If your dog experiences a harsh, honking cough, he's probably come down with kennel cough, formally known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis. However, if you have a small, older dog, tracheal collapse is another possible -- and more serious -- reason for the noisy cough. Your veterinarian can determine the cause of your dog's discomfort and help calm it.
If that barking cough results from tracheal collapse, it's not so easy to calm. Also known as the windpipe, the trachea carries air from your dog's nose to his lungs. The trachea consists of a tube with cartilage rings. If those rings start collapsing, initial symptoms include that barking cough. Middle-aged to elderly toy breed dogs are most at risk. After diagnosis via X-rays and tracheal tissue sampling, your vet might prescribe cough suppressants and anti-inflammatories along with medication for airway dilation. Severely affected dogs require surgery to repair the trachea.
Kennel cough in dogs is the equivalent of a human cold. It generally runs its course in a couple of weeks, during which time an affected dog will exhibit a constant honking, hoarse cough combined with gagging. He might sound like he has an object stuck in his throat, but generally he appears fine otherwise. Kennel cough results from infection by an extremely contagious bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. In a worst-case scenario, kennel cough can progress to pneumonia. This occurs primarily in puppies or older, debilitated canines. The bacteria tends to thrive in animal shelters, boarding kennels, dog parks, grooming facilities and other places where dogs come together. An annual vaccination helps protect your pet.
After diagnosing your dog via an examination and blood and urine tests, your veterinarian might prescribe mild cough suppressants for your dog with kennel cough. Although you shouldn't give your dog any medication designed for people without veterinary recommendation, your vet might recommend a cough suppressant formulated for children to help your best friend. However, you can't give a dog products containing acetaminophen, so check the label before you administer a child cough suppressant if your vet advises it.
Honey for Dogs
If you don't like the idea of giving your dog medication to ease his cough, ask your vet about giving your dog a teaspoon of honey a few times daily. This ancient cough treatment helps soothe his throat, and getting your dog to eat it shouldn't cause a problem. You might find honey preparations mixed with medicinal herbs in the pet section of health food stores -- but always check with your vet before giving your dog any over-the-counter medications or supplements.
In addition to some kind of cough suppressant, using a humidifier in your home can make your coughing dog more comfortable. You can also have him join you in the bathroom while you take a shower, or run the shower for him to create steam to soothe his throat and nasal passages.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.