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Coughing and panting.

Species: Dog
Breed: sheltie pom mix
Age: 11-15 years
My dog is 12 1/2 and he has a hacking cough and pants all the time except when he's asleep. He's had the cough for years but the panting is within the last 6-8 months. He is very energetic-loves to play, walks and still gets up and down stairs without complaint (I do hear creaking sometimes). His appetite and drinking are normal. He is not incontinent but on a rare occasion, he might have an accident. I've researched cushings and heart disease but he only presents a few symptoms of each. He sees our Vet regularly and I'm in regular contact with him. My main concern is the panting as it's newer.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm sorry to hear that your dog is having a problem with panting and coughing. There are several possible reasons for this.

If this was a new issue then I'd be concerned about a virus such as kennel cough, but this is unlikely given that the cough has been there for a few years. Also, panting would not be a sign of kennel cough.

Heart disease certainly is a possibility. However, he has seen the vet recently and the vet was not concerned about his heart then this is less likely. A dog that is coughing because of heart disease will almost always have obvious changes that can be heard with a stethoscope such as a significant murmur or irregular rhythm.

You may want to ask your vet about a condition called laryngeal paralysis. This can affect older dogs and can cause coughing and panting. It's much more common in large dogs and often labs, but it's still possible. It's a tough condition to test for as some sedation is needed, but it's a possibility. While there are some treatments for laryngeal paralysis, they are not simple treatments.

Some dogs can get asthma or another form of small airway disease and this is certainly possible. If this were my case I would likely be wanting to take an xray to look for signs of asthma. Sometimes though the signs can be subtle and hard to diagnose. Many dogs with asthma get great relief either on medication to open up the airways or on very small doses of steroids.

A cancer in the lungs is possible. But, lung cancer does not usually cause coughing until it is quite severe so I think this is not it.

Similarly, a fungal disease like blastomycosis could do this. This is much more common in young dogs though.

I really think that having some xrays done would be the next best step. The xrays probably can give your vet a good idea as to what is going on.

Hope things improve soon!

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. AskAVetQuestion.com 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:

Thank you for your prompt response!

I just looked up Laryngeal paralysis and Tenny is a small dog (20 lbs), though he does have hypothyroidism. His cough did originate years ago after he had bronchitis. It just never went away. Our doctor does check him routinely and reassures me that dogs can live with "chronic cough." He never brings anything up. My main concern was that I was reading about it being paired with constant panting in senior dogs.

He just had a full battery of xrays in the spring and if anything was amiss, it would've been seen, I imagine.

Asthma was already ruled out.

Just looked up blastomycosis and he does not present the symptoms.

Following his bronchitis, our dr. suggested that fluid can get "caught" in his larynx causing it to spasm, thus causing the cough. Like I said, with him being in his senior years and having the addition of regular panting, I'm extra concerned.

Not trying to appear confrontational in any way; my vet is expensive and if I can have an idea before going in, I'd be most appreciative.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

No worries. I've had cases like this and getting a diagnosis is tough. The good news is that all of the really bad things that I can think of appear to be ruled out. So, if this is the case and there is no cancer, serious heart disease, fungal disease, etc. then as long as the cough is not really uncomfortable to your dog, the right option may be to just monitor things.

If this were my case I'd likely be offering you a few tests such as repeating xrays every few months to see if something new comes up or perhaps doing a CBC blood test to see if there is obvious evidence of some type of allergy, but really there is a chance that no diagnosis will be found.

One additional thought, although I'm sure you've got this covered is heartworm. It's unlikely, especially since there is no heart murmur. And, most likely, you have had him heartworm tested, but it's worth mentioning.

I wish I could give you a more definitive answer! This is one of the problems with veterinary medicine. The answer is often very difficult to find.



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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.