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Old Dog Coughing And Gagging: What Does It Mean?

Key Takeaways

  • Coughing and gagging in old dogs could be signs of illnesses such as heart disease, congestive heart failure, kennel cough, and tracheal collapse.
  • Take your dog to the vet if coughing and gagging persists after long periods of time. Only a vet can properly diagnose your dog.
  • Prevent your old dog from coughing and gagging by having them regularly checked by the vet and avoid giving them sticks, bones, and small toys.

An old dog coughing and gagging could mean many things. Often it is a sign of heart problems which makes sick dogs get tired very easily and have difficulty breathing as well as what’s called a cardiac cough. Other causes include kennel cough and tracheal collapse.

When your old dog coughs or gags, it is natural to dismiss the matter if it is a singular occurrence. After all, dogs can have small irritants drifting into their airways as well as experience choking briefly now and then on a bit of food. This is because dogs are capable of sniffing up to six times each second. I have a very curious dog that constantly sniffs things, so this is not an uncommon scenario. However, if there is persistent cough and it continues over a significant length of time, I suggest you seek the help of your vet immediately as it may be a sign of a deeper problem. If coughing and gagging both occur frequently, or your dog cannot seem to stop, it may be time to seek treatment to save your dog’s life.

Is Your Dog Coughing, Gagging, or Vomiting?

Coughing, gagging, and vomiting each indicate different problems. If you can catch a video of your old dog in the process of working through its problem, you eliminate the difficulty of imprecise descriptions and hoping the dog will repeat the troublesome problem at the veterinarian visit. Roughly speaking, a cough does not bring up anything beyond a spray of saliva or mucus, quickly swallowed. A dog that vomits is fairly obvious due to the contents of the stomach appearing on the floor. Gagging generally occurs in conjunction with coughing. Gagging may open the mouth wide with retching, but nothing comes out beyond a bit of mucus. Make note of whether the dog’s cough is followed by a gag, or if it gags followed by a cough. 

The Importance of Distinguishing Between the Three

Different problems will lead to different signals given when your dog is coughing. When a cough comes first, bronchitis comes to mind, as does lower respiratory disease. A canine that gags first leads to considerations of larynx dysfunction. Two quite common problems that lead to dogs’ gagging are infectious issues and laryngeal paralysis. The latter often occurs in older pups of the Labrador Retriever breed. Their larynxes no longer close correctly, permitting a degree of fluid and food to enter the airway. 

Recognizing the Type of Dog Cough

Another way to help your veterinarian identify the problem is to accurately describe the type of cough when your dog is coughing. Is it high-pitched and gagging? Or is it dry, deep, and hacking? The cough might be wet, moist, and phlegmy. It might be a deep and honking cough. Is it a persistent or chronic cough that even gives your dog trouble sleeping? Different conditions stand at the root of different types of coughs. For example, kennel cough causes a honking, dry, deep coughing in dogs. On the other hand, a sore throat can cause a cough that is gagging and high in pitch.

Common Causes of Coughing

Dogs explore the world mainly through their noses, resulting in common causes of coughing. Dogs can inhale many small irritants to cause a cough as they take in details of the world around them. Just as we do, dogs cough to drive out dust, germs, and other small nuisances. Also as we do, sometimes dogs get colds, viruses, or infections. Canines are social creatures, prone to sniffing and giving a quick lick. Because of this, viruses and bacteria spread quickly between dogs. Dogs also pick germs up from various surfaces.

Dog lying by a window.

Canine Influenza

The dog’s version of the flu, canine influenza has a cough marking the respiratory infection capable of lasting between ten and thirty days. The veterinarian will probably prescribe medicine for your dog’s treatment. Quarantine a sick dog from the other animals in your home using the best dog crate you can find, as canine influenza can pass between animals. 

