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Dog Trying To Clear Throat As If Something Is Stuck? 14 Causes & Treatment - PawSafe

Dog Trying To Clear Throat As If Something Is Stuck? 14 Causes & Treatment

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dog trying to clear throat

One common issue pet owners may notice is their dog trying to clear their throat frequently, which can sound like something is stuck in their throat, and it can lead to you wondering if they can get a hairball like cats do, or if there’s another more serious issue at hand.

Some behaviors are normal and can sometimes go unnoticed. However, when the same behavior is repeated frequently, chances are your pup is only partially okay. This can be alarming for pet owners, so it is always essential to understand the potential causes, home remedies, and when to seek veterinary care.

In this article, with the help of top medical sources on canine coughing, we are going to talk about possible reasons for a dog trying to clear their throat, treatment, and what we, dog owners, can do to avoid a repetition of the same. So, let us jump right in.

In a 2020 study on coughing in small animals, cough is defined as a vital reflex that serves as a defense mechanism for clearing the airways of foreign material and protecting airways against inadvertent aspiration of materials from the oral cavity.

When pets of different origins are locked together, as in veterinary clinics, they can spread infections, causing diseases like Kennel cough.

Kennel cough, also known as canine infection respiratory disease complex or CIRDC, is a common respiratory infection caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria, and it spreads quickly through contact with infected dogs or surfaces.

As contagious as it is, kennel’s cough has mild clinical signs that resolve without treatment after approximately one week. Now, let us look into the causes of throat-clearing in dogs. 

Causes of Throat Clearing in Dogs

Dogs clearing their throat occasionally is normal and shouldn’t be a concern. They can clear their throat to remove any stuck foreign object from their airways. Especially after they are from walks or playing in the field. 

However, when they are doing it frequently, this is when it should raise an alarm. Frequent throat clearing indicates your dog is not okay and needs supervision. Since there is no one-size-fits-all-all to this, we have outlined why your dog is clearing their throat.

1. Foreign Objects

Foreign objects can include anything from sticks, bones, or even plastics. You can read our article on what to do if your dog eats chicken bones to know how to go about it if you ever find yourself in such a scenario.

If the object is small enough, it may pass through the digestive system without causing any harm. However, more significant things like papers, food wrappers, and rocks can become stuck in the throat, leading to serious health problems.

Some signs that a dog may have a foreign object stuck in their throat include excessive drooling, difficulty breathing, and retching. If you notice these symptoms, acting quickly to prevent further complications is essential.

Prevention is critical when it comes to foreign objects in dogs. Keep small things out of reach and supervise your dog when eating to prevent them from swallowing large pieces of food. Taking these simple precautions can help keep your furry friend safe and healthy.

2. Hairballs

It is possible that dogs consume things they shouldn’t, like their fur, after grooming themselves. Dogs with longer coats are more prone to this, although it isn’t very common.

Still, licking their fur while grooming can lead to hairballs forming in their throats, leading to coughing when trying to clear their throat. Hairballs are usually made up of hair but can also contain other materials, such as grass or dirt.

Symptoms of a hairball in a dog’s throat

When a dog has a hairball stuck in its throat, it can be a very uncomfortable experience for them. Some common symptoms of a hairball in a dog’s throat include:

  • Persistent coughing or gagging: If your dog is coughing or gagging frequently, it could indicate a hairball stuck in their throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing: A hairball can make it difficult for your dog to swallow food or water, leading to dehydration and other health issues.
  • Loss of appetite: If your dog is not eating or drinking as much as usual, it could indicate a hairball stuck in their throat.

3. Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection that affects dogs. It is caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria, including the canine parainfluenza virus and the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. The infection is spread through the air when an infected dog coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough, which may sound like the dog is trying to clear something from their throat. The cough may be accompanied by gagging or retching; in some cases, the dog may bring up a white foam or phlegm. 

