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Coughing in Dogs May Signal Heart Disease

Miriam has been a freelance writer since 2013. Born in Whittier, CA, she now lives in Ontario (California) with her husband and family.

"Prairie Dogging" for Attention (December 2014)

December 2014: Shadow "prairie dogging" with my husband, Jerry.

December 2014: Shadow "prairie dogging" with my husband, Jerry.

Shadow's Story

Chiweenie Shadow: August 19, 2003 - March 31, 2015

I am writing this article because our dog, Shadow, died on March 31, 2015 from congestive heart failure during a three minute seizure. He was 11-1/2 years old. My husband treated Shadow for roundworms and pinworms when he first heard Shadow coughing, but I was unaware that coughing in dogs can be a sign of serious illness.

This article is meant to alert dog owners that coughing in dogs means danger. (<--Tweet This!) The sooner you take your dog to the vet, the sooner they can treat the problem. Early detection can give your dog a better quality of life, and prolong it, as well.

Causes of Coughing in Dogs

Coughing in dogs is often associated with a heart murmur; left untreated this will eventually lead to congestive heart failure (death). Coughing may also be caused by kennel cough or heartworms, or a few other conditions that can be treated and cured, if found early.

For kennel cough, there are three types of vaccines that can be given to your dog to immunize him ( For heartworms and other worms, there are deworming medicines to kill and get rid of them; but your dog’s vet will know what is causing the coughing by listening to his/her heart, taking blood tests, and so forth.

Once heartworms or other parasites, and kennel cough are ruled out, all that is left is heart disease.

Educated by Shadow

I have learned a lot about dogs from Shadow, our Chiweenie. We have cared and loved him since January 2013; he has been the inspiration for all of my chiweenie and dog health articles/hubs.

Shadow’s Seizures

Until he started having seizures, we were unaware that he had a heart murmur caused from a leaking heart valve. However, when we started caring for Shadow, he already coughed as if he was trying to get a hairball out – much like cats. I have a lot of experience raising cats, but Shadow was my first pet dog. I had to learn about dog health issues as he experienced them.

Online Research

When I started researching articles online about coughing in dogs, I found out coughing is a warning sign of a life-threatening illness. I read many articles about this and found that most people do not take their dog to the vet until it is too late to help them, which is very sad.

Heart Meds & Herbal Anti-Seizure Meds

Right after his first seizure, Shadow went to the vet. She listened to him and immediately noticed he had a heart murmur. She thought Shadow was having syncope -- fainting, but he never lost consciousness and my husband and I agreed he was having seizures, not syncope.

Anyway, the vet prescribed him the heart medications, Elanapril (20 mg. twice a day) and a diuretic called Furosemide (5 mg. twice a day). The vet said Elanapril would calm Shadow down, relax his arteries so blood could pump through them easier, and bring down his blood pressure. Furosemide (or Lasix) is a diuretic that helps rid the body of excess fluids that were accumulating around his vital organs, such as his heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver.

Coughing Worse, No Seizures

We bought Shadow an herbal anti-seizure medicine (guaranteed) and it made the seizures stop,which we were so thankful for; but he continued coughing-- and the coughing got more dramatic, shaking his whole little body.

Scroll to Continue

Shadow was an extremely picky eater (or so we thought; his low-appetite may have been caused from his heart condition). It was not long before he tired of the powdered medicine in his food, and he refused to eat it. I looked online for other foods we could hide this powder in that he would eat. I searched for which foods are okay to hide a picky dog's pills in -- foods Shadow could eat or drink (Shadow was lactose intolerant).

While searching, someone in a forum suggested adding the powder to a scrambled egg; it was a great idea because Shadow could not taste the grit of the powder and he loved the egg! I was only able to get 1/2 a tablespoon of the anti-seizure powder in one egg (or it would be too much powder) which was 1/2 of the recommended dose, but it was something.

Since Shadow was not taking the full dose of powdered anti-seizure medicine, I started to worry he might have a seizure (dogs can die from a seizure). So I bought some herbal anti-seizure drops online (a different brand and formula), but it took several days to arrive in the mail. By the time the medicine arrived we were only able to give him one dose of it, 2 drops; he died at 1:40 that same afternoon.

[Note: Shadow had two seizures in one day on February 14, 2015 (before he started on the powdered medicine); he had no more seizures until the day he died.]

