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Dr Pete
Dr Pete, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 3009
Experience:  Bachelor of Veterinary Science (University of Melbourne, Australia)
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We have a 6 year old shepherd/pit bull/lab mix, female, good

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We have a 6 year old shepherd/pit bull/lab mix, female, good health, no problems, very sweet disposition-so much so that she is our constant companion. Weight is about 65-70 pounds; active-and more so since we got a new german shepherd puppy recently (both dogs were abandonded but have been in good health always). Tonight she started coughing pretty regularly, and frequently spitting up a white or clear foXXXXX XXXXXquid. She coughs more without spitting up, and sometimes immediately swallows it instead of letting it out. However, she has actually spit up small amounts about 15 times in the last 4 hours. She ate well this evening and the food does not appear to be part of what she is spitting up, only a foamy or clear liquid. Nose is warm. I've never seen this before; I have seen the dog park cough, but this seems different. Not overly lethargic, it's bedtime, and she is wiling and able to walk around and follow us. Any ideas how to stop the cough and discharge, or what this is?
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr Pete replied 7 years ago.


So I can help with this can I ask you a few questions first. Please try to answer them all as best you can.

  1. Is her exercise tolerance still good? Still runs around on her walks without suddenly tiring?
  2. Would you consider her to be overweight, underweight or average? Has she lost or gained weight lately?
  3. Look at her breathing pattern (not the cough). Normal? Rapid? Laboured?
  4. Look at her gums. Red, pink, pale or grey?
  5. Any eye or nose discharge?
  6. Vaccinations up to date?
  7. The pup is well? How long have you had the pup?

Thanks, Peter

Customer: replied 7 years ago.

1.. This just came on tonight, but energy level seems ok.

2. Average, no changes lately.

3. Normal

4. Dark pink

5. No discharge; warm nose

6. Yes, vaccinations are up to date

7. Pup is fine, about a month.

Note: we have a large yard and she does run in the bushes sometimes; also have owls, rats, etc. in neighboring yards but she doesn't eat things laying around; sticks to her food or treats we give her; some chicken or lean meat on rare occasions. She is resting comfortably right now without coughing but has been starting again when she's up.

Expert:  Dr Pete replied 7 years ago.

Hi again

Thanks for the extra information.

Coughing is a very common complaint that we see in practice regularly. Initially the important issue is to determine where the cough originates….so it can be throat, windpipe, bronchi or lungs. As a general rule (but not absolutely) coughs that are deeper (the lungs in particular) carry greater importance and urgency.

Her breathing pattern is normal and her gums are pink and she is fairly well otherwise so this makes a serious lung problem (like pneumonia) much less likely. Coughed up white foam is generally caused by a mixture of inspired saliva and respiratory tract secretions. We can see this with inflammation/infection in the throat and windpipe primarily but it can originate from the lower bronchi and lungs. Heart disease is common in large dogs and can cause the patient to expectorate a white foamy material. But with heart disease we will usually also see some alteration to the breathing pattern and poor exercise tolerance. She seems ok in that way.

So you can see that there are a few options here and we need to be careful that we don’t presume this to be just a mild upper respiratory allergy or infection. If this persists then she must be assessed by a vet soon.

However her pink gums, good general health and bright disposition suggests we have no imminent serious state so it’s reasonable to treat this conservatively over the next few hours until a vet is available if the problem persists. It may be allergy…perhaps something in the yard (plant species). I don’t see any relevance with the owls and rats though. It may also be a low grade infection as with a pharyngitis or tracheitis. The “dog park cough” you mentioned is usually called Kennel Cough and it is a tracheal cough so it usually manifests as a long series of coughs in a row, but usually without much brought up. I doubt it is that (that was why I asked how long you had the pup and whether she was ok).

If this is an inflammatory cough (allergy or minor infection) we may be able to settle it down in the short term with human medications. The most available for this would be Benadryl Allergy (diphenhydramine). Ensure it is not the combination product (Benadryl Allergy and Sinus). 40 mg would be adequate for her. That would be one and a half of the 25 mg tablets if you have that available. You can repeat the dose every 8 hours if necessary. There are other forms of this medication so please let me know if you’re unsure of the dose.

You could also dose her with a human cough suppressant. Dextromethorphan (Tussinol for dry coughs) is best for this. She could be given a dose of 40-50 mg and it could be repeated every 6-8 hours.

Please note that these medications are for a short term control of the cough and if the cough persists it will need to be investigated by a vet. We still need to consider everything from bronchitis to lung disease, heart disease. Coughing can be an important sign.

Keeping her rested and warm in the meantime is also important. Feed her as normal but avoid milk (it generates respiratory mucus).

I hope I’ve been of help but please contact me back if I can assist further.

Kindest regards, Peter

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