What Causes Older Dogs to Cough?

Coughing in older dogs can be a sign of a serious health problem.
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Coughing in older dogs usually indicates an underlying health condition. Note when your dog is most likely to cough, and whether the cough is moist and productive. Take your dog to the vet for a health screening to determine the cause of his cough.

Canine Infections That Cause Coughing

A dry, hacking cough that is often followed by gagging is a sign of kennel cough in dogs. Kennel cough is a highly contagious but easily treated infection. It is commonly found in dog kennels and shelters where many animals are housed together and anxiety levels are high. If kennel cough is left untreated and does not clear up on its own, it can lead to canine pneumonia.

Canine distemper is another infectious disease, much more serious, that is known to cause coughing. Distemper is sometimes misdiagnosed because the symptoms in early stages are very similar to the symptoms of kennel cough. Although distemper can cause coughing in older dogs, it is more common in younger, unvaccinated dogs.

Persistent coughing can also be a symptom of heartworm disease in dogs. If your older dog has not been on a heartworm preventive, have your vet test him for heartworm.

Auto-Immune Disorders That Cause Coughing

Canine allergies and asthma are autoimmune disorders that sometimes lead to coughing. Though it's possible for older dogs to develop allergies or asthma, younger dogs are far more vulnerable.

Geriatric Conditions That Cause Coughing

Geriatric dogs are prone to heart disease. Congestive heart failure is a serious heart condition seen often in older dogs. It leads to coughing and labored breathing.

Coughing in older dogs is sometimes a characteristic symptom of lung cancer. Canine lung cancer can be caused by environmental factors such as secondhand smoke, or from canine tumors that spread into the lungs.

A defect in the laryngeal nerve can sometimes lead to full or partial paralysis of the larynx, restricting the dog’s airflow and causing him to cough. Laryngeal paralysis is common in older dogs. Large breeds are more susceptible than smaller dogs to laryngeal paralysis.


Because coughing in older dogs can be caused by such a wide range of conditions, a veterinary examination is necessary to identify the problem and determine the best course of treatment.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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