What causes older dogs to cough?

Written by donna ferrier
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What causes older dogs to cough?
Coughing in your old dog can signify a serious health problem. (dog image by Ferencz Teglas from Fotolia.com)

Your dog is like a member of the family. Unfortunately, as your pet ages, its body begins to fail and disease ensues. Even a simple cough can signify a serious illness like lung cancer or heart failure. If your old dog starts coughing routinely, let your veterinarian examine your pet immediately to determine the cause and provide proper treatment. Avoid self-medicating your old pup until you discover the cause of the coughing, because treatment depends on the illness.

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Heart Disease

According to the 2nd Chance website, heart disease affects over one-third of dogs above age 10. The cough is caused by an enlarged heart putting pressure on the trachea, combined with fluid in the dog's lungs. According to the Washington State University website, this condition causes heart failure and oedema of the lungs. Veterinarians usually diagnose heart disease using a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram and ultrasound. Treatment includes placing the pet on a low-sodium diet and medicine to eliminate the cough and improve heart function. As the heart disease worsens, your dog will also need medication to regulate its blood pressure.

Paralysis of the Larynx

According to the Pet Education website, paralysis of the larynx, or voice box, occurs when the nerves that control the muscles that open and close the larynx do not function properly, causing voice changes, along with eating and breathing difficulties. This condition most often occurs in older large breed dogs, such as Labradors and golden retrievers, Saint Bernards and Siberian huskies. Symptoms, which can increase in severity with hot weather or exercise, include "hoarse" barking, wheezing and gagging or choking when your pet eats. If your dog can no longer take in enough air to breathe, your veterinarian will surgically implant one or more permanent sutures to hold the cartilage surrounding the larynx open so that your pet can take in sufficient air.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is most commonly transferred through your old dog's blood from other organs, says the Washington State University website. Diagnosis usually requires blood tests to screen your pet's organs and a fecal test for parasites that your dog may swallow, along with chest and trachea X-rays. Your vet will also want to perform a bronchoscopy to examine your dog's airways, or flush fluids into the airways to collect culture samples. If your vet discovers a small tumour localised in the lung, he may simply remove it. Large tumours in the airways can be removed during the bronchoscopy.

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