Frequent coughing leads to a painful throat, making the dog lose their appetite, leading to lethargy and sometimes fever. Dogs commonly get Kennel cough when mixed with other dogs from different origins, like in animal treatment shelters and veterinary clinics. 

Kennel cough is usually a mild illness. However, most dogs recovering should be isolated for two to three weeks to avoid spreading the infection to other dogs. The condition can sometimes progress to pneumonia, especially in young puppies or dogs with weakened immune systems. In these cases, veterinary treatment is necessary.

Prevention of kennel cough involves vaccination against the disease. The vaccine is usually given as a nasal spray or injection and is effective in preventing the infection in most cases. 

4. Allergies

Dogs can sometimes develop allergies that cause them to cough or gag as if they have something stuck in their throat. Various allergens such as pollen, dust, mites, or certain foods can cause this. 

In some cases, antihistamines or other medications may be prescribed to help manage allergy symptoms. It is essential to follow the veterinarian’s instructions carefully when giving medicines to a dog.

It is crucial to identify the allergen and remove it from their environment. If a dog’s coughing or gagging persists despite efforts to manage their allergies, it is essential to seek veterinary care. 

5. Trachea Collapse

Trachea collapse is a common condition in dogs that can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing in dogs. It occurs when the cartilage rings that support the trachea weaken and collapse, causing the airway to narrow. Toy and miniature breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pomeranians, are more prone to trachea collapse.

In the video above, you can see that Pug with a collapsing trachea can sound a lot as though something is stuck in their throat and they are trying to clear it.

Symptoms of trachea collapse include a honking cough, especially during exercise or excitement, difficulty breathing, and a bluish tint to the gums and tongue. In severe cases, dogs may collapse or faint.

The causes are unknown. However, obese dogs and dogs with heart disease and other chronic infections are more susceptible to this condition. Trachea collapse can be managed by weight loss for overweight dogs, avoiding over-excitement, and medication to reduce inflammation. 

It is important to note that trachea collapse can be a life-threatening condition if left untreated. If your dog is showing signs of trachea collapse, it is crucial to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

6. Laryngeal Paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis is a common condition in dogs that can cause difficulty breathing and a distinctive cough that sounds like something is stuck in their throat. It occurs when the muscles that control the opening and closing of the larynx, or voice box, become paralyzed or weakened.

The condition is commonly seen in older, large-breed dogs such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and St. Bernards. It can also be seen in dogs with underlying neurological conditions such as degenerative myelopathy. See the video below of an elderly Golden Retriever with laryngeal paralysis looking as though he is trying to clear his airways:

Symptoms of laryngeal paralysis can include a change in the sound of the dog’s bark, difficulty breathing, coughing, and gagging. In severe cases, the dog may collapse or lose consciousness due to a lack of oxygen.

Treatment for laryngeal paralysis typically involves surgery to open the airway and allow for easier breathing. This may affect a laryngeal tieback, in which a suture holds the larynx open permanently.

In some cases, medication may be used to manage the symptoms of laryngeal paralysis, but surgery is often necessary to provide long-term relief. It is essential to consult with a veterinarian if you suspect your dog may be suffering from laryngeal paralysis, as early diagnosis and treatment can improve the outcome for your pet.

7. Reverse Sneezing

Dogs sometimes make a strange honking or snorting sound that can alarm their owners. This sound is known as reverse sneezing, a common occurrence in many breeds of dogs.

Irritation of the soft palate and throat causes reverse sneezing. It often occurs when a dog is excited, after exercise, or when they are pulling on a leash. Allergies or irritants in the air can also trigger it.

During a reverse sneeze, a dog will rapidly inhale air through their nose, making a snorting or honking sound. They may also extend their neck and appear to be choking or gagging. 

While reverse sneezing may sound alarming, it is a common and harmless occurrence in dogs. By understanding the causes and triggers of reverse sneezing, owners can help keep their furry friends healthy and happy.