Do Not Ignore Your Dog’s Cough

Dogs are not supposed to cough, but I did not know that because I never had a dog before. . If your dog coughs please take him/her to the vet as soon as possible to find out why he/she is coughing: you may save his life!

May Have No Symptoms

Congestive heart failure (CHF) may have no obvious symptoms, but if your dog is diagnosed with a heart murmur it is another way of saying your dog’s heart is failing-- unable to pump blood well enough to support your dog’s life. As your dog grows old, the heart murmur worsens and becomes CHF.

Unfortunately, if you find out too late (like we did with Shadow) all you can do is keep your dog comfortable and give him plenty of love.

Table of Contents

Anatomy of a Dog

This drawing illustrates the location of a dog's organs.

This drawing illustrates the location of a dog's organs.

Explanation: "Anatomy of a Dog" Drawing

Location of Dog's Organs

I never knew how different a dog's internal body was from ours, until I found the above drawing online. Notice that the dog's heart is located below and between both lungs, and the dog's liver is beneath the heart.

Helpful for Dog Owners

This drawing is helpful to dog owners because it shows us where their organs are found, so we can let the vet know where any swelling or edema is occurring. In canine heart disease the lungs are noticeably visible when they retain water due to edema.

Call the vet if you notice his lungs are retaining water.

2 Types of Heart Disease Lead to Dog Heart Failure

Graphic illustration of Mitral Valve Disease and Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

Graphic illustration of Mitral Valve Disease and Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

2 Types of Heart Disease: Both Lead to Congestive Heart Failure

1. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

This type of heart disease is sometimes called "Heart Muscle Disease" because the heart muscle is directly affected. The heart becomes weak, so it makes weak contractions and pumping blood is compromised. The heart’s weakened condition affects the heart and its valves. The heart's chambers become stretched and thinned, and as its valves thicken and get distorted, they backflow to the heart. This backflow (of blood) causes heart enlargement-- and the disease progresses to CHF.

2. Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)

If the vet listens to your dog's heart and hears a swooshing sound between heartbeats, your dog has a "heart murmur". The swooshing sound the vet hears is caused by a leaking heart valve (usually, the mitral valve). The leaking valve causes the (leaked) blood to flow back to the heart. As MVD progresses the backflow of blood leaks into the lungs, creating congestion, labored breathing, and ultimately, heart failure.

Also, as a consequence MVD, the brain does not always get enough blood flow to it. This can cause one of two things:

  • Syncope/fainting. When a dog has syncope, he/she briefly faints; and then he/she will recover quickly and act like nothing happened right after fainting.
  • Seizures lasting from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Seizures may occur due due to electrical disturbances in the brain triggered by an interruption of blood flow.
  • [If your dog has syncope or a seizure take him/her to the vet as soon as possible!]

Cause of Heart Disease Unknown

Nobody knows the cause of either MVD or DCM (other than genetics or old age), but sometimes problems similar to DCM occur because of an infection or toxins in the dog's environment.

FACT: Male dogs are affected with CHF more often than female dogs. Also, deficiencies of carnitine and taurine (amino acids) have been associated with CHF.




Dog Breeds Susceptible to CHF

There are two types of heart disease that cause CHF in dogs, Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Here are two lists: The first one lists small dogs, the second lists large dog breeds that are prone to heart disease. They are listed according to the type of heart disease (MVD or DCM) they are likely to get before the disease progresses and becomes CHF.

Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) is common in the following small and toy breeds:

♥ American bulldog ♥ Beagle ♥Boston Terrier ♥ Chihuahua ♥ Dachshund ♥ Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ♥ English Cocker Spaniel ♥ French bulldog ♥ Lhasa Apsos ♥ Maltese ♥ Pekingese ♥ Poodle, toy ♥ Pugs ♥ Schnauzer, miniature ♥ Shih-Tzu ♥ Small mixed breeds ♥ Yorkshire Terrier

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is common among the following large and giant dog breeds: ♥ Afghan Hound ♥ Bassett Hound ♥ Bernese mountain dog ♥ Bloodhound ♥ Boxer ♥ Brussels Griffith ♥ Bullmastiff ♥ Collie ♥ Doberman Pinscher ♥ Golden Retriever ♥ Great Dane ♥ Irish Wolfhound ♥ Labrador Retriever ♥ Poodle ♥ Rottweiler ♥ Saint Bernard ♥ Scottish Deerhound ♥ Weimaraner

Pill Pockets: For Hiding Your Dog's Heart Meds

Look At This:

Important tips for dog and cat owners: take care of your pet's teeth!

