As if coughing wasn’t annoying enough, a dog coughing at night can be very upsetting for both the owner and the dog experiencing it. In a perfect world, night-time should be a time of peace and quiet, when owners and dogs get to rest and restore their minds and bodies so they’re ready for another day. A night-time cough in dogs can therefore be quite disruptive and even exhausting to both dog owners and dogs. On top of that, a nocturnal cough in dogs can be indicative of various disorders, some of which may be quite serious.
Purpose of Coughing
Coughing consists of a noisy expulsion of air from the lungs and in many cases it’s an effort to free the lungs from foreign material.
Irritation to the dog’s pharynx, larynx, or any part of the tracheo-bronchial tree with its smaller airways, may trigger a coughing spell.
Common irritants may vary based on whether the dog lives in the city or the country and may range from pollutants such as smoke or noxious gases, to dusts and allergies from grasses.
On top of irritants being inhaled, coughing may also signal a body’s attempt to getting rid of parasites such as roundworms. Dogs who are coughing and not on year-round heartworm prevention should be evaluated for heartworms.
A dog coughing at night may be allergic to something in his bedding or may be inhaling dust particles found nearby the floor or bed. This type of coughing can be reduced or eliminated by limiting exposure to the trigger once found. However, if the cough is persistent (not just clearing the throat) and mostly occurring at night, it’s important to consult with a vet to rule out other potentially more serious problems.
A dog who is coughing, struggling to breathe and has pale white gums should be seen by a vet immediately. Normal color of dog gums is bubble gum pink and a pale color is an indication that not enough oxygen-rich blood is circulating.
A Case of Kennel Cough
A dog with kennel cough will cough any time of the day, but it could be that the coughing episodes coincidentally started at night. Also, one must consider that coughing at night is more likely to be noticed than during the day because of the impact on sleep.
Even among humans, coughing tends to worsen at night as one settles down to sleep. Coughing in the early morning can also be persistent considering the accumulation of fluids over night that need to be cleared.
Dogs with kennel cough have a history of being around other dogs such as dog park, dog groomer, at a kennel or doggy day care. The incubation period (time from exposure to onset of coughing) for kennel cough is around 2 to 7 days. If your dog was therefore around dogs in the past days, kennel cough is high on the list as a trigger for relentless coughing.
Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is an infectious viral-type of disease that can be prevented by vaccination; however, the vaccine doesn’t cover all strains. Also, at times, the intra-nasal version of the vaccine leads to sneezing and coughing occurring 1 to 2 days afterward. If your dog recently was vaccinated for kennel cough and the vet squirted the vaccine up your dog’s nose, this can therefore be a temporary cause of mild coughing.
Another cause of cough in dogs that is similar to kennel cough is canine influenza. Also, as some dogs age, they may become prone to developing annoying cases of chronic bronchitis.
A Collapsed Trachea
Small dogs are particularly predisposed to a condition known as collapsed trachea. A dog’s trachea is made of several cartilage rings. In a healthy dog, the rings remain strong and avoid causing problems. In dogs with a collapsed trachea, the cartilage rings weaken over time and tend to collapse causing the dog’s airway to suddenly narrow.
A cough is therefore triggered any time there is an air pressure change in the dog’s trachea and the trachea ends up collapsing, explains veterinarian Dr. Gabby. A collapsed trachea in dogs causes a distinct coughing sound that is often compared to a “goose honk” or a “seal barking.”
The cough is often triggered by excitement, pulling on the collar or drinking water. The reason why coughing seems to occur more at night, is likely connected the angle of the neck being positioned in a different way than during the day.
A Heart Problem
A night-time cough in dogs may be due to heart-related problems. The cough may start during the night initially, and then may progress to becoming a daily occurrence, happening throughout the day.
Coughing due to heart problems may occur because the heart might not be pumping as it should causing fluid to leak into the lungs. The fluid in the lungs is what may therefore triggering the coughing.
In dogs with an enlarged heart, the expansion may cause the heart to put pressure on the dog’s airway (mainstem bronchi), triggering the cough reflex, explains veterinarian Dr. Karen.
A heart disorder often seen in older small dog consists of chronic mitral valaval disease, while large dogs are more likely to suffer from congestive cardiomyopathy.
Why do heart conditions cause coughing at night in dogs? Dogs with heart problems tend to cough more at night because when they are lying down and this position tends to compromise lung space, explains veterinarian Dr. Katz.
A heart problem is often suspected in dogs who seem to be weak or tire easily and can be confirmed by running a few tests.
Diagnosing the Cough
What happens at the vet’s office when your dog presents with a cough? Your vet will likely ask you several questions about when the coughing first started, if your dog has been around other dogs, if there have been any recent changes and he /she may ask for a description of the cough. Recording the coughing behavior and letting the vet look and listen to it can be very helpful.
Your vet will then likely listen to your dog’s heart and lungs for signs of heart murmurs, abnormal heart beats and abnormal respiratory sounds. Listening to your dog’s heart though will not reveal whether the heart is enlarged or if there is fluid in the lungs.
Your vet may therefore decide to perform neck and chest x-rays to check for problems in your dog’s throat, heart or lungs. If the vet thinks it’s worthy, an ultrasound of the heart may be helpful along with a referral to a veterinarian specializing in cardiology.
Dog Night-Time Cough Treatment
Treatment for dog night-time coughing may vary based on the underlying causes. For example, if your dog has been around other dogs and your vet suspects kennel cough, your vet will likely send you home with a cough suppressant medications, and possibly antibiotics, if there is a secondary bacterial infection. The good news is that kennel cough usually run its course over a period of one to two weeks.
Dogs with a collapsed trachea get better with oral medications; however surgical repair (the placement of a stent to keep the airway open) is sometimes needed for severe cases.
Heart conditions in dogs are managed/ treated accordingly based on the vet’s findings. Your dog may need water pills to remove the excess fluids and heart medications.
Drugs that are often prescribed for dogs with a cough include cough suppressants and bronchodilator drugs such as butorphanol, hydrocordone, theophylline, and the over-the counter, dextromethorphan/ guaifenesin (Robitussin DM, without pseudoephedrine). These medications should be only given under the guidance of a vet.