.

This sample is then sent off to the lab for analysis, which can be a really useful test to look for infections, signs of chronic bronchitis as well as cancer and even lungworm.


So those are my thoughts about this case, but I think it highlights a couple of really interesting and important points and that is that a video really does make an awful lot of difference when it comes to trying to describe and trying to find out what's going on at home because otherwise we can be led astray and maybe have tests done that are completely unnecessary or miss things that are otherwise important.

And it also highlights the importance of an examination and then working through a process. So we can't always get an absolute answer and if something isn't working, if you're trying a specific treatment or management strategy and it doesn't seem to be making any difference, then keeping in touch with your vet and letting them know so that plans can be adjusted, more diagnostics can be taken, and the case can be worked up more fully. So those are my thoughts of this wee dog that's coughing like it is.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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