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Coughing

Chihuahua Coughing Problems

Overview

This section covers all of the different types of problems associated with Chihuahua puppies and dogs that have coughing issues. We will look at the top reasons why a Chi may have a cough.

There are different types of coughs, the dog may:
  • Appear to have trouble breathing or be making sounds that make it seem as if the dog cannot catch his breath
  • May be making a hacking noise
  • May appear to be gagging
  • May seem to have discomfort
  • There may or may not be discharge
  • The cough may come and go (acute) or it may an ongoing problem (chronic)
So many Chihuahuas have coughing problems that some people assume that this is "normal" for the breed. It's not! Sometimes this can be a minor issue, yet for some dogs it can be a sign of a serious medical condition.

So, let's look into this issue and sort out the different types of coughing problems, the signs and symptoms that your dog may have and treatment options.

We will discuss both things that you can do from home and when it is necessary to involve the veterinarian. 

Not Quite a Cough

There are some minor conditions that can cause a Chihuahua to make some odd noises, but it will not technically be a cough.
Reverse Sneezing - This is called reverse sneezing because a dog will have spasms that cause him to quickly draw air into his nose as opposed to a sneeze in which air is quickly blown out.

When this happens, a dog will make a sort of snorting noise and extend his neck… and this can appear to be a cough, although it is not. The exact cause of this is unknown, however it can become worse if a dog is inhaling certain substances such as perfumes, rug cleaners, etc.

Normally, this does not last for a long time and it does not harm a dog. With random cases, medication will not be prescribed. 

If a Chihuahua suffers from prolonged and frequent attacks, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines or decongestants may be prescribed. Typically, gently massaging a Chihuahua's neck (long, smooth strokes down the neck area) can calm down the spasms.

Hiccups - Just like us humans, dogs can have hiccups and some owners can mistake this for coughing. These can occur out of the blue or a Chihuahua may hiccup after eating too fast or after exercise

Anything that causes a changing to the dog's breathing pattern can help to make them go away, therefore encouraging your Chihuahua to drink or to have a small snack can stop the spasm.

A Goose-like Honking Noise | Coughing and Wheezing

If your Chihuahua is making noises that can be described as a honking sound, this can point to Collapsed Trachea. The dog may also appear to gag, struggling to breath and making a wheezing sound as if the he is having trouble with the airway. 

This is a somewhat serious condition that many toy breed dogs are susceptible to. The windpipe of a dog is made up of rings of cartilage. If one or more of those rings are damaged, they can collapse inward and cause an obstruction in the windpipe. 

This causes a Chihuahua to have difficulty breathing at which time the puppy or dog will make coughing noises that sound similar to a honking.

The Chihuahua is a breed that is prone to this issue. For some, it is a genetic issue that causes those rings to be weaker than they should be, which makes them more prone to this type of injury. 

For other Chihuahuas, even if there is no genetic weakness to the cartilage, injury can still cause this to happen.

The #1 reason that Chihuahuas suffer from this is due to being led on a leash that is connected to a dog collar. When a Chi wears just a collar and is walked on leash, all pressure and strain is put on the very fragile neck of this tiny toy sized dog. 

It does not take a lot for that pressure to crush a tracheal ring. 
If you are currently only using a collar on your Chihuahua, this should be rethought. There is never an excuse to attach a leash to a Chihuahua's dog collar and allow all of the pressure to be placed on the neck. 

All Chihuahuas, regardless of age and size, should be walked on a harness. In addition, harnesses also allow for better control, which comes in very handy when teaching a Chi to heel.
An ID tag can be attached to the collar and the harness should be put on any time that a leash is used. Just this one simple element can prevent the terrible condition of Collapsed Trachea, since the harness works to distribute weight over the shoulders, back and chest, instead of having it all go to the tiny neck.

Signs of Collapsed Trachea
  • A honking cough. The coughing may increase when the Chi becomes excited, eats, drinks, exercises or is in hot weather.
  • Labored breathing. If breathing is severely labored, the dog's lips may turn blue as he struggles for air.
  • Reluctance to exercise. This will be due to a combination of breathing problems and the pain that accompanies such an injury.
  • Coughing after drinking water
Diagnosis

Many experienced veterinarians can diagnose this based on the sound that the dog is making and the fact that the dog is a Chihuahua, since this breed is so prone to this. Additionally, an x-ray may be taken to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment

The main goal will be to allow the ring(s) to heal. This is done with the use of cough suppressants, bronchodilators and corticosteroids (to control swelling). In many cases, 2 weeks are given to see if this treatment works well enough. If not, surgery may need to be performed. 

