Dog coughing and gagging
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Almost two years ago I noticed that my senior pug Beans was gagging after she would eat. At first it was only happening after she ate, so the vet suggested she may be eating too fast, or not chewing well enough. She had been on the same food for years, but we decided to try one that is specifically for small dogs and comes in really small kibble pieces. That didn’t help her stop gagging. We bought a slow feed bowl to help her eat slower, and that did help a little bit but she still gagged some.

Slowly over time we noticed her coughing more frequently throughout the day. For example, she would cough after playing or getting excited/panting. We mentioned it to the vet again at a later date and because she gets anxious/excited while at the vet they were able to observe some of the coughing. They took some blood work, and listened to her heart to rule out a few other possibilities. Then the vet listened to her neck area by putting a stethoscope there. He said he could tell that there was a ‘rattle’ in her throat which lead him to believe she had a collapsing trachea.

Coughing and gagging in a dog.

He explained that trachea collapse is common in a lot of smaller dog breeds including pugs. He told us that it was great that they were wearing harnesses and not collars because collars are really problematic for dogs with a collapsed trachea. Shortly after we brought the pugs home I read up on pug-care and read that harnesses are safer than collars so they have always used a harness if they are going to be attatched to a leash, at least since they have lived with us. He said sometimes surgery is suggested, but at her advanced age (13 at the time) he wouldn’t recommend putting her through it.

Instead, he gave us a cough suppressant. Since then we have kept her on the cough suppressant year-round. We considered switching to canned food, and we may still do that in the future. However, for now we add water to her kibble and let it set for about 5 minutes before serving it to her, to soften the food and that keeps her from coughing or choking at all.

While the medication helps a lot, it doesn’t prevent her from ever coughing. She still coughs especially if she gets excited or pants. Sometimes she will have days where she coughs a lot more than others. The vet has told us that things that may trigger allergies or asthma symptoms in people with those conditions, may also trigger more coughing in dogs with tracheal collapse.

For example, dust, pollen, changes in weather, chemicals in cleaning supplies, etc. I am careful to not use cleaning supplies while she is in the room, and to dust and vacuum when she isn’t close by as well. Still, there are just “bad coughing days” for her.

trachea collapse pug coughing and gagging

When people visit our house, our dogs tend to get excited which means Beans will end up coughing a lot more than she does when we are just hanging out at home without visitors. I try to explain to everyone who sees her that while she coughs a lot when they see her, she doesn’t always cough that way, and that we are treating her condition.

I also try to comment to others in the waiting room at the vet about it because many associate a dog coughing with kennel cough which can be contagious, while collapsing trachea is not something another dog can catch from Beans, so I don’t’ want them to worry about being in close quarters with my dog while in the waiting room.

While I wish that Beans didn’t have this issue, it is something we have lived with pretty easily. She is still happy and playful and doesn’t seem distressed by the coughing at all. The vet says it is not a fatal condition, it is just something to manage so that is what we do.

Do you have a dog with coughing and gagging? Or has your dog been diagnosed with tracheal collapse? I’d love to hear your experience including any tips or tricks for keeping your dog happy and comfortable.

 


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This post currently has 25 responses.

  • Lauralee Hensley

    I wish I could get my husband to listen to me that a harness is better for little dogs but alas he still insists our little Brutus wear a dog collar. However, Brutus is young and is not coughing. He’s a Min Pin/Manchester Terrier mix. Glad your vet figured out what was going on with your pug Beans. I know if I was in a vet’s office I’d want to know why another dog was coughing and that is nice that you explain why to the people around you.

    • We used harnesses on our pugs since we got them in 2014 and Beans started coughing in 2017. So if her trachea collapse was a result of collar use, the damage must have been done years before symptoms started. Their previous owner did give us collars for them so I assume she had used the collars on them. Of course, it’s impossible for us to know if Beans’ issues would have happened regardless of the previous collar use or not. We had just used the collars from the beginning because we thought, better safe than sorry.

  • Michelle S

    My coworker told me his little dog is susceptible to that also. He has used a harness on her from the beginning.

  • Jeanine Carlson

    We have a Westie that has a cough from time to time. It doesn’t seem to come from doing anything and it’s not frequent enough that we’d ever be able to reproduce it for the vet but I would hope it’s not anything like what Beans is experiencing. I just hate it when Frosty coughs because I don’t know why he’s doing it.

