How to help a coughing dog
Just like us, most dogs will pick up a cough at least once (but probably several times) in their lives.
Usually this is nothing to worry about. Just like us, when we get a cold, the cough is irritating, sometimes painful, but otherwise harmless, and just has to run its course.
Of course there can be more serious reasons for a cough, such as a heart condition, a foreign body, pneumonia, or even cancer, and if your dog is unwell or the cough doesn’t disappear, then you should always get this checked out.
Much more often though, a cough is just a mild infection or irritation of the upper airways, and this can usually easily be treated at home.
Even the dreaded Kennel Cough doesn’t usually require conventional medication (occasionally it does). But it can be uncomfortable for your dog, and distressing for you to watch, and we definitely want to support these dogs as much as we can.
Here are some of my favourite tried and tested tips:
Plenty of fresh air:
Our warm homes with central heating tend to have quite dry air, which irritates the airways. Fresh air is always best.
Make sure any rooms your dog spends time in are well ventilated, and the room temperature isn’t warmer than it needs to be, to be comfortable.
Putting some damp towels over the radiators can help to add some moisture to the room air, which makes it easier on the airways. Sometimes a humidifier works wonders.
Avoiding airway irritants:
It goes without saying that you should never smoke inside your home if you have pets (or kids). Even smoking at an open window or door makes most of the smoke come back in. And if your dog already has a cough, second hand smoke will irritate their airways even more.
Cleaning products can irritate dogs’ airways, as can any room sprays, air fresheners, plug ins, scented candles, and even your own perfumes and beauty products.
Avoid using these around your dog.
Short and gentle walks:
This is no time for strenuous activities. Go for easy walks instead.
Wear a harness: dogs that pull on their lead and therefore their collar, even a little bit, will aggravate their cough, as they put that extra pressure onto their already sore airways. A harness is much gentler.
Time to get the dog coats out. If they cover the neck and throat, so much the better. Many dogs like to wear a light coat in the house too. Or they might like to be covered by a cosy blanket.
Make sure there is plenty of fresh water to drink. Refresh the bowl often. With a cough, there can be more saliva build up in the water than usual, and this is not only unappetising, but also a breeding ground for bacteria.
Add some water or broth to your dog’s food, to increase their water intake. If you feed kibble, consider switching to a moist food.
A well hydrated body can fight off infection better and your dog will feel brighter.
Another way to moisten the airways and help to break up mucous, is steam baths.
The easiest way to do this, is to run a hot bath or shower, with your dog in the bathroom and the door closed to keep the steam inside. A few drops of good quality lavender oil added to the water adds a soothing effect on the airways, is calming, anti inflammatory and antimicrobial.
My favourite cough remedies:
Antibacterial, immune enhancing, and soothing for the throat, honey is a real super food. Local, raw honey is best. Don’t fall for the Manuka honey hype! Much of what is sold as Manuka honey isn’t the real thing. The industry isn’t regulated well enough for us to be able to know which might be a real Manuka honey, and which not. I’d much rather support a local bee keeper and know that I’m getting a quality product. And local honey has the added benefit of helping with seasonal allergies too- bonus!
Give your dog half to one teaspoon of honey, mixed with a little warm water. Give as it is, mixed with some food, or add the honey to some lovely soothing sage tea.
Puppies under one year old can’t have honey.
My mum used to make me and my brother gargle with sage tea when we had a sore throat. We can’t make dogs gargle, but it works beautifully as a tea too. Sage can reduce inflammation in the mouth and throat, and works as an antimicrobial.
Make a sage tea with 1 teaspoon of fresh sage per cup of boiling water, cover (to capture the essential oils), let steep for 10 minutes, the strain and let cool down. Give your dog around 1/3 of a cup per 10kg body weight, divided into smaller portions throughout the day.
Pregnant dogs, and those that are feeding puppies, shouldn’t have sage, as it can bring on contractions and dry up their milk. Otherwise sage is very safe.
When they need a bit more help, I love to add marshmallow root and echinacea, and I have my own signature blend of herbal tinctures and syrups that I often prescribe for dogs with coughs.
I get amazing feedback from dog owners on how well it works, and that gives me so much joy.
And all of the above is of course also true for us humans when we have a cough.
I’m all for supporting our own health naturally, as well as that of our dogs- and more often than not, the same support works for both humans and animals alike.