Tuesdays with Tony

Coughing. Dogs do it, horses do it, goats do it, people do it. Cats only very, very rarely cough because we are far more sophisticated than that. But what does it mean? Is it concerning, or is it normal? Well, neither my docs nor I can answer about the people part, but I can divulge some of my vast cat knowledge about the rest of the species.

Coughing Questions

So, you’ve got an animal that’s coughing. Should you have them seen by their veterinarian? First off, if you’re asking that question, then you at least need to call the vet and ask. My docs would always rather see something that could have waited than not see something that couldn’t have waited. Let’s talk about some of the extra information they’ll need to come see a coughing patient.

  • Has the animal traveled anywhere, is it new, or have new animals come into the home?
  • Is there sneezing or nasal discharge as well?
  • Is the animal feeling okay and acting like themselves, or do they feel sick?
  • Have you taken a temperature? If so, what is it? (this mostly applies to large animals)
  • They may ask you to describe the cough, or even video it if that’s possible
  • Does the cough happen after exercise, in the morning, after eating, or just all the time?
  • Is it just the one animal, or is there a group that’s coughing?

The point this friendly feline is trying to make is that there is a whole variety of causes of cough, and they’re going to be different depending on the species and age of the patient. The answers to those questions I’ve listed are going to help my docs determine if your animal needs to be seen today or this week, and if they need to wear extra gear (called PPE, or personal protective equipment).

I’ll go down a rabbit hole for just a second here and talk about something called a reverse sneeze. I know, I know, we’re on coughing, not sneezing. But, when dogs and cats do this thing called a reverse sneeze, it can’t look pretty scary and like they’re coughing and choking. Really, a reverse sneeze is a harmless reaction to airway irritation and is relatively common, especially in dogs. Go on that YouTube place you people like to watch cat videos on and type in “reverse sneeze” for an example of what I’m talking about. If your animal is doing that, it’s probably nothing to worry about, though videoing any behavior that concerns you for your veterinarian is always a good idea.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic


Okay, let’s go back to some of the causes of cough. We’ll start with the tried-and-true patients of Springhill EQUINE: horses. Coughing horses absolutely need a physical exam by a veterinarian. When you call to tell us you have a coughing horse, we’re going to ask you one question right off the bat, so prepare yourself now. Can you guess what it is?

What is the horse’s temperature?

I’m going to be very disappointed if you tell my docs you haven’t taken one yet, and even more so if you say you don’t have a thermometer. Go study my writings on basic preparedness for horses and on horse vital signs for more info. Or watch this amazing video on my YouTube channel. A coughing horse with a fever is a big concern, because we worry about scary things like pneumonia or other severe disease. A coughing horse with a normal temperature still likely needs to be seen, but it might be seen later in the week when you don’t have to pay an emergency fee and my docs don’t have to drop what they’re doing and run to your farm. One of the less scary, common causes of coughing in horses is inflammatory airway disease, or heaves. Check out my writings on that as well. Or listen to our podcast on the topic. Whatever scratches your chin.


Now for ruminants, large and small (that’s cows, sheep, and goats for the uninitiated). The very occasional cough here and there can be “normal.” When I say occasional, I mean something like one time per week or per few weeks, not multiple times per day. If you call about a coughing ruminant, we’re going to ask about nasal discharge, travel history, and other animals in the group. If you’re able to get a temperature before my docs come out, that’s fantastic, but if you aren’t, that’s okay. What isn’t okay is not having a way to corral and restrain your ruminants when my doc comes to see them. It’s no fun having to chase a wily goat around a 5-acre field just to take a temperature.

Dogs and Cats

For dogs and cats, my docs likely won’t ask you to take a temperature at home. We small animals (that’s small in stature, but large in personality, thank you very much) require a much gentler touch than our hooved counterparts, so leave the vetting up to the professionals. What they will ask is all about vaccination and travel history, and about what preventive medications you’ve got your animals on. Prevention for what, you ask? Heartworm, of course. If you aren’t up to speed on that, check out my blog here for all the deets.

Heartworm is one of the major causes of coughing in dogs and can be a cause of coughing in cats as well. If your dog hasn’t been tested for heartworm disease or isn’t on prevention, Dr. Speziok is absolutely going to want to run a heartworm test. The other thing we’ll likely want to do is take chest radiographs. This involves your pet laying on an x-ray plate on both their side and their back to get multiple images of their chest. The doctors are looking at heart and lungs for changes that would indicate disease.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Coughing can also be caused by heart disease such as congestive heart failure, and things growing in the lungs such as fungus or tumors. In cats, coughing is often a sign of feline asthma, which requires multiple medications, usually including inhalers, to manage. I shudder at the thought.

Coughing in dogs and cats can also be caused by infectious agents. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Kennel Cough.” This is a bit of a misnomer because it can happen from any nose-to-nose contact with other dogs or cats, not just from a boarding kennel. Still, dogs that are going to boarding kennels, groomers, trainers, or dog parks regularly should be vaccinated for Bordetella, which is the bacterial vaccine known as the “kennel cough vaccine”. This vaccine, like many vaccines, does not necessarily completely prevent the disease, but it will lessen the severity if your pet does get it.

There is another, more worrisome respiratory disease that dogs should also be vaccinated for when possible, called Canine Influenza. This vaccine isn’t always available, but if your dog is around other dogs at all, they should be vaccinated for flu. The good news with this is that the canine flu virus mutates less often than the human flu virus, so their vaccine works way better than yours.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, coughing is not a simple thing. There are a ton of causes, way more than I’ve gone over here. Coughing is almost never normal, so should always prompt a call to your animals’ veterinarian. They can help direct you to the best next course of action to get your animal feeling back to their normal self.  

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. I’m on a mission to hit 800 subscribers by the end of the year. If you haven’t already, scroll down a bit further to the big purple box and sign up. I promise I won’t send you anything other than a link to my blog every Monday (that’s right, a day before the rest of the world gets it!). That’s a good human, you can do it!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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