  • katie

    How scary! I think our senior corgi mix might have this too. I felt bad because I thought he was doing it for attention and a quick google search came up with trachea collapse. I will definitely start putting water on his food to see if it helps.

  • Debra Henning

    Hi, Emily! I’m hoping to share some of my experiences in raising 4 pugs. I’m glad you checked with a vet and he/she offered suggestions. Never used collars and only used harnesses in public. All of my pugs developed “the cough”. Gave my pugs one benadryl in the morning and before bedtime. This seemed to ease the cough but never went away. Three of my beloved pugs lived to be 14 years old. The fourth one is still with me and she will be 15 in July. My pug family consisted of the father, mother, brother & sister. Maybe it is hereditary?? Maybe a Pug trait?? I am not a vet so what seemed to ease them & me may not work for you. I wouldn’t trade my years with the pugs for anything else!!

    • We were told that trachea collapse (which causes the coughing) is more common in small dog breeds including pugs so I do think that is a big part of it. The watering down of the food and having her take prescription cough medicine doesn’t completely stop the coughing, it just reduces it. We will have had our two pugs for 6 years as of next month, and we were told they are 8 and 9 then, so I guess they are 14 and 15 now (or will by next month). The cough got bad about a year ago as we had to go in this week for a 1-year check-up in order to continue getting the cough suppressant refills. So, with it being somethin that only became problematic around age 14 and because she isn’t unhappy living this way, I feel like ti’s very manageable. Also, we were told that anything that can irritate allergies or asthma can irritate trachea collapse, such as pollen, other allergens, dust, chemicals, etc. So it sort of makes sense that benedryl might help with the symptoms a bit. 🙂 We have never given benedryl for the cough but my other pug is allergic to flea bites so in the past when we have had flea issues we were told we could give him 25mg benedryl and it definitely helped with his itchiness.

  • Melanee

    Thank you for the info, I’m sorry your pugs have this but am grateful to know Yours are doing better and it is not fatal. I have two pugs 15 and 11. Oliver, the older pug has been gagging now for a couple of months. My other pug Mijo has it as well. He gets so excited when I come home it’s like he coughs and almost can’t breathe. I love my pugs so much I don’t want them suffering. My vet also has pugs. She prescribed rimadyl, it is a pain reliever and anti inflammatory. I give them Benadryl when I am out of the rimadyl. Both have helped. I think having three dogs and a cat really takes a toll on their allergies. My chug sheds so bad. She is fawn and sheds much more than the black pugs. I vacuum every two days and wash their bedding and mine every week. I am considering getting an air filter to see if that helps. Your pugs are old and look so sweet like mine. Thanks again.

  • Boyd bowser

    Thank you for your post. I have a 15 year old pug that is going through the same thing Beans is going through. I will prepare that it is for the rest of her life. I will try to make it as happy/ comfortable as I can.

  • Debbie

    I have a 9 yr old pug. Been treating her with Benedryl for allergies, usually 1 a day. But, today she started with that deep cough, gagging. Man is that a scary thing! I petted her neck, throat , head, + her back still coughing, my husband took her to the emergency vet. To be checked out! She been coughing/ gagging every half hr.

    • Sorry to hear that – hope it doesn’t turn out to be anything too serious. My dog’s progression with this was quite slow but I have heard of others saying it can be very sudden onset. I know sometimes when it’s sudden it’s the result of a trachea injury but I have no idea if it happens suddenly without an injury as well, or not.

  • Julie

    Hi. My sweet Foxy started the cough with the gag over the weekend. She has had these white mucus attacks from her nose that cause her to collapse as she cannot breathe. I’m thinking this might come with allergies as it happens infrequently. She may also have an enlarged esophagus so I hold her up right after eating. Digestion hasn’t been her friend but she hasn’t been challenges with the cough and gag before like this. I put her on an antibiotic and cough suppressant Sunday to be safe as I was worrrid she might have a respiratory infection. The cough seems to stop during the day and she didn’t cough much today in her walk but it comes on at night. I appreciate everyone’s stories. Foxy will be 16 early Aug. so she has done great and just hope she can continue but this does take a lot out of her. Will keep you posted. Thank you again for sharing! This info really helps. I plan to ask about Benadryl since that seems to work for others. Wishing you and your family good health!