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm is more prevalent in warmer areas such as California and Florida, but it is present anywhere that mosquitoes are available to transmit the disease. A cough can distinguish a dog with heartworm disease, or the dog may exhibit zero symptoms. Everything depends on the size of the dog, how many worms are present, and the dog’s overall health. When your pup does have an indicative coughing, it will be a mild and persistent one. Other symptoms are low energy, loss of weight, and a reduction in appetite. Severe infestations can result in heart failure signs like a swollen abdomen from the buildup of fluids. A coughing dog may also be actually having bouts of reverse sneezing wherein they aggressively suck in air instead of out. Observe your dog closely and take him to the vet as all of these symptoms can still point to heartworm disease.

Fungal Infections

Some fungal infections can cause a dog’s coughing. These occur when yeast, as well as other fungi, are picked up through the air or from the dirt. Your veterinarian can prescribe a helpful medicine to stop the nagging cough.


Distemper in dogs is highly contagious but can be prevented by one of the common vaccine combinations for dogs. A cough is common in cases of distemper. This airborne vaccine is a serious condition, so be sure to stay on top of your puppy’s shot schedule.

Lung Problems

Dogs can develop pneumonia or bronchitis. They can also inhale grass seeds, dirt, or food, leading to infected air passages. Antibiotics can help drive out the infection. In rarer cases, primary lung cancer is the culprit. In this case, your veterinarian will guide you in the options of medication or surgery to treat the lung cancer.

What is Meant by Dogs Gagging?

Gagging is a reflex that is normal for dogs. Generally, it comes and goes quickly without a quick reoccurrence. Older dogs will gag more often because they produce greater amounts of mucus. This causes more frequent gagging and coughing. Recurring gagging, or gagging that does not stop, is a cause for concern, however. Possible causes of recurring gagging in older dogs include kennel cough, sinusitis, rhinitis, heart disease, tracheal collapse, and a foreign object being present in the esophagus, mouth, or throat.

Causes of Gagging in Dogs

You need not worry about an occasional gagging noise coming from your dog, along with the wide-jawed stance with a lowered head that results in no vomit. Non-stop or recurrent gagging, however, warrant a visit to the veterinarian and a thorough checking for the source. The following are some of the causes of dogs’ gagging.

Foreign Object inside the Esophagus, Throat, or Mouth

Play objects like small toys and pieces of sticks can readily find themselves lodged in your dog’s throat at the back. These object types can also enter the throat and esophagus. Playtime should be closely monitored when choking hazards are the source of the fun. Also, avoid encouraging your dog to chew on sticks and rocks. A dog with a foreign object will claw at the mouth, drool, possibly vomit, and gag.

Rhinitis and Sinusitis

Rhinitis is an infection of the nasal passageways, and sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses. Either can cause a postnasal drip that leads to your dog gagging and retching. Your dog may have an infected tooth or issues within the nasal passages; these often cause such infections. The veterinarian will prescribe medications to rid your dog of these infections and the gagging.

Infestation of Intestinal Parasites

Because all puppies are born having intestinal parasites, de-wormings are required for all. Dogs can collect intestinal parasites before you know it. Coughing and gagging can indicate that your dog has an infestation of roundworm. These larvae like to migrate to the lungs, penetrating the capillaries there and moving within the air sacs. When this happens, your pup suffers from chronic gagging. Worms may also show up in your dog’s stool or vomit. Consult with your vet, but you’ll likely need to start a regimen of dewormer for dogs.

When Your Dog Gags

When your pup gags, you may have difficulty discerning whether or not medical attention is called for. If the gag comes with a cough, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, lethargy, clawing around the mouth, excessive panting and drooling, fever, or the gagging is growing more often in frequency, make an appointment at once. Your dog may be suffering extreme distress. 

Beagle with mouth open.

When to Worry About Gagging

In the same manner as humans, dogs sometimes swallow wrong. This results in a bout of gagging and coughing. It is not a problem that requires immediate concern if your dog is alert, bright and breathing normally. A canine that is eating and drinking in the usual fashion and appears to feel fine should simply be monitored for two to three days. Gagging that persists for a longer period of time may indicate a more significant issue. 