Important tips for dog and cat owners: take care of your pet's teeth!

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Listed below are the symptoms of congestive heart failure (CHF) so you will know how to recognize it if you think your dog may have CHF.

As soon as you notice your dog coughing, it is vital that you take him to the vet for proper tests, analysis, and diagnosis.

  • Coughing as if they are trying to cough out phlegm
  • Restlessness before bedtime
  • Getting tired sooner than usual after playing, walking, or running
  • Poor appetite
  • Fainting, called "syncope" (pronounced: sin-co-pay)
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Abdominal water retention


Shadow: January 2015

Shadow in the kitchen, January 2015.

Shadow in the kitchen, January 2015.

Hawthorne & Dandelion for Your Dog's Cardio Health

Diagnosis & Treatment for MVD & DCM


To arrive at a diagnosis, the vet will run several tests to find out the condition of your dog’s heart. A heart murmur can be heard if the dog has MVD, but there may be no symptoms in dogs with DCM.

Besides a physical assessment of your dog, such as checking his heart with a stethoscope, she will also check his blood pressure, and ask you (the owner) questions about the dog, such as what symptoms he is having, and so forth.

Tests Your Vet May Order:

  1. A blood test called NTproBNP. In this test, if the heart is injured or stressed substances called cardiac biomarkers are released in the blood; this helps the vet determine the heart’s condition and diagnosis.
  2. A CBC (complete blood count) and chemistry profile to assess your dog’s general health.
  3. A chest X-Ray: To assess the heart’s size and condition.
  4. ECG (electrocardiograph): Records the heart’s electrical activity.
  5. ECHO (echocardiogram): Same as an ultrasound; used to check different areas of the heart.
  6. Vet may draw blood to test for heartworms.



Shadow Gets a Bath

January 2015: Jerry bathing Shadow in the backyard-- he hated baths.

January 2015: Jerry bathing Shadow in the backyard-- he hated baths.

Conventional Treatment vs. Herbal Supplements

Conventional Treatment

In conventional treatment your vet will prescribe medications to treat the symptoms of CHF and make your dog’s life more bearable.

Your Vet Will Prescribe:

  1. An ACE Inhibitor, such as Elanapril, to be given twice a day: Elanapril lowers blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels, improves functionality of the heart, and prevents the lungs from retaining water.
  2. A diuretic such as Furosemide (also called Lasix) to rid the body of excess fluids accumulating around the organs.
  3. Supplements: Vitamin B complex, taurine (amino acid; aids in brain development), carnitine (amino acid; converts fat to energy), Vitamin E (aids in reducing scar tissue) and Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10) or Ubiquinol (reduced form of CoQ10) an antioxidant that helps in repairing and maintaining the heart and its valves.

Side Effects from Prescriptions

Unfortunately, we have to take the bad with the good so you need to be aware of the side effects your dog may have from taking these medications:

  • Little or no appetite
  • Depression
  • Loose stools (diarrhea)
  • Kidney disease
  • Your vet will need to perform regular blood tests to watch for liver and kidney issues.

Alternative Treatment

Alternative treatment involves a change in diet that includes: low-sodium, high protein all-natural dog foods, nutritional supplements and herbs to mend the heart muscle and its valves.

Nutritional Supplements, Vitamins that Support Heart Health:

  • Vitamin E: Reduces and prevents excessive production of scar tissue.
  • Vitamin C: Promotes healing and protects the heart and circulatory system.
  • Hawthorne Berries or supplement: Promotes healing of the heart muscle and damaged valves.
  • Dandelion supplement: A diuretic. Dandelion supplement helps rid tissue of excess retained water (edema).
  • Cayenne: Stops internal bleeding, kills pain, promotes better circulation.
  • Taurine: An amino acid. Taurine deficiency has been noted in many dogs with heart failure, but even if your dog does not have a Taurine deficiency giving him a Taurine supplement may improve his condition.
  • Carnitine: An amino acid, Carnitine deficiency has been linked to DCM which affects large and giant dogs.
  • Arginine: An amino acid. In dogs with heart failure, it improves the heart’s output and valve function. Improves tolerance to exercise (stamina) and improves breathing.
  • D-ribose: A metabolic sugar; D-ribose restores energy for quