Coughing is a common symptom of severe heart disease or heart failure in dogs. It is often due to the buildup of fluid in or around the lungs. Coughing is less commonly seen in cats with heart disease. A cat’s cough can be confused with dry heaving or hairballs and it is important to differentiate. Coughing does not solely indicate a problem with the heart. It can be a sign of lung disease, asthma, or other problems in the airways.

To determine the cause of the coughing, your veterinarian will typically start by doing a full examination of your pet. This includes listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. One test your veterinarian may do is attempt to trigger a cough in your pet, so they can hear the cough. They will do this by gently squeezing on your pet’s trachea (windpipe). Normal animals will cough once or twice and then stop. An animal with a coughing problem caused by heart or airway disease may continue coughing after their trachea is released.

Dr. Armelle de Laforcade examining a Pomeranian that is coughing. 

To help your veterinarian diagnose and treat your pet’s cough, try to record a video of your pet’s coughing and answer the following questions:

  • Does my pet cough at certain times of day (for example, when your pet gets excited, after eating, after drinking water, or at night)?
  • Does my pet ever cough up anything? If so, what is the appearance of this material?
  • How frequently does my pet cough (for example, once a week, once a day, many times a day)?

In dogs that have been diagnosed with heart failure and are on furosemide (also known as Lasix or Salix), a worsening cough may indicate worsening heart failure with more fluid in the lungs.  Additional furosemide may be appropriate. Ask your veterinarian whether it is okay to give an additional dose of furosemide for worsening cough, especially if it is accompanied by difficulty breathing or an elevated breathing rate (see below).

Severe cough, especially with difficulty breathing, is an emergency. Veterinary care should be sought immediately.