Does it sound like something’s stuck in your dog’s throat? Here’s what you need to know!

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Does it sound like something’s stuck in your dog’s throat? Here’s what you need to know!

Occasionally, though, a dog’s cough might sound like they’re trying to remove something stuck on their throat. This type of cough is usually followed by an attempt to retch, called post-tussive retching, which makes it seem like they are trying to get rid of something that may have adhered in the animal’s throat or upper airways. Seeing this from your dog can be worrying for most pet owners, but is it something that you should be worried about? Keep reading to find out!

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Why does my dog gag after coughing?

Most dogs are very vocal and express their feelings through different sounds. They whimper in pain, they growl when threatened, they bark to get others’ attention. In some cases, they produce sounds that can be an indication of a health problem, like retching, sneezing, and coughing.

Dog’s cough when their upper respiratory tract gets irritated or becomes inflamed. This usually happens when a dog develops a respiratory infection or an inflammatory respiratory disease. The cough that dogs produce vary depending on the specific cause and can range from a mild occasional cough to persistent hacking coughing fits.

Post-tussive retching or post-tussive vomiting is characterized by an attempt to vomit after a hacking or excessive coughing episode. This is usually seen in dogs that have been coughing due to pathological reasons, such as respiratory inflammation or infection.

The sound post-tussive retching makes can be concerning for dog owners due to it looking like something is stuck or obstructing the throat or larynx of their pets. However, most dogs that exhibit post-tussive retching are only suffering from mild to moderate respiratory diseases that are usually treatable with medications.

Is something really stuck in my dog’s throat?

If your dog has been retching, coughing, and appears to be removing something from its throat, there’s a chance that a foreign body might be stuck and needs to be removed. While most cases of retching and coughing in dogs are associated with respiratory disease, there are rare instances where a foreign body is partially obstructing the upper airways or larynx causing coughing and retching. Even the smallest foreign body ingested and stuck in the laryngeal area of a dog is enough to cause severe irritation and inflammation and result in persistent coughing and post-tussive retching.

Diagnosis is of utmost importance in trying to determine what the cause of the coughing and post-tussive retching is. Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam to assess if the clinical signs are caused by respiratory disease or a foreign body obstruction. Diagnostic imaging such as radiographs (x-rays) can be helpful if the foreign body lodged in the patient’s throat is relatively big. In some cases, using a contrast medium like Barium Sulfate can help determine the extent of obstruction, an important aspect in deciding if an immediate and aggressive treatment approach is necessary.

Definitive diagnosis can be achieved through an endoscopic exam. This procedure provides real-time visualization of the patient’s throat and larynx to confirm the presence of a foreign body. The instrument used in endoscopic exams, called an endoscope, can have an attachment that will allow your vet to remove the foreign body during the procedure. In cases of laryngeal obstruction by a relatively large foreign body, surgical intervention may be needed.

Other Causes of Coughing in Dogs

Coughing is a common symptom observed in many respiratory diseases in dogs. It is usually triggered when there’s some degree of inflammation along the lining of the animal’s upper and lower respiratory tract. In dogs, several health conditions can result in coughing.

The most common cause of coughing in dogs is a respiratory infection. There are generally 2 types of respiratory infection in dogs - bacterial and viral. Several bacterial infections like Mycoplasma sp. and Bordetella sp. (Kennel cough), and viral infections like Canine Distemper Virus both cause persistent coughing in infected canine patients. Though both types of respiratory infection have similar symptoms and presentation, differentiating between the two is important for successful treatment and control.

Inflammatory diseases are also a common cause of coughing in dogs. Chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and allergic bronchitis can cause persistent coughing in dogs in varying degrees of intensity depending on how severe the condition is.

In cases of inflammatory respiratory diseases in dogs, the lining of the respiratory tract produces a mucous discharge that further irritates and partially blocks the airways. The location of mucus accumulation is usually associated with the segment of the respiratory tract that’s affected or inflamed. Aside from the apparent irritation from the disease, dogs with inflammatory respiratory disease also cough in an attempt to remove the mucus discharge building up in the airways.

This mucus build-up, when located around the laryngeal area, is the most common cause of post-tussive retching in dogs. Mucus build-up in the larynx causes further irritation on the respiratory lining and partial obstruction of the airways, and dogs will attempt to cough and retch to remove the mucus from their throats.

In some cases, mucoid or phlegm-like vomit is expelled during post-tussive retching. The vomit may appear colorless in inflammatory respiratory diseases or can have a tinge of green in color in cases of respiratory infections. In most situations, however, the mucus is too thick for the dog to cough and vomit it out. This can look like the dog is trying to remove something stuck in its throat.

When to Call the Vet

Post-tussive retching in dogs can be caused by several conditions, and a proper diagnosis is necessary to determine the underlying condition. If your dog has been coughing and retching and appears like it’s trying to remove something from its throat, regardless of how frequent or severe the signs are, it’s best to bring your dog to your vet for a proper assessment.

Additionally, signs of systemic or severe illness such as weakness, respiratory distress, decreased appetite, and lethargy will also warrant an immediate veterinary visit. As mentioned, some cases of post-tussive retching in dogs may need prompt veterinary intervention and can be fatal if left undiagnosed or untreated.

Read more:

Collapsing Trachea in Dogs

Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

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Published: 10/22/2021

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