Drinking water is supposed to be a relaxing experience. It's a way for your dog to get some hydration and bring down their body temperature. Because dogs don't sweat in the same way that we humans do, they'll often head straight to their water bowl after a long play session outside to cool off.
Coughing every once in a while is to be expected. Like humans, canines have a cough reflex to keep their respiratory system healthy. Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to trigger that reflex. So, don't be surprised if your dog gets into a mild coughing fit every so often after eating or drinking.
Your pup could even react to dust and allergens in the air. Generally, it's no cause for concern.
But what happens if that coughing becomes a regular occurrence? Regular coughing after taking a drink is not normal. It could be representative of a serious medical condition.
Here are some of the most common reasons why dogs cough after drinking water.
#1. Water or Debris in the Windpipe
The first and most benign culprit could simply be something going down the wrong pipe. Your dog's throat is a pretty complex piece of biology. The main component is the trachea. Made up of cartilage rings, connective tissue, and muscle, the trachea is responsible for both breathing and eating.
When your dog is just breathing, the trachea guides air in and out of the lungs through the nose and mouth.
When your dog eats or takes a drink, a small flap of tissue, called the epiglottis, opens up to create a pathway to the digestive system.
This tiny flap is pretty much the only thing that's keeping water and food particles from getting into your dog's lungs.
Sometimes, drinking water too fast causes some liquid to go the wrong way. We've all experienced it. Us humans have the same basic biology as dogs when it comes to the trachea, so it's a sensation you're probably familiar with.
If your dog gags after eating or drinking, there's a good chance the cough reflex was triggered. This happens automatically anytime something gets passed the epiglottis. It's the body's way of protecting the lungs.
Those muscles will contract, causing your dog to cough the offending substance out. If this happens frequently, you may need to train your dog to chill out and take things slow.
Excitable dogs are notorious for scarfing down food and water as if it's their last meal. The sheer speed and carelessness that happens results in frequent coughing.
Force your dog to calm down before meals to reduce the chances of coughing.
#2. Kennel Cough
Another common cause of coughing is a condition called kennel cough. This is a very common issue that dogs face. Officially known as canine tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is basic the dog equivalent of the common cold.
Primarily, it's caused by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. Your pup may also be suffering from the Parainfluenza virus, which also leads to kennel cough.
When dogs get kennel cough, the trachea becomes irritated and inflamed. This results in a unique cough that sounds more like a goose honking. Unfortunately, the more your dog coughs, the worse the condition will get.
When your dog drinks water, the liquid puts more pressure on the trachea. It's already sensitive enough, so that extra pressure usually leads to a serious coughing fit.
Kennel Cough is Contagious
The biggest issue with kennel cough is that it's highly contagious. The bacteria can quickly spread to other dogs that are in the vicinity, hence the name. It's a frequent problem in boarding facilities, veterinary offices, and multi-pet households.
It's important to seek help from your veterinarian as soon as your dog starts exhibiting signs of kennel cough. As we mentioned earlier, coughing only exacerbates the issue and leads to further irritation. Thus, it can take several weeks before your dog starts to get some relief.
The good news is it's a relatively innocent condition. In most cases, dogs don't experience any life-threatening symptoms that are going to put their overall health at risk. It's merely a comfort issue at play.
Separate the Infected Dog
If you have other pets in your home, you must separate your infected dog immediately. Quarantine them in a separate room from your other pets and disinfect any shared toys or dishes. Remember, it's contagious and can easily affect your other pups.
To decrease your dog's risks of experiencing kennel cough, ask your vet about getting a vaccination for Bordetella.
It's an optional vaccine that's not a part of most veterinary core care plans. But, it's an absolute necessity if you have multiple pets or plan on boarding your dog at a shared facility.
#3. Misshapen Trachea
If your young dog chokes after taking a sip of water, they may have a hypoplastic trachea. This is a genetic condition that dogs are born with. Signs of the issue usually start to pop up around five months of age.
Basically, the condition means that your dog has an underdeveloped trachea. Earlier, we mentioned that the trachea was made out of cartilage rings and muscles. Those rings are responsible for giving the trachea a stable shape for air, food, and water to pass.
With a hypoplastic trachea, the rings aren't able to develop properly. This causes a deformed shape. Typically, the trachea is smaller than average, making it difficult for the vital biological component to do its job right.
Hypoplastic tracheas are mostly found in brachycephalic breeds. This includes dog breeds like Pugs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and other flat-faced pups.
Brachycephalic dogs are susceptible to a ton of health issues due to the unique shape of their heads. Owners must stay vigilant about keeping them healthy to avoid breathing problems, weight gain, and a slew of other complications.
How to Manage
A hypoplastic trachea is just another issue to add to the list. Fortunately, is manageable. Depending on the severity of the issue, your vet may recommend surgical procedures to add more stability to the trachea. Though, this is quite rare.
Generally, vets will provide some guidance on how you can manage the issue and what you'll need to do to keep your dog safe.
The coughing that comes with this genetic disorder is directly related to the epiglottis flap we went over earlier.
Because the trachea is small and unable to hold its shape, food and water are bound to get by.
Along with coughing, dogs with a hypoplastic trachea usually have several other symptoms. These include that same goose-like honking, difficulties breathing, weight gain, and snoring.
#4. Collapsed Trachea
A collapsed trachea is similar to the previous condition. However, whereas a hypoplastic trachea is a genetic problem that affects dogs early on, a collapsed trachea tends to affect dogs once they reach the middle of their life cycle or during their senior years.
When the trachea collapses, it essentially loses its ability to hold its shape. The cartilage rings and connective tissue lose strength. This causes the once stable windpipe to become narrow and flattening.
Veterinarians aren't quite sure why this issue causes coughing after drinking. In many cases, dogs won't experience coughing after eating. It's only when they drink. With that said, some believe that the culprit is the epiglottis.
Because the trachea becomes misshapen, the flap isn't able to fully cover the windpipe when eating. Thus, liquid is able to make its way around it.
It's theorized that the viscosity of water allows it to get through even tiny gaps, which is why a dog coughs when drinking water only.
Varying Degrees of Collapse
There are varying degrees of collapse. It could be partial or complete. The condition takes time to develop and can get worse the longer it's not addressed.
Like a hypoplastic trachea, this issue tends to affect Brachycephalic dog breeds more than others. Also, the symptoms are very similar. The only way to truly diagnose it is a trip to the vet.
How the condition is treated depends on the severity of the problem, your dog's quality of life, and their age. Veterinarians can prescribe steroids to manage the degeneration of the tissue.
Cough suppressants are also available to ensure that your dog is able to hydrate without any discomfort.
In severe cases of tracheal collapse, surgical intervention may be required. Surgeons can replace the cartilage rings with prosthetics, which may be able to retain the overall structural integrity of the trachea.
Watching your dog gag or cough on a regular basis isn't easy. If you suspect that there's something serious going on, we recommend taking your dog to the vet as soon as possible. The key to managing tracheal issues is to catch them early on.
With early diagnosis and an effective treatment plan, your dog can live a normal healthy life. Those irritating coughs will be a thing of the past and your pup will be able to drink comfortably.