Roughly 70% of dogs recuperate well enough to not need surgery, yet will need to have ongoing care such as keeping weight at a healthy level (being overweight contributes to problems) and wearing a harness and never a collar as mentioned above. 
A Deep, Dry, Hacking Cough

This can be a sign of Kennel Cough. Don't let the name fool you; dogs that have never been near a kennel can contract this. It is a highly contagious respiratory disease in which the upper respiratory system is infected. 

It affects a dog's windpipe and voice box. This usually causes a very deep, dry cough, but some dogs will have a honking noise, similar to the one described above that is a symptom of Collapsed Trachea.

Signs and Symptoms of Kennel Cough
  • A dry, deep, ongoing cough
  • Vomiting or dry heaving . A Chihuahua may cough so much that it causes spasms that lead to this.
  • Watery nasal discharge
Only with some dogs will there be possible:
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
Diagnosis

This is diagnosed by the veterinarian examining the Chihuahua and also running blood test.

Treatment

With mild to moderate cases, it may be left to run its course, similar to how humans have to wait for a cold to end. 

If a Chihuahua is having moderate to severe trouble breathing and the cough is severe, anti-inflammatory medication may be given, along with cough suppressants. Only if a dog has a fever is antibiotics given, since this can morph into Pneumonia.
A Wet, Mucus Cough

Pneumonia can be caused by many things: Viruses, fungi, bacteria or parasites. Most healthy, adult Chihuahua dogs do not catch Pneumonia, it only tends to strike very young puppies or much older, senior dogs.

It should be noted that if a Chihuahua has suffered from Collapsed Trachea (details above), this leaves him vulnerable to catching Pneumonia.
Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia
  • A very wet cough. In many cases, when the Chihuahua coughs, a wet spray of thin mucus is noticeable.
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid pulse
  • When a Chihuahua has had Pneumonia for a while without treatment, the coughing may become extremely severe and the dog may sit with his head held out and his elbows turned out which is done by instinct to try and be able to better breath.
Diagnosis

This is diagnosed with x-rays and with blood tests.

Treatment

This is a very serious condition and any Chihuahua that is showing signs of this type of cough should be taken to the veterinarian or closest animal hospital right away. 

Antibiotics will be given and the puppy or dog will need to have a follow-up visit to make sure that the lungs have cleared out.

Prolonged Coughing only at Night or While Laying on the Chest

This sort of cough can point to heart disease (also referred to as congestive heart failure). The heart is not able to properly meet the needs of the dog's body and becomes weakened. 

This affects many other areas of the body as well, including the kidneys, liver and lungs (which will cause the dog to have a troubling cough).

Signs of Heart Disease

In early stages, the coughing will be erratic. In later stages, a dog may be coughing all of the time. Owners may not be aware that there is a problem until the Chihuahua has been ill for quite some time. 

It is often only when the heart is so weak that other areas of the body are infected, that owners will know that something is wrong. This is why regular, yearly checkups are an important part of providing proper care.
Diagnosis

A veterinarian will diagnose this via x-rays and an ECG.

Treatment

Underlying conditions, including Heartworms, will be treated. Heart medications will be prescribed, along with lifestyle changes that include a low salt diet and a lower level of exercise.

Coughing up Blood

If a Chihuahua is coughing up blood, the medical term for this is hemoptysis. The blood may be fresh (red) or dried (black) and may or may not be accompanied with foam and/or mucus.

There are a few different medical conditions that can cause hemoptysis and all are quite serious possibilities that warrant an immediate veterinarian checkup.

Here is a list of the most common conditions that cause a dog to cough up blood:

• Foreign Object or Piece of Food Lodged in Esophagus

• Heart Disease - blood clots may have formed which are then coughed up

• Heartworm Infection - This may cause a condition called pulmonary thormboembolism, which forces blood into the airways

• Canine Pancreatitis - Inflammation of the pancreas

• Lung Cancer

• Tuberculosis -This is a serious bacterial infection that can cause a dog to cough up blood mixed with mucus.

• Ingestion of Poison
Other Conditions 

Other canine health conditions that can produce a cough are: Chronic bronchitis, Fungal infections, parasites (Heartworms or Roundworms), Influenza, Distemper or Ingestion of a foreign body.

A Final Thought

A random, light cough is no reason for concern. Additionally, if you think that your Chihuahua is coughing it may just be a reverse sneeze or hiccups. When in doubt about ANY coughing issue, please take your Chi to the veterinarian.

Collapsed Trachea is VERY common with the Chihuahua breed…And this is sad since it CAN be avoided by NEVER connecting a leash to your dog's collar - Use a harness instead.

If you have not been doing this and your Chi is fine, consider both of your to be lucky and please begin using a harness now. If you are worried that it will be a hassle or that your Chi will not like wearing one, please just give it a try.

There are MANY "easy" harnesses to choose from. If you are not sure which harness is best for your Chihuahua, you may wish to "Accessories" and "Clothing - Harnesses" in the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.
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