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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 16316
Experience:  Hello, I am a small animal veterinarian and am happy to discuss any concerns & questions you have on any species.
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Dog coughs up food with lots of phlegm. Not sure what to do!

Customer Question

Molly, my dog is an 8 yr old retriever. The last couple days whenever she eats she "coughs" up her food and has excessive phlegm with it. She is drinking water too however there is a gagging reflex when she tries to swallow. Not sure what to do and the vet I normally go to told me to kept her home and watch her....
She's active and loves water... what made me aware she wasn't feeling normal was when she didn't want to swim. It was when we got home that day I noticed her issues..
Submitted: 4 months ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 4 months ago.

Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you today.

How long has she has these signs?

Is it a harsh cough?

Can she keep anything down?

Any breathing changes?

Are her gums pink or pale/white? Moist or sticky?

Could she have eaten something she should not have (ie bones, toys, rocks, plants, chemicals, etc)?

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
She's been like this for a 3days
And it oesnt even seem like a cough...more or phlegm stuck and she's trying to clear it out no breathing changes and her gums are normal.. she hasn't been around any new environments or changes in routine
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 4 months ago.

Thank you,

Now given Molly’s signs, we do have a few concerns. If she is coughing but bringing up food, we’d have to be wary of an upper airway infection (ie bacteria like Bordetella or viruses like Parainfluenza) but also possible tracheal inflammation (from irritation, inflammation, or infection). Both can sensitize the throat to cause her swallowing, throat clearing, struggling with food/water, and a cough.

With this in mind, if she isn’t settling after 3 days then we cannot just keep her at home to wait this out and will need to have her seen. If her vet is concerned about her bringing an infectious agent into the practice that other visiting dogs could catch, then they can see her in the parking lot or offer a home visit. That way we can get her checked for the above, rule out any other worries (ie heartworm, lungworm, heart disease, bronchitis, etc), and get her onto treatment to clear this quickly.

Any delay in having her seen and I would note that you can at least try to soothe her throat with plain over the counter glycerin/honey cough syrup (with no drugs in it) or even plain honey. Both can be very soothing to the irritated and tickly throat. Typically we will give a 1-2 milliliter (~1/4-1/2 teaspoon) as needed. Alternatively, you can try Robitussin DM with her. I would just say to make sure to use this preparation and avoid any similar syrups that may contain other medications like Paracetamol, Acetaminophen, Pseudoephedrine, Phenylephrine or caffeine (since these can be toxic). If it also contains Guaifenesin that is okay. Dose-wise, we tend to give this as 1/2 (half) teaspoon per 10lbs of the dog's body weight every 8-12 hours. Again, this can reduce the irritation that is triggering her coughing fits until her vet can have a check.

Overall, your lass’s signs and history are most suspicious of a bacterial or viral upper respiratory infection but tracheal issues are also a concern with these signs. And if this has been ongoing for 3 days already, then we'd want to soothe her throat with one of the above options +/- offer soft foods (to avoid any more throat irritation) until her vet can see to her and get her onto treatment to nip this in the bud.

All the best,

Dr. B.