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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 16500
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian
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My 12 year old chihuahua has a cough that sounds almost like

Customer Question

My 12 year old chihuahua has a cough that sounds almost like he has got a bunch of phlegm in his throat
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 1 year ago.

Hello, my name is***** and I have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.

I'm sorry to hear that Nugget has a cough and I understand that you are concerned about him.

How long has his cough lingered?

Is it seeming to get worse?

How long has he been taking medication?

A cough simply means he is experiencing airway irritation.

A cough can be related to heart disease, including heartworm, lung disease secondary to a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection or tracheal irritation due to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection, or a condition we see more commonly in small breed dogs called tracheal collapse. Rarely we can see a cough secondary to a mass in the chest, although primary lung cancer isn't seen as commonly in dogs as it is in people.

In a dog that comes in contact with other dogs, such as at a boarding kennel, dog park, or a groomer infectious disease is by far the most common cause. Of those kennel cough or infectious tracheobronchitis is one of the most common causes.

Even if he has been vaccinated he can still get sick because we cannot vaccinate against all of the agents that cause kennel cough and some dogs will still get sick even with the vaccine. The good news is that dogs that are vaccinated usually don't get as sick as dogs that haven't been vaccinated.

If he has been coughing for more than 3 weeks with no sign of improvement on his medication then we need to do some testing to look for the reason behind his cough.

In the meantime make sure he gets plenty of fluids, lots of rest as the more active he is then more he will cough, and eats well. Add warm water or low salt chicken broth to his food. The better hydrated he is the better he will feel and the thinner his respiratory secretions will be.

You can take him into the bathroom with you when you take a hot bath or shower so he can breathe the steam which is soothing to his airways and thins mucous, making it easier for him to breathe. You can also use a humidifier in the room he sleeps in,

If the cough is very bad you can use human cough/cold medications with Guaifenesin (an expectorant) and Dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) only such as Benylin or Robitussin DM can help. Give 1 teaspoon per 20 to 25 pounds every 6 to 8 hours. This is only a temporary measure though until we can figure out why he is coughing.

I recommend radiographs of his chest and neck to evaluate his heart and lungs and trachea, a heartworm test and a complete blood count to start, and then further testing depending upon the results of those tests.

Best of luck with your fellow, please let me know if you have any further questions.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
We took him into his vet and they did chest x-rays and did not find a mass or anything. They mentioned trachea collapsing and said that if that was the cause that there was not much they could do about that. He has had this cough for about a month and a half. He seems to be increasingly uncomfortable but is still eating and drinking at a pretty normal pace.
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 1 year ago.

I am glad he is eating and drinking, that may be due to his taking steroids, which stimulates them to eat and drink well. Heart disease usually leads to a poor appetite, and a cough related to heart disease will worsen with steroid use, so if it's stayed static and his appetite has always been good then heart disease is unlikely.

Tracheal collapse is something we manage, not cure, but if that is the issue we can do better at controlling his symptoms.

As far as controlling his tracheal collapse, try to keep him as quiet as possible. The more active he is the more he will cough and the more he coughs the more damage he does to his trachea causing inflammation and weakening his tracheal rings further.

Use humidifiers to moisten the air that he breathes as that is soothing to his airways. You can also take him into the bathroom with you when you run a hot shower or bath so he can breathe in the steam.

Keep his teeth and gums very clean with brushing and antibacterial oral rinses (such as CET rinse). The more bacteria in his mouth the more he breathes the bacteria into his airways which leads to more irritation/inflammation and coughing. Sometimes we need to use antibiotics periodically to keep secondary infections under control. I understand that he is taking Doxycyline now and you aren't seeing much improvement, perhaps another antibiotic could be more beneficial for him. Clavamox, Cephalexin or Clindamycin are all other options.

I would add a bronchodilators (like theophylline) and a cough suppressants (like hydrocodone).

Sometimes we need to use oral steroids to reduce tracheal inflammation, which he is taking, but I use them along with a cough suppressant and bronchodilator.

Keep him on the light side, the heavier he is the more pressure on his pharynx, airways and chest and the more he will cough.

I recommend using a harness rather than a collar as that will be less irritating to his trachea, putting less pressure on his trachea.

Over the counter cough suppressants you can try are Robitussin DM or Benylin Expectorant. Use only products with Dextromethorphin or Dextromethorphin and Guaifenesin. Never give those with Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Ibuprofen or a decongestant as those are toxic for dogs. Give 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight every 6 hours. The side effect most commonly seen is sleepiness. Do NOT use these along with hydrocodone, rather they are a different cough suppressant to try.

A collapsed trachea puts stress and strain on the heart and reduced amounts of oxygen in the blood with a collapsed trachea can lead to heart disease, heart failure, and organ disease. So while the condition itself isn't deadly, unless the airway completely collapses and no air is moving, the stress on his heart can be harmful and lead to deadly heart failure or other organ failure due to low oxygen levels.

Some dogs are affected enough that surgery becomes an option. If he is doing as poorly as you describe that may be the case with him now, but it is worth trying bronchodilators and another antibiotic with a cough suppressant first.

There are two primary surgery options.

One is more invasive and involves putting artificial plastic rings on the outside of the trachea to support it. This requires a longer anesthetic and more tissue trauma when the rings are placed, but the effects from this procedure should last the longest.

The other procedure involves placing a stent inside the trachea to keep it open. This is less invasive and creates less tissue trauma, and it is a very quick procedure and thus anesthetic time is less. The downside is if the stent shifts or breaks it is no longer effective and may cause more inflammation. With the newer stents available this seems less of a concern.

Best of luck with your pup, let me know if you have any further questions.

Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 1 year ago.
I'm just following up on our conversation about Nugget. How is everything going?
Dr. Kara
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 1 year ago.

Hello, I wanted to check in and see if you had any further questions after reading my response. If you do please feel free to respond with them. If not and you found my information helpful please remember to rate my response positively so I may receive credit for my work thank you, ***** *****