How a Veterinarian Can Help

Your veterinarian’s actions depend on the particular symptoms present with your dog’s gagging. Sometimes, a physical examination is sufficient to develop a tentative diagnosis. In other circumstances, additional tests are required. The first step taken by the veterinarian is clearing the mouth, esophagus, and throat. Then a fecal exam verifies whether or not intestinal parasites are present (i.e. worms in the dog poop). Blood work and radiographs of the lungs and neck are among the most common first tests. Your veterinarian may sedate your dog if symptoms indicate laryngeal paralysis or foreign material swallowed by your dog. Cough suppressants may be prescribed if needed.

Gagging Prevention

To prevent chronic recurring gagging in your dog, prevent the use of sticks, bones, and small toys as playthings. When lodged in the throat, these things can result in gagging. Take your pup for routine checkups, particularly if a diagnosis is made of tracheal collapse or heart disease. 

Three Reasons Why Dogs Both Cough and Gag

A combination of coughing and gagging can result in a time of worry for you and your old dog. Kennel cough, tracheal collapse, heart disease, and congestive heart failure are potential reasons for this combination of your dog’s cough symptoms. 

Kennel Cough

Characterized by a honking cough, tracheobronchitis, referring to the upper airway rather than the lungs, or kennel cough is highly contagious. It can have a number of viruses as its source or be caused by bacteria. Generally, it only leads to discomfort and mild illness, but if it descends to the lungs, chronic bronchitis or pneumonia may follow. It gets its common name from the ease with which it passes through kennels. You should also be aware of the risk at doggy daycare groups, dog parks, and other spaces for dogs to gather. Much like a child with chickenpox, your infected dog should stay away from other canines until passing the infectious stage.

Tracheal Collapse

This condition is common in small breed dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas. Tracheal collapse may require surgical or medical intervention. It can be a birth defect, congenital, or acquired during any period in the life of your dog. Tracheal collapse is one cause of a dog’s cough.

Heart Disease

When a dog has leaky valves and other heart problems, the muscle of the heart can weaken and grow thicker. This condition puts pressure on the airways and lungs. While medication can help, so can a proper diet and healthy, sufficient exercise.

Old Dog Coughing and Gagging Causes

Common causes of coughing and gagging in older dogs include a heart cough. This symptom pointing to heart disease results from an ailing heart that does not properly pump blood. This causes stagnation of blood in the lungs and allows the leaking of fluid into the dog’s airways. The dog then coughs, attempting to eliminate the accumulation. 

Canine Congestive Heart Failure

CHF, or congestive heart failure, occurs when the dog’s heart is incapable of pumping blood throughout the body (1). This causes blood to back up into the dog’s lungs; fluid then accumulates in the abdomen, chest, or both. This causes further constriction of the heart and lungs.

Clinical Signs of CHF

Signs of congestive heart failure include constant panting, a struggle to breathe, coughing, a rapid rate of breathing that occurs even in a state of rest, and coughing up blood. Further signs include a reluctance to exercise or an outright refusal to do so, growing weary more readily during play or on walks, and fatigue. Your dog’s gums may be tinged blue, the abdomen may be distended, and your dog may outright collapse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my senior dog coughing?

Your senior dog may have kennel cough, heart disease, collapsed trachea, bronchitis, or congestive heart failure, among other conditions. A visit to the veterinarian is vital for your older dog’s wellbeing.

What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure in a dog?

Congestive heart failure may be the cause when your dog has trouble breathing, pants constantly, has a rapid resting breathing rate, coughs, or coughs up blood. Fatigue and easy weariness are also symptoms of CHF.

Why does my dog keep coughing like he has a hairball?

When your dog coughs as though a hairball is a culprit, the actual cause may be kennel cough. 

What are the signs of your dog dying?

Signs that your dog is dying may include a general loss of interest, loss of control of the bowels and bladder, odd breathing, energy loss or extreme fatigue, and a change in or loss of appetite regardless of food quality.

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