8. Bronchitis

Bronchitis is characterized by sudden or long-term inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the air passages that lead to the lungs. Symptoms of bronchitis in dogs include coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and a raspy or hoarse voice. In some cases, dogs may also experience fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever.

Bronchitis often occurs in dogs previously affected by respiratory diseases. Other possible causes of bronchitis in dogs include viral or bacterial infections, parasites, diseases of the mouth, and exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke or dust.

Bronchitis affects small breeds more than large breeds, and dogs exposed to cold, damp environments may also be more susceptible to bronchitis.

Treatment for bronchitis in dogs typically involves medication and lifestyle changes. Antibiotics may be prescribed if a bacterial infection is present, while anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce inflammation in the airways. In addition, owners may be advised to change their dog’s environment, such as keeping them away from smoke or dust and ensuring that they are kept warm and dry.

9. Canine Influenza

Canine influenza, commonly known as dog flu, is a contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. There are two strains of canine influenza virus: H3N8 and H3N2. Both strains were found initially in horses and birds and then spread to dogs.

The most common sign is a cough lasting 10 to 21 days despite treatment. Canine Influenza can also be why your dog has a runny nose. Other symptoms include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog, as well as through contaminated objects and surfaces. Prevention of canine influenza includes vaccination, good hygiene practices, and avoiding contact with infected dogs.

If a dog is suspected of having canine influenza, isolating them and seeking veterinary care is essential. In severe cases, treatment may include supportive care, such as fluids and rest, and antiviral medication.

10. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lungs and airways that causes breathing difficulties, leading to an oxygen deficiency in the blood. Pneumonia is a severe condition when the lungs become inflamed, causing difficulty breathing and coughing.

Four types of pneumonia in dogs include

  • Bacteria Pneumonia;
  • Viral Pneumonia;
  • Mycoplasma Pneumonia; and
  • Fungal Pneumonia.

Injury to the mucous membrane and inhalation of irritants can cause pneumonia, and factors include bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Immuno-compromised dogs or those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to developing pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia in dogs include coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. If untreated, pneumonia can lead to more severe complications, such as respiratory failure and death.

Treatment typically involves antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and supportive care. With prompt treatment, most dogs recover fully from pneumonia.

11. Lung Flukes

Lung flukes are parasitic flatworms that can infect dogs when ingest an infected intermediate host, such as a snail or a frog. Once inside the dog’s body, the flukes migrate to the lungs, where they can cause inflammation, coughing, and even pneumonia.

Symptoms of lung fluke infection in dogs may include intermittent coughing, lethargy, and weight loss. In some cases, the symptoms may go unnoticed but can lead to Lung Bullae, causing spontaneous pneumothorax, a collapsed lung.

Preventing lung fluke infection in dogs involves avoiding exposure to infected intermediate hosts, such as snails and frogs, and ensuring that dogs do not eat raw or undercooked fish, which can also be a source of infection. Regular deworming and veterinary check-ups can help detect and prevent lung fluke infection.

12. Tumors in the Larynx and Trachea

Dogs can experience tumors in their larynx and trachea, leading to difficulty breathing and swallowing. These tumors can be benign or malignant and can grow slowly or rapidly.

According to the MSD manual, tumors of the nose and sinuses account for 1% to 2% of all canine tumors. It is also stated that long-nosed and medium-nosed breeds are more prone than short-nosed breeds.

Symptoms of tumors in the larynx and trachea include persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, and changes in the sound of the dog’s bark. In rare cases, the animal might cough up blood. 

Treatment for tumors in the larynx and trachea may involve surgery to remove the cancer, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. The type of treatment depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the dog’s overall health.

13. Nasal Mites

Nasal mites are more common in outdoor dogs, especially those who spend time around other animals. They can be spread through contact with infected animals or contaminated objects like bedding or toys.

