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Coughing chihuahua

Species: Dog
Breed: Chihuahua
Age: 8-11 years
My chihuahua has had an intermittent cough since roughly last year when she had most of her teeth removed. We were told initially to expect it, due to irritation from the tube having been down her throat. There actually wasn't much coughing right afterward.

Then, over a month later, she did develop a cough. After a couple days, we took her back to the vet. Of course, she managed to completely stop by the time we arrived, and the vet chalked it up to something (carpet fuzz, cat hair, etc...) being caught and irritating her throat.

Over the last year or so, she's had intermittent coughing spells and they often cleared up on their own. She seems healthy otherwise, so we didn't think too much of it.

In the last day or two, she's had frequent coughing fits such as the one you see here:

Hopefully that helps somewhat, as you can see what it looks/sounds like. Do I need to get her in to be seen? Is there anything we can do to help her? She's in heat right now, if that makes any difference. Oh, and when she was put under for the dental surgery, they discovered she had a very slightly heart murmur, but told us it was normal for her age.

Thanks for your help! Sorry for the long question!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm so sorry for the delay! You asked your question just as I was logging out. I'm here at the office now so I'll hopefully be able to answer you before I go into my appointments.

From what you've described, I'm really concerned about Fancy's heart. I would never consider a heart murmur "normal" in a dog. Now, if Fancy has had a heart murmur her whole life then I will often call it "insignificant". However, if a small dog is coughing and has a heart murmur then heart disease is definitely a possibility.

I'm guessing that this is not related to the dentistry at all.

If a dog has a sudden cough like this then it is possible that this is a virus such as kennel cough. Dogs usually get over kennel cough within a few days. But, with what you've described heart disease is more likely.

It really would be a great idea to have your vet take a look at her. They'll be able to tell if the murmur sounds worse. They may want to take some xrays. If there is heart disease there are a number of medications that can help. Unfortunately heart disease is quite common with chihuahuas.

I hope everything is ok!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thanks for your reply. I've actually suspected as much, but the vet had told me I had nothing to worry about. I will be taking her to a different one this afternoon.

I also intend to switch her to a raw meat diet, since I know dogs don't naturally consume a high carbohydrate diet, as you'd find in most packaged dog food. No more scraps either. I figure this can only help, given the link between diabetes and heart disease in humans, and chihuahua's propensity toward it. I figure between controlling insulin and reduced sodium intake, it can't do any harm anyway, heart disease or no.

Hopefully between a bit of dietary therapy and whatever medication the vet recommends today, we can get her more comfortable and help her live out the rest of her days healthy as healthy as possible

Thanks again for your advice! I'm glad just to have a direction. We love our little fancy-bear.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

You're very welcome!

I'd be really careful about going raw at this point. While there can be some benefits there are a lot of potential negatives. Some animals can get serious bacterial infections such as salmonella from eating raw food. But more importantly, it's really hard to balance a raw food diet properly. If a dog doesn't get enough taurine (an amino acid that's in all commercial dog food) this can actually cause heart failure.

I wouldn't be too hard on your original vet. The heart may have been ok at the time of the dentistry but may have gotten much worse lately.

I hope everything is ok when you see your new vet!

Customer reply:

Hello Dr. Marie,

Just a followup on our Fancy-bear. We took her in yesterday, and the vet said the heart murmur had indeed worsened. He rated it a 3 out of 6 in scale. He did give us a prescription that he said would help take the load off the heart, and her coughing has definitely improved.

She's just getting older, and I guess that's just a fact of life. We're just glad there's something we can do to treat it. They also pulled a tooth that was so loose that the doc was concerned she'd swallow it.

As for raw food, I'd planned on buying cheap cuts of steak, and perhaps searing the outside (to address the contamination issue). She loves raw steak and doesn't have any trouble eating it (with the few teeth she has left). As for taurine, I believe the reason commercial dog food has to be fortified with it is due to a lack of it in grains and vegetables. Taurine occurs naturally in food, especially in seafood and meat, so I'd imagine this would be an excellent source.

From what I understand, one of the most common causes of heart problems in dogs is too much I figure cutting out table scraps would obviously be beneficial...and I hear there are low-sodium dog foods available as well, but I guess I don't see much reason to seek out specialty dog foods when whole, natural foods are available and I can afford them. I will definitely heed your advice about making sure the diet is balanced though, and will read up on how to best provide her with a natural diet, free from deficiencies.

Again, thanks for your advice. It was worth every penny, and likely saved her life. I will be recommending this site to friends and family.

Have a great day!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm glad to hear that Fancy is improving! I have many dogs in my practice that do well for years and years on heart medications, so let's hope she follows suit!

Dr. Marie.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.