top of page


Whether  your pet is a cat, dog, horse or other animal, the first step in determining why your pet is coughing is to make note of when you first noticed the cough, then make note of any changes to your pet’s routine, environment, food or other factors most recently and write it down.  This will help you diagnose the problem, and it will be important information to help your veterinarian diagnose the problem.  It will also help to note if there are any correlating symptoms, such as sneezing, wheezing, mucus, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.  These will also factor into the diagnosis.

Wet Cough vs. Dry Cough

One clue that pet parents can pick up on at home is the difference between a wet cough versus a dry cough.

The term “wet cough” refers to a cough that brings up phlegm—the thick mucus that is often produced within the respiratory tract in response to infection. Increased production of phlegm helps the body clear viruses, bacteria, disease-fighting cells, and other materials out of the lungs.

Dry coughs, on the other hand, do not produce much phlegm. Dry coughs are typically associated with conditions like asthma, inhaled foreign bodies, and cancer. These distinctions are not ironclad but can help point you and your veterinarian towards a possible diagnosis.

Here are some common causes to consider so that you can try to determine and address the cough.


We all cough from time to time, and the same is true for cats. Coughing is simply a reflex that helps the body clear material from within the respiratory tract.

Infrequent cat coughing is generally nothing to worry about in an otherwise healthy cat. Pay attention to more chronic or severe coughs, or those associated with other symptoms.

Consider changes to your cat’s environment.  Did you get a new cat litter that is especially dusty, and now your cat has a coughing fit while in the litter box? When inhaled, irritants of any sort can lead to coughing.  Do you have a renovation project going that is raising up dust?  Is your cat reacting to second hand smoke?

More persistent cat coughing needs to be looked into with your veterinarian.  Common causes of persistent coughs in cats include:

1.   Respiratory infections Bacterial and viral respiratory infections are common causes of coughing in cats. Occasionally, fungal or parasitic organisms may be involved.

  1. Asthma Cats with asthma experience airway narrowing, airway swelling, and mucus accumulation in response to certain triggers, all of which can lead to coughing.

  2. Pleural Effusion This is an abnormal buildup of fluid around a cat’s lungs that can result in coughing.

  3. Inhaled foreign objects When foreign materials like food or pieces of grass are inhaled, a cat will cough to try to expel them.

  4. Cancer Coughing may be one of the first symptoms that owners notice when a cat has cancer that affects the respiratory tract.   

  5. Trauma Physical, chemical, or thermal injury to the respiratory tract can cause cat coughing.

  6. Heartworms The signs of heartworms can be subtle and may include coughing.

Coughing cats almost always have some type of respiratory condition.  If your cat has a severe or persistent cough, make an appointment with your veterinarian.



Like humans, all dogs cough from time to time. However, sometimes coughing is a sign of a more serious health condition especially if it has increased in frequency or severity and if it does not go away.

If you've noticed your dog coughing and you’re curious about all the different reasons why dogs cough, know that many different conditions, ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening, can lead your dog to cough. Fortunately, though, most conditions that cause a dog cough are easy to treat. The most common causes for a dog’s occasional cough are:

1. Something stuck in their throat If your dog gets some type of object stuck in their throat, they would naturally cough to remove it. If you notice your dog coughing, a good place to start is by checking their throat to see if anything foreign has become lodged in the throat area.

2. Allergies Allergens are substances such as dust, pollen, cigarette smoke, or anything else in the environment that your dog’s immune system perceives as an invader and overreacts to. For example, if your dog is sensitive to dust or certain ingredients in their food, their immune system may react as if it were being attacked by a foreign virus or bacteria. This can lead to coughing, similar to in humans.  

3. Heart Disease This is one of the most common reasons for a dog to have a cough that does not clear up within a few days. Heart disease prevents the heart from pumping blood effectively throughout your dog’s body. Heart disease frequently leads to coughing in people and in dogs.

4.  Pneumonia With pneumonia, a dog cough sounds moist and soft. If your dog has pneumonia, they'll likely have a high fever, poor appetite and low energy. They'll need veterinary treatment, lots of fluids and rest, and they might even need hospitalization to recover.

5.  Kennel Cough While kennel cough is more common among younger dogs, dogs of any age can be affected. Dogs in group settings — whether at obedience training, doggy day care or boarding — are at higher risk of contracting the infection.

Dogs with kennel cough have a hacking, dry and raspy cough that sounds worse if they pull while being walked on their leash. Kennel cough can even lead to retching and subsequent vomiting.

Kennel cough may resolve itself on its own, but antibiotics and cough suppressants are often prescribed to reduce coughing and the likelihood of secondary problems, such as pneumonia. It is also preventable if your dog is given an annual Bordetella vaccine.

6. Tracheal Collapse This more common in small breeds like Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Pugs and Shih Tzu’s.  Dogs with tracheal collapse have a dry, hacking and spasmodic cough. They cough repeatedly and have a hard time calming down. Their coughing will worsen if they pull while they're on a leash, so they will do better with a harness.