Giant breeds and dogs older than three years have more incidence than small breeds. Symptoms of nasal mites include bleeding from the nose, facial itching, nasal discharge, and excessive sneezing.  Other less specific signs include coughing and collapse.

It’s important to note that while nasal mites can be uncomfortable for dogs, they are not usually life-threatening. With prompt treatment, most dogs can fully recover and return to their normal activities.

14. Heart Disease & Failure

Heart disease is an abnormality of the heart. On the other hand, heart failure is any abnormality that results in heart failure to meet the body’s needs. Heart disease can occur without ever leading to heart failure. However, heart failure can only happen if heart disease is present.

Some common symptoms of heart disease in dogs include coughing, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your dog is vital to help prevent heart disease and other health problems.

Treatment for heart disease in dogs may include medication, changes in diet, and lifestyle modifications. Your veterinarian can guide you on the best treatment course for your dog’s specific condition.

Symptoms to Watch For

If your dog is trying to clear their throat, monitoring their behavior and symptoms is important. Here are some things to watch out for:

Coughing or Gagging

Coughing and gagging are regular for dogs. Frequent coughing or gagging, however, indicates something is stuck in their throat. This could be a hairball, a foreign object, or even a symptom of a more severe condition.

Difficulty Swallowing

If your dog is having trouble swallowing, it could be a sign that something is blocking their airway. This could be a life-threatening emergency, so seeking veterinary care right away is essential.

Excessive Drooling

If your dog is drooling excessively, it could indicate nausea or discomfort. This could be caused by several things, including an object stuck in their throat, an infection, or a reaction to medication.

Wheezing or Labored Breathing

Wheezing is a whistling sound your dog produces when they breathe in and out. If your dog is wheezing or having difficulty breathing, it could indicate a severe respiratory issue. This could be caused by allergies causing inflammation, an airway obstruction, an infection, or heart problems.

When to Consult a Veterinarian

While occasional coughing or gagging may not necessarily warrant a trip to the vet, it is crucial to monitor your dog’s symptoms closely. If the symptoms persist or worsen over time, it is best to avoid caution and seek veterinary attention.

It is essential to consult a veterinarian if your dog is experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Persistent coughing;
  • Gagging;
  • Retching;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Lethargy; and
  • Vomiting.

These symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition, such as kennel cough, tracheal collapse, or a foreign object lodged in the throat.

Diagnosing the Problem

If a dog is constantly trying to clear their throat, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. To diagnose the problem, a veterinarian will perform a series of tests to determine the cause of the dog’s discomfort. These may include

Physical Examination

A veterinarian will check the dog’s throat and mouth for any signs of irritation or inflammation during a physical examination. They may also listen to the dog’s breathing with a stethoscope and check for any abnormalities in their respiratory system.

The veterinarian will also check how your pooch walks and stands and whether your dog is bright and alert. If the veterinarian suspects that the dog has something lodged in their throat, they may attempt to remove it using specialized tools.

X-Rays

If the physical examination does not reveal any apparent issues, the veterinarian may recommend taking X-rays of the dog’s chest and throat. X-rays can help identify any foreign objects that may be causing the dog’s discomfort and any abnormalities in the dog’s respiratory system. X-rays can detect pregnancy, enlarged organs, and tumors. 

Blood Tests

In some cases, a veterinarian may recommend blood tests to check for underlying health issues that could be causing the dog’s throat irritation. Blood tests can help identify infections, allergies, and other conditions contributing to the dog’s symptoms.

Treatment Options

If a dog is experiencing difficulty in clearing their throat, several treatment options are available. These include 

Removal of Foreign Objects

If the cause of the dog’s throat irritation is due to a foreign object, such as a bone or stick, it may be possible to remove the thing using an endoscope.

This procedure involves inserting a long, thin tube with a camera attached to it into the dog’s throat. The veterinarian can then visualize the object and use specialized tools to remove it.