  • Lola

    We have 3 toy poodles, our male 13 year old was diagnosed with collapsed trachea about a year ago. The other 2 girls aged 13 and 11 are fine. Our vet said it can happen from the age of 6 usually so I guess Benji is lucky he made it to 12 before it became a problem. He used to cough only on walks but now it’s when he eats too fast, drinks water, gets too excited, with exercise or barks. He seems to respond well to a soothing voice and gentle back stroking which helps him relax and stop coughing. The vet did say it’s not fatal or painful but it is very sad for us to see him experiencing this. In our Benji’s case it feels worse because he also has cataracts and needs a lot of reassurance that he’s not being left on his own.

    Some days it does seem worse than others but on good days he is like a puppy again and very playful.

  • Kari

    Hi there! How is beans doing?

    This January, our pug Bailey started the dry cough too. He would do it when he wakes up, or after getting excited, or after a good belly rub. He turned 13 in March so it’s been concerning.

    He was on a cough suppressant and it helped a bit, but he’s back to doing it. I’m just worried it could be serious and cause him to stop breathing. I’m relieved to see this happens with pugs.

    Bailey is on a harness always for walks, no collar for him!

    • Beans is still about the same. We haven’t found a cough suppressant that has worked all that well for her, and we’ve had her to the vet a couple time to re-confirm that it is just collapsing trachea and not heart trouble or anything else and our vet always says it’s definitely just her throat. But she doesn’t seem to be in pain so she just lives with the coughing. July will be 7 years since we brought her home and we were told she was 9 then so I guess she’s about 16 now.

  • Zoe

    I am so appreciating this post and the replies. Our pug Olive is 13 and started this cough/gag thing over the past year. It’s maybe a few times a day and not severe, and have already been using a harness and watering her food. It’s good to know I could try a medication if it got worse. Now if she would just let me cut her nails and brush her teeth!

  • Thanks for your informative post. My 14-year-old Min Pin has what seems like the same condition. He’s also slowed down and lost a lot of stamina, especially in warmer weather–in the past view months–much shorter walks than even a few months ago–and the gagging and wheezing at the same time has been going on for about a month at the most. Sometimes it’s worse than other times. I was wondering if he had heart trouble and was just thinking of taking him to the vet when I googled the problem and got your story. Hope your dog is well 🙂
    John

    • Thank you, she’s pretty old but she’s still kickin’ and is still happy so we’re grateful. :). I would advise going in to have his heart checked out, if you haven’t had it checked since his coughing started, because coughing can be heart related issues, as well. We’ve seen a couple of vets for the coughing and they listen to her neck/throat area with a stethoscope and her chest with a stethoscope as well and are able to determine that way whether the source is heart or throat, so it’s a fairly quick and easy visit. I have a friend who had a dog who coughed as a result of heart disease and getting fluid in his lungs as a result, and they were able to medicate him for a few years to keep him feeling good.

      • It’s strange, because last night I loosened his harness (which goes around the front legs so can put pressure on his chest) and took him on a walk today and I haven’t heard him gag even one time! But I think that just released pressure and the cool air made him perkier. I do plan on getting him a check up soon. Thanks again for your comments!

  • Warren

    Our pug is almost 13. He began coughing a year ago and it’s gotten to a point that he can’t go for much of a walk. In addition to his cough, his back legs aren’t very strong and so my wife and I wheel him to the park daily to play.
    The vet believes he has respiratory issues due to collapsed trachea and an enlarged heart.
    We’ve got him on very small doses of a steroid daily (prednisone), a small dose of a pain drug (gabapentin), a heart med (vetmedin) and some cough suppressant (hycodan syrup) at night. It seems like a lot, but it helps.
    It’s really hard to know what to do in a situation like this. He is very happy to be around my wife and I and he still LOVES food (though we feed him raw and try to keep his weight down).
    We’re as much of the center of his world as he is ours.