The cough is also worse in obese dogs, dogs who are hot or excited and dogs exposed to irritants or allergens in the air. Dogs with tracheal collapse often have bronchitis and/or heart disease as well, so they might have several different types of coughs.

7. Heartworm Disease The signs of heartworms can be subtle and may include coughing.  Annual heartworm testing is important especially if your pet is not on heartworm treatments.

8. Canine Influenza Dogs, like humans, are subject to contracting the flu, known in dogs as canine influenza. The cough exists as the result of the respiratory infection that can last anywhere from ten to thirty days. Your dog will likely be prescribed medicine as a course of treatment. If you have other pets in the home, it is best to quarantine your sick dog to their own area of the home, as canine influenza is contagious between animals.


Horses that cough coming into the barn might be having an allergic response to dust or airborne ammonia. If allergies develop into equine asthma which is more common in older horses the airways swell, narrow, and fill with fluid.

Coughing when starting to exercise might be mild mucus clearing, which is fairly common, just like a person clearing the morning mucus out of the airways when exercising.

Coughs that persist throughout an exercise session, however, could point to infection, inflammation like asthma, or a functional issue. Summer pasture associated asthma is the number one reason pastured horses cough.

Unusual and frequent coughing might mean a more serious issue such as severe asthma or pneumonia. If they can’t seem to stop coughing, or they can’t catch their breath, or they’re coughing 25 times  in a row during a meal, that’s pointing me toward something pretty bad and they need to see the veterinarian immediately.

For simple coughs that are infrequent or which you think are related to their environment, before you resort drugs, try simple changes in their environment and management to reduce exposure to dust, ammonia, and other allergens.

1. Equine influenza Despite vaccination, influenza (flu) infection is still a common cause of respiratory infections and coughing in horses. Influenza is caused by a virus and spreads rapidly through a yard to all horses stabled together. Influenza is usually accompanied by an elevated temperature, along with reduced appetite. For unvaccinated horses, influenza infection can be prolonged and even life-threatening.

2. Equine herpes Virus (EHV) A cause of coughing and clear nasal discharge in young horses. This virus can spread quickly to all previously uninfected horses in the yard. It is usually a mild infection, although it can cause elevated temperatures and reduced feed intake. Vaccination can reduce the incidence of EHV in a yard.

3. Strangles This is one of the most common causes of respiratory infections in horses. Strangles transfers rapidly through contaminated nasal discharge to all horses in a yard. The typical signs are increased temperature, reduced appetite, nasal discharge, coughing and swollen lymph nodes (glands). Often the swollen glands will burst and release pus onto the skin.

4. Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) Also known as equine asthma, heaves or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this is a common cause of coughing in older horses. It is caused by an allergic reaction in the horse’s lungs to irritant particles found in the environment, such as dust, fungal spores or pollens. This allergic response results in increased mucus production and a reduction in the diameter of the airways, thus predisposing the horse to coughing. Equine asthma is not transmitted between horses and affected horses will show abnormal respiratory signs, even at rest. However, in young horses it is known as inflammatory airway disease (IAD), and is often associated with poor performance, exercise intolerance and an intermittent cough – these horses are usually normal at rest.

5. Exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) Most commonly seen in racehorses. The majority of EIPH affected horses do not have a bloody nasal discharge, but coughing is common as the horse attempts to clear the blood from its airways.

6. Lungworm An infection of the lower respiratory tract, usually resulting in bronchitis or pneumonia, caused by the parasitic roundworm. Horses are not a primary host for lungworms, so it is usually only seen in horses grazed with donkeys.

7. Shipping Fever Shipping fever is a bacterial pleuropneumonia which can occur when the horse is unable to drop its head for lengthy periods of time and therefore cannot clear mucus, dirt and debris from their airways (e.g. if tied-up during long-distance transport). Shipping fever, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

8. Ascarids Usually only a problem in horses less than three years old. These equine roundworms emerge in the gut before migrating to the lungs where they cause considerable inflammation. Older horses develop resistance to the roundworms, so they are not usually a cause of coughing in mature horses.

9. Rhodococcus Equi Pneumonia Rhodococcus equi is a bacterium that inhabits the soil and can cause pneumonia in foals aged 1 to 6 months. Foals acquire the disease by inhaling pathogen-laden dust particles. Once Rhodococcus equi is established in the soil, it is almost impossible to eradicate it and it will remain a threat to future generations of foals.

As a cough can have many underlying causes, there are a wide range of treatments available. A coughing horse will often require rest, and a good rule of thumb for horses affected by influenza, herpes or strangles is to give them two days rest for every day of coughing. However, you should discuss this with your vet, as riding your horse too soon, when the airways have not fully recovered, may be detrimental. Your vet will also determine if your horse needs any prescription drugs, such as anti-inflammatories or antibiotics.



To prevent potential spread, any pet that is sneezing, is coughing, and has discharge from the eyes or nose should be isolated from other pets and examined by a veterinarian. 

If your pet has a severe or persistent cough, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to a rapid recovery!


11 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page