If your dog is coughing, you are likely desperately seeking medicines for dog cough to calm things down. Drugs used to calm a cough are known as antitussive drugs, but it’s important though to know why your dog is coughing in the first place. Dogs can cough for many different reasons from allergies, to heart problems to infectious diseases, and all these conditions may require different medications.
For instance, dogs coughing from infectious diseases may require antibiotics, dogs coughing from allergies may require corticosteroids while dogs coughing from heart conditions may require heart medications and vasodilators. For dog coughing from inflammatory, non-infectious lung and tracheal problems here is a list of prescription and over-the-counter cough medicines for dogs.
Types of Dog Cough Medications
There are different types of dog cough, therefore does your dog need a cough suppressant, a bronchodilator medicine or an expectorant?
Antitussive drugs are drugs that are meant to suppress coughing, often by reducing the activity of dog’s coughing center of the brain. These drugs are therefore meant to provide relief to a dry, hacking, non-productive cough as seen in kennel cough or a cough secondary to a collapsed trachea. These drugs break the coughing cycle so that the respiratory tract is less inflamed.
Bronchodilators are drugs meant to widen the dog’s air passages by relaxing the dog’s bronchial smooth muscle. With a wider air passage, the airflow increases and dogs have a better time breathing. Bronchodilators are often used in dogs with asthma or collapsed tracheas considering their restricted air passages.
Expectorants are drugs meant to aid the expulsion of mucus from the dog’s air passages of the lungs. It is important to not use antitussive drugs when dogs have a productive, moist cough, as these dogs need to get rid of the phlegm and trapped secretions in the lungs.
Theophylline for Dog Cough
Theophylline (Theo-Dur) is a bronchodilator drug that works by relaxing the dog’s smooth muscles of the bronchi and opening up constricted airways in the lungs. It belongs to a group of drugs known as methylxanthines.
This drug is often prescribed to treat chronic bronchitis in dogs which can be caused by irritants in the dog’s environment or infectious conditions. Theophylline can therefore be used to relieve wheezing, shortness of breath and troubled breathing associated with asthma and COPD. The use of theophylline combined with corticosteroids allows lower dosages of the latter.
Theophylline needs to be used with caution in dogs suffering from heart disease, gastric ulcers, kidney or liver problems and low levels of oxygen in the blood. Side effects of this drug include excitement, insommnia and digestive problems. While theophylline is known for having the potential for causing irritation to the dog’s gastro-interstinal system, aminophylline is an another drug in the methylxanthine group known for producing less GI irritation, explains veterinary internist Dr. John Hoskins. Sustained release formulations are also available for older dogs, but care must be taken that these drugs aren’t crushed or chewed.
Terbutaline for Dog Cough
Terbutaline (Brethine) is a bronchodilator drug meant to open the dog’s airways to the lungs when they are closed because of smooth muscle contraction. With relaxed muscles, the dog breaths better. This drug is often prescribed for dogs with asthma, collapsing trachea, chronic allergic bronchitis, tracheobronchitis and COPD.
Terbutaline takes several hours to provide benefits and therefore is not used for emergencies such as when a dog is having trouble breathing. It should be used with caution in dogs suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, seizures and low levels of potassium in the blood.
Extreme caution is needed in dogs suffering from heart problems. Side effects include increased heart rate, tremors, and dizziness but these effects tend to fade after a brief time. This drug should not be given with theophylline as both drugs, used in combination, may lead to heart damage.
Hydrocodone for Dog Cough
Also known as Tussigon, hydrocodone is a narcotic antitussive, cough suppressant drug meant to suppress the cough reflex of the brain and is therefore generally used to relieve a dry cough. It is also known as Hycodan when it is combined along with homatropine, or Tussinex when it is combined along with phenyltoxamine.
This drug is prescribed for dogs suffering from collapsed trachea, bronchitis and upper respiratory conditions such as kennel cough. Its use is meant for non-productive coughs in dogs and therefore is not recommended for moist coughs with increased secretions.
Hydrocodone, like other narcotics, should not be used in dogs who are hypothyroid, suffer from Addison disease, had recent head trauma or have severe kidney problems. Side effects from using hydrocodone for a dog’s cough include sedation, vomiting, constipation and general digestive upset.
Temaril-P for Dog Cough
Temaril-P is composed by trimeprazine and prednisolone and is used to suppress coughing and relieve any inflammation of the throat caused by kennel cough, allergies and infections. Timeprazine is antitussive and is also an antihistamine, relieving any itching, while prednisolone has anti-inflammatory properties. Generally, the effects are seen within hours of administering the dose and the effects should last 12 hours, gradually becoming more long as administered with more doses.
Because of the addition of a steroid, there are more side effects in dogs from usage of this drug and is not usually used long term. Side effects include sedation, appearance of third eyelid, muscle tremors, weakness, increase in drinking and urination, increased appetite, panting, diarrhea, vomiting, immune system suppression and behavior changes. Long term use may lead to diabetes or Cushing’s disease.
Butorphanol for Dog Cough
Butorphanol, also known as Torbutrol or Torbugesic has powerful antitussive properties (cough suppressant) but also works as a narcotic pain reliever. Butorphanol is often prescribed for breaking the cough cycle of kennel cough or other non-productive types of coughs triggered by inflammation of the dog’s upper airways. Butorphanol is often given by injection after surgery for pain relief purposes.
Butorphanol can cause drowsiness, but some dogs may become over excited. As with other narcotic drugs, it should be used with caution in dogs who are hypotyroid, suffer from Addison disease, had recent head trauma or have severe kidney problems. This drug should not be used in dogs with liver problems or dogs producing a lot of mucus due to lung issues, considering that this drug interferes with removal of mucus by coughing.
Dextromethorphan for Dog Cough
Dextromethorphan is an antitussive drug often prescribed for non-productive coughs. It is often used in dogs suffering from collapsed trachea, chronic bronchitis, and upper respiratory infections such as kennel cough. Because it’s meant to suppress the coughing center in the brain, it is not meant to be used for moist, productive coughs. Because it is not narcotic, this drug offers the advantage of not leading to sedation as narcotic drugs do.
While dextromethorphan is available over the counter under the brand name Robitussin, it should not be given without veterinary consent. Dogs should not be given dextromethorphan products containing other ingredients such as acetaminophen, caffeine, alcohol which can cause death.
Dextromethorphan should be used with caution when there is liver disease or respiratory insufficiency. This drug should also be used with caution in dogs with allergies considering that this drug is associated with histamine release. Side effects include digestive problems, dizziness and occasional drowsiness.
And What About Expectorants?
“The expectorant class of drug is notably absent in small animal medicine” says veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin. Indeed, you won’t find many expectorants used in veterinary medicine. An expectorant that comes to mind is guaifenesin, which is often found in combination with dextromethorphan in Robitussin DM. However, proof for guaifenesin efficacy is lacking, points out Dr. Salkin.
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