    • I have two pugs and what you listed sounds like a combination of the issues the two of mine have. My Beans has a collapsed trachea and she’s on a diuretic because she gets fluid in her chest, though we’ve done scans and her heart is not enlarged, and multiple versions of blood work we’ve had done all came back normal as well so the vet is kinda confused as to what specifically causes the fluid in her chest, and she said she can also see inflammation around her lungs. So we don’t really know the cause but the diuretic helps. Then my Frank got wobbly in his back end a little over a year ago and that has progressed to where he’s been unable to walk for about 8 months now, and totally paralyzed for the last few months. He’s on gabapentin for the nerve pain that comes with that. And once he became incontinent we started using diapers on him, but of course they aren’t the most breathable for the skin so we had issues with a rash at first, but the vet suggested a steroid to keep his skin more ‘chill’ in general and since then have had no issues with more rashes, thankfully. We’ve had conversations multiple times about how we know when ‘its time’, it’s such a difficult and personal decision. I’m lucky in that I work from home so I’m able to be here to care for them which make things like diapers doable. I don’t have children yet so I’m able to focus on my dogs more than some, i suppose. I know that some people think we’re cuckoo for diapering a dog, carrying him around, bringing a water dish to him, etc but with the meds, he doesn’t seem to be in pain and he still seems happy so even though we realize he’s on “borrowed time” at this point, we just don’t see a need to make the decision until he seems to be suffering and we aren’t there yet.
      Anyway, I can understand how heavy all of that can be, but I also completely understand how it is well worth it when they’re such a special part of your life. Well wishes for you and your pug!

  • Heidi

    Happy to have found this forum. Thanks for posting about this Emily. Our pug is 14 yrs old and developed his cough/gag episodes about a year ago. He had a chest xray recently which found nothing uncommon. Today it is very bad and we are going for an emergency appointment with our vet. I am definitely going to ask about tracheal collapse. It seems to have gotten worse in the last 48 hrs and I am wondering if it’s because of the change in weather. We’re in Norcal and usually have dry hot summers, but this week has been unusually humid. Wondering if that triggered the heightened effect. We’ve always used harnesses. Recently he hasn’t been interested in his kibble, so I started adding a little wet food, but tomorrow I will try to put some water on the wet food as suggested to make it softer. Oh these little puggers, he’s the remaining one of two and I just couldn’t bear to say goodbye yet!

  • Heidi

    Also Emily, our eldest pug had the exact same path that your older guy is having. His legs started to be weak, then over the course of time we was unable to use his back legs at all. We work from home so we were able to have him on a washable material puppy pad, which helped with cleanup. We found the diapers to be too messy and he was getting urine scold. He was so sad, so agitated. He would bark constantly if we left the room. It was heartbreaking. He was on gaberpentin and rimadyl and eventually steroids. In December we had to make the difficult decision to let him cross the bridge and had a vet come to our home to help him pass. It was heartbreaking, and i know all too well how difficult that decision is. My vet once said “you have to ask yourself if there’s any quality of life left. Can he run? Can he play? Can he still enjoy himself”. Once we were able to answer (regretfully) no to all of those questions, we knew it was time. I am sending you love and light as it’s so hard to watch your fur baby decline in this way. He was almost 15 years. His brother (who I talk about in my previous post) is 14. xo

  • Jaime

    Our Otis pug was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea when he was about 11 years old. By the time he was 13 the coughing (sometimes choking) was to the point his quality of life was poor. He coughed constantly even when he was sleeping. It was heartbreaking. We decided we needed to put him down. Such a hard time. I will never forget bring him home from the vet and holding him in a blanket while my husband was digging his grave in our backyard. The sound of him not coughing was deafening. He was finally at peace. Such a precious boy he was! I still miss him. It’s been seven years. Enjoy every day with your Beans! 💕

    • Sorry to hear about your Otis :(. That’s so sad that he was even coughing while sleeping, it’s hard to imagine that. Our Beans was diagnosed probably 3 years ago now? She’s 16 now. She doesn’t cough constantly though, thankfully. She tends to have coughing fits when she gets up from laying down, when she gets really excited (which she does every night when we get ready for bed…she LOVEs going to bed, lol), or if we pick her up. In 16 year old pug fashion, she spends 90% of her day just laying somewhere, usually real close to me. When she’s just hanging out, she doesn’t cough most days. She does have the occasional off day where she does seem to cough more, my theory is that it’s somehow tied to the weather, maybe. It seems like there’s some correlation with her having a bad coughing day the day of, or the day before, we get a storm. Not sure if there is any actual science in that, haha.

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