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Coughing older dog.

Species: Dog
Breed: Wheaten Terrier mix
Age: More than 15 ye
Parker is a slightly smaller than average Wheaten mix who has been overweight most of his life. He is approaching 16 years old now but has been in very good health all of his life (we have had him since age 5). I have noticed an increase in breathing problems when walking within the last two months. It seemed to me to come on somewhat suddenly. He also coughs in the morning. It is a dry cough but he acts like he is trying to spit something up. It is a deep cough. It does not last very long, but as of now, happens every morning on arising from bed. His doctor prescribed doxycycline with the thought that his poor dental hygiene might have caused a throat or heart infection. He last had dental cleaning at maybe 11 or 12 years of age. The problem is not severe and he has no known abscesses. Do you think he might have congestive heart failure? Could this be caused by a valve problem? The doctor says he does not have a murmur, though. What sort of workup and treatment should this have. Does he need to be on heart drugs? Should he have an echocardiogram? He had chest x-rays done but the doctor said he did not look to be in congestive heart failure except there was a bit of haziness in the lungs. She said she could not find other signs that he had congestive heart failure. We are worried about his symptoms, including cough and shortness of breath.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm sorry to hear that Parker may be having some problems. I am not going to have an exact answer for you on this question but I can give you my thoughts.

There are many possible causes for a cough in an older dog and often the cause can be difficult to diagnose. Usually, if there is a heart problem that is causing the cough there will be a murmur and also signs of heart enlargement on chest xrays. Sometimes interpretation of these xrays can be difficult. In some cases, if a dog sounds like he could have heart disease, but I am not sure, I may send xrays to a radiologist to get their opinion.

Has Parker been tested for heartworm? This is a possibility as well.

It's also possible that there is some type of allergic disease going on. This can be hard to diagnose. A trial of some steroid medication may possibly make a difference. However, you would want to be sure that there is no infectious disease before this is taken on.

Haziness in the lungs can be a sign of fluid. Heart disease is one possibility for fluid in the lungs but there are other possibilities such as certain types of cancers. These can be hard to diagnose though.

Another test that possibly may help is to have an ultrasound (echocardiogram) done. This can tell you much more about how well the heart is functioning and possibly can tell you if there is fluid present. You may also want to ask your vet about a BNP test which is a blood test that can sometimes give us more hints as to whether heart disease is present.

If nothing obvious comes up on these tests then you may need to wait for a few weeks and then take more xrays to see if something obvious appears at this time.

There are many other possible causes of a cough such as a fungal infection, a foreign object and other things but these are nowhere near as common.

I hope that has helped somewhat. Please let me know if you have more questions.

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:

Parker has been on heartworm prophylaxis for most of the 11 years we have had him so it is not that. How do you test for infectious diseases, including a fungal infection, in this case? Is the doxycycline good enough to have cleared up most bacterial infections? It is being taken for a week. He also has exercise intolerance. That is the symptom that is most worrisome and apparent. We were told he was 5 when we got him but he has always been in such good health that we thought he might be younger. Would this be likely to be a degenerative process in his heart just due to his age of maybe 16 and also being overweight?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

There are many different tests as there are many different possibilities. Testing for each one probably would not make sense at this point. I would likely do the radiology referral +/- the ultrasound first. If the radiologist things there could be evidence of a fungal disease, then your vet will know what kind of tests to run...but I must repeat that these are unlikely.

Also, if this is a heart problem there are many possibly reasons as to why. Age related factors certainly are possible.

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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.