Dog Coughing And Gagging {Senior Pug}

Dog coughing and gagging

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.


Hi there! I am Emily Evert, the owner of Emily Reviews. I am 25 and live in a small town in Michigan with my boyfriend Ryan and our two pugs. I have a large family and I adore my nieces and nephews. I am a calorie counter who loves soda. I budget to save money so I can spend it on my dogs. I love reading memoirs, and learning about child development and psychology. I love watching The Game of Thrones, Teen Mom, Sister Wives and Veep. I like listening to Jason Isbell, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson and Blue October. I created Emily Reviews as a creative outlet to share my life and the products that I love with others.

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This post currently has 7 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.

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