Do dogs get colds like their human owners do? Is a sniffly nose or a cough something to be concerned about? There are many different causes of respiratory symptoms in dogs. But, not all causes of your pup’s cough are as harmless as a simple cold.


#1: Infectious tracheobronchitis

Infectious tracheobronchitis—also known as kennel cough—is a contagious disease that causes inflammation of the trachea and bronchioles, which are parts of the upper respiratory system. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or both. The characteristic harsh, dry cough often ends with a retch or gag as a dog coughs up mucous.

As the name implies, kennel cough is spread rapidly amongst dogs in close, confined spaces, like shelters, pet stores, and boarding facilities. However, your dog can pick up the infection by coming into contact with any dog that has the illness. It can also be picked up in the environment where infected dogs have been. It stays in the environment for several weeks. Symptoms develop 5–10 days after exposure:

  • Coughing
  • Mild fever
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Decreased appetite

In most cases, symptoms will resolve on their own within a week, but your dog will benefit from rest, a warm environment, and good nutrition. In young, elderly, or immunosuppressed dogs, the symptoms can be more severe. Cough suppressants, other medications, or breathing treatments may be prescribed by our veterinarians if clinical signs persist. Infectious tracheobronchitis can easily be prevented by ensuring your dog has received the kennel cough vaccine.


#2: Canine influenza

Canine influenza virus (CIV) is spread primarily through respiratory secretions (coughing and sneezing), contaminated objects (food/water bowls, toys, etc.), and poor hygiene from human handlers. Symptoms develop 2–4 days after exposure and closely mimic those of kennel cough. Some dogs may develop more severe symptoms, such as high fever (104–106°F), pneumonia, and secondary bacterial infection. Although severe cases of CIV can potentially be fatal, most dogs make a full recovery with treatment. Only a blood test can definitively diagnose an influenza infection.

Treatment for CIV is largely supportive, and recovery can take 2–3 weeks. Antibiotics and other medications may be prescribed by our veterinarians to ensure an uneventful recovery. There is a vaccine available for canine influenza that is recommended for dogs in affected areas.


#3: Fungal infections

Several fungal infections can cause cold-like symptoms in your furry friend:

  • Coccidioidomycosis (valley fever) is found in dry, dusty climates, like that seen in the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Central America. Most infections occur by inhaling dust containing fungal organisms. Although many species, including humans, are susceptible, only dogs are commonly affected. A typical course of the disease is mild, self-limiting, and localized to the lungs. However, disseminated (body-wide) disease and chronic infections can occur and may cause:
    • Chronic cough
    • Anorexia
    • Weight loss
    • Painful joints
    • Draining ulcers on the skin
    • Fever
    • Diarrhea

If disseminated infection is present, long-term (6–12 months) antifungal treatment is needed.

  • Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by fungal spores found in soil in the midwestern and southern U.S. The infection is contracted by inhaling spores and can manifest in many organ systems. Clinical signs include:
    • Coughing
    • Diarrhea
    • Weight loss
    • Fever
    • Anemia
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Digestive ulcers

Histoplasmosis can be fatal without proper treatment and must be treated with antifungal medications.


  • Blastomycosis is a non-contagious infection found in Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, the Ohio River Valley, around the Great Lakes, and in the Pacific Northwest. Symptoms are similar to those of histoplasmosis, and severe infections can cause trouble breathing. Blastomycosis is also treated with antifungal medications for an extended period of time.

#4: Tracheal collapse

Tracheal collapse causes the airway to collapse, or flatten, during inhalation and is primarily a disease of small- or toy-breed dogs. Dogs with heart disease, lung disease, and those who are overweight are more likely to develop this condition. Affected dogs will have a dry, honking cough that often worsens with excitement or exercise. Tracheal collapse can progress to cause difficulty breathing and can become an emergency. This condition can be managed with symptomatic treatment, including weight loss, exercise restriction, cough suppressants, and other medications. Surgical procedures can be performed to implant devices that will permanently hold the trachea open during breathing.


#5: Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure develops secondary to many different types of heart disease. Any time the heart does not pump blood efficiently, the vessels of the lungs can become congested with blood, and fluid can leak into the lung tissue. Congestive heart failure can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Decreased activity
  • Tiring easily
  • Vomiting clear fluid

Differentiating heart failure from other causes of coughing requires examination by our veterinary team along with additional diagnostics, such as X-rays or an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart). Although heart disease is irreversible, it can often be managed with medications. Early diagnosis and treatment can make it possible for your pet to live a long life by your side.


Have a coughing dog? Give us a call today!