Medication

Medication may be prescribed to help alleviate the dog’s symptoms. This can include anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the throat and cough suppressants to help ease the dog’s coughing. In some cases, antibiotics may also be prescribed if the dog has an infection.

Surgery

Surgery may be necessary if the dog’s throat irritation is due to a more severe condition, such as a tumor or growth. This can involve removing the affected tissue or development and may require the dog to be under general anesthesia.

It is essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine the best course of action for a dog experiencing difficulty in clearing their throat. Early intervention can help prevent further complications and improve the dog’s health and well-being.

What are some home remedies for a dog’s hairball cough?

If your dog is coughing and gagging like something is stuck in their throat, they may have a hairball. Luckily, several home remedies can help alleviate the discomfort.

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil can help lubricate your dog’s throat and ease the passage of the hairball. Simply add a teaspoon of olive oil to your dog’s food once a day until the coughing subsides.

2. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a natural anti-inflammatory and can help soothe your dog’s throat. Mix a teaspoon of coconut oil with your dog’s food once a day until the coughing subsides.

3. Warm Water

Drinking warm water can help loosen the hairball and make it easier for your dog to cough it up. Offer your dog a small bowl of warm water to drink.

Prevention Tips

If your dog experiences frequent throat-clearing, there are several things you can do to help prevent this from happening. Here are some prevention tips to keep in mind:

Regular Grooming

Regular grooming is essential to prevent your dog from grooming themselves. Brushing your dog’s coat regularly can help to remove loose hair and prevent your pup from ingesting it.

You can also use a grooming tool to remove excess hair from your dog’s ears and paws, which can also help to prevent hairballs.

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes can also help to prevent throat-clearing in dogs. Make sure your dog is eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fiber. This can help to promote healthy digestion and prevent hairballs from forming.

You can also consider feeding your dog a specialized hairball control diet designed to prevent hairballs from forming in the first place.

Avoiding Allergens

If your dog is allergic, it can cause them to experience throat-clearing. Allergens include dust, pollen, and some foods. Avoid exposing your dog to allergens as much as possible. You can also talk to your vet about allergy medication that can help to reduce your dog’s symptoms.

By following these prevention tips, you can help keep your dog healthy and prevent them from experiencing frequent throat-clearing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I help my dog clear a hairball from their throat?

Try giving them a small amount of olive or coconut oil, as this can help lubricate their throat and make it easier for them to cough up the hairball.

Additionally, ensure they have access to plenty of water, as staying hydrated can help. If the hairball is particularly stubborn, you may need to take your dog to the vet for further treatment.

What is kennel cough, and how is it treated?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is common in dogs. A combination of viruses and bacteria causes it and is typically spread through close contact with other infected dogs.

Symptoms of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough, sneezing, and nasal discharge. Treatment typically involves rest, hydration, and sometimes antibiotics to help fight off the infection.

Why does my dog sound like they are choking at night?

If your dog makes choking sounds at night, it could be due to several factors. One possibility is that they are experiencing acid reflux, which can cause irritation in their throat and lead to coughing and choking.

Another possibility is their underlying respiratory condition, such as asthma or bronchitis.

How can I help my dog with a dry cough and gagging?

Try using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, as this can help soothe their throat and make it easier for them to breathe. Avoid airway irritants like smoke and strenuous exercises, and ensure they have access to plenty of water, as staying hydrated can also help.

If the symptoms persist, it is crucial to take your dog to the vet for further evaluation and treatment.

Conclusion

Dogs clearing their throats is a common occurrence that various factors can cause. Pet owners must be aware of the signs and symptoms of a potential issue, such as coughing, gagging, or retching.

If a dog is experiencing these symptoms, it is best to consult a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. In some cases, a hairball or foreign object may be causing the issue, while in others, it could be a more serious respiratory or digestive problem.

Pet owners can prevent throat irritation in their dogs by providing them with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and keeping their environment clean and free of irritants. 

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.