Dog Gagging, Dry Heaving, Coughing & Retching: What You Should Know

Sick Dog

A gagging dog can make an incredible noise, it is as if your dog is trying to vomit but nothing comes out.

Sometimes dogs can retch or cough as they try to clear their throat of debris or mucus and other times it can be caused by illness.

Some cases of dog gagging, dry heaving or retching are absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s similar to humans, when we’ve swallowed the wrong way.

But there are times when this behavior is a symptom of an illness or something of concern.

To answer the question of why dogs gag, here is our overview of what dog gagging is, common symptoms, causes and how to stop it.

Dog Gagging, Heaving and Retching

Dog Gagging Dry Heaving Retching
Symptoms Opening of the mouth; a throat spasm makes breathing or swallowing difficult. Unproductive Vomiting Reverse action of the stomach and oesophagus
Causes Inflammation of the Larynx, Kennel Cough or Infection Feeling nauseous, Eating grass, Hunger Pang, Bronchitis or Irritation from foreign body Feeling nauseous, Eating grass, Hunger Pang

Why Do Dogs Gag?

Dog Gagging Feature

Dog gagging is a throat spasm that makes swallowing or breathing difficult for your dog.

It usually happens directly before or after a cough: it is like your dog is trying to vomit and cough at the same time; however, unlike vomiting, nothing comes out.

If you are concerned about your dog with a recurring gag, then note whether the gag comes before or after the cough (this will be very helpful to your vet).

Dog gagging is most often caused by an inflammation in the larynx. As a part of the respiratory system, the larynx is also known as the voice box.

In a healthy dog, the larynx opens to allow air to enter the lungs and then closes during eating to stop food and water entering the chest.

Dogs with an illness often have an inflammation of the larynx which is triggered by infection or irritation that can cause dog gagging.

What Is Gagging In Dogs?

As we discussed above, dog gagging is triggered by inflammation or irritation of the larynx.

Common causes of irritation generally include:

  • Dust
  • Smoke
  • Foreign Objects (likely due to a lodged foreign body or trauma caused by foreign one)
  • If you dog eats hardy chews then these too could have causes irritation if they’ve not chomped them up small enough

Some dog breeds are also prone to developing laryngeal paralysis which means the larynx no longer closes properly.

This means that water and food can get into the airway and will cause your dog to gag to clear it.

Breeds most susceptible to laryngeal paralysis include: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Weimaraners, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Danes.

Another cause of gagging in dogs is infections.

The most common infection is one you have probably heard of… Kennel Cough.

This is an infection that is easily spread when dogs are in contact with each other (e.g. walks, day care or shows).

Kennel cough is caused by a range of bacteria and virus with clinical symptoms developing 3-4 days after contact with an infected dog.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough include:

  • A dry cough
  • Retching
  • Dog Gagging
  • Nasal discharge
  • In severe cases dogs can become lethargic, feverish and progress to pneumonia

How To Stop A Dog Gagging

Management is key, so if your dog is gagging because of an infection, keep your infected dog away from other dogs.

Unless there is a severe infection which may need antibiotics, most dogs recover well without attention from a vet.

As always, a healthy dog is better equipped to fight infection, so focus on meeting their nutritional and exercise needs and giving them opportunities to rest and recover.

It is also worth considering that brachycephalic breeds are more prone to developing respiratory tract infections due to their narrow noses, trachea and thickened mouth tissue.

If dog gagging is becoming a regular occurrence with your dog, pop to see your vet for further examination.

Why Do Dogs Retch?

Dog Retching

Retching is the reverse movement of the stomach and esophagus without vomiting.

It is caused by “feeling nauseous.”

Humans can retch too, you have probably noticed it yourself when smelling something you don’t like (e.g. dog poop or baby sick)!

You will notice dry heaving or retching if your dog is a frequent grass eater.

As they are trying to bring all that grass back up, they will dry heave and retch.

You may also notice this behavior during hunger pangs – so when your dog is dry heaving, they eventually bring up a little bile.

This is nothing to worry about, the issue is when your dog is dry heaving or retching and it becomes frequent.

What Is Retching In Dogs?

The most common causes include of dog retching include:

  • Allergies
  • Parasites
  • Prolonged exposure to irritants (e.g. cigarette smoke)
  • Bloat, or gastic torsion
  • Ingestion of a poisonous substance

The most common illness which causes dog retching is chronic bronchitis; also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This is when the bronchi in your dog’s lungs become inflamed. It leads to a chronic cough, which can present as a dry hack or retching sound (like a smoker’s cough in humans).

It is more common in small or toy breeds but can occur in large breeds too.

Kennel Cough may also be the reason behind your dog retching, or dry heaving. However, in this instance, you will notice white foam in their mouth.

Another more benign cause of dry heaving in dogs is hairballs!

The concerning thing is that dry heaving or retching shows up on a lot of symptom lists for dogs.

How To Stop A Dog Retching

The best course of action is to establish whether it is a one-off occurrence or on-going.

If it continues, monitor for other symptoms for potential illness identification.

Consider whether your dog could have been scavenging or exposed to irritants. If you are concerned, give your vet a call to advise next steps.

Why Do Dogs Dry Heave?

Dry heaving and retching are technically the same, it is generally triggered in response to a want to vomit (i.e. your dog feels nauseous).

Gagging, Coughing, Heaving and Retching – What’s The Difference?

Dog Coughing

Dog gagging is usually paired with a cough (which may come before or after the cough). This is important to note for your vet.

Your dog will widely open their mouth; it’s a throat spasm that makes breathing and swallowing very difficult.

Dry heaving and retching are almost interchangeable, it is the reverse movement of the stomach and esophagus without vomiting (like a hacking sound).

A common cause for dog gagging, heaving or retching is kennel cough.

The most likely causes for heaving or retching is irritation from a foreign body – it could be undigested food, stones, sticks, bark, toys, crayons, coins… the list is long!

If you think your dog has a foreign body causing irritation, it’s best to speak with your vet.

Summary

Dog Dry Heaving

There are many reasons for dog gagging, dry heaving and retching, the most common of which is kennel cough (symptoms can show up in a range of illnesses) and irritation from foreign objects.

Most causes when in isolation are benign; that is, they are nothing to worry about.

The issue is when your dog’s gag becomes frequent and consistent, or it is paired with other symptoms.

As always, if you are concerned about your dog, then seek professional advice.

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