Coughing Older Dog

Congestive Heart Failure is Common & usually Responsive to Treatment


My dog is 16 years old and has not been to the vets in a long time. He has a very bad cough and I have been giving him an herbal product called cough-x. Is this safe? I don’t want him on drugs at his age.


Dr. Nichol:
You are gambling way more than necessary. While there are many causes of coughing in older dogs, congestive heart failure is among the most common and most treatable. There are other possibilities including bronchitis, cancer, collapsing trachea (windpipe), foreign material, infection, and heartworm. For an accurate diagnosis your dog needs a thorough diagnostic workup including chest x-rays, Doppler blood pressure measurement, and an electrocardiogram.


Heart failure sounds horrible but for most older dogs it is a slowly progressing disease caused by gnarled heart valves that don’t work as well as they did back in the day. When the left ventricle (the biggest heart chamber) pumps, a leaky valve will allow some of the blood to squirt backwards into the upper chamber (left atrium) where it came from. Over time the left side of the heart falls behind in its work causing the blood flowing through the lungs to slow down. As that blood sits and waits, some of its fluid seeps through the vessel walls into the airways of the lungs. That’s when the coughing starts. The resulting high blood pressure in the lungs adds even more work load for that poor failing heart.


Many dogs improve dramatically and live much longer, better lives on blood pressure lowering medications like enalapril or benazepril. The diuretic furosemide can help by clearing fluid from the lungs. Sodium restricted diets also make a difference. Get going now. If you wait too long your fine canine senior will be cheated out of the good life he deserves. Herbs have their place but serious disease is best treated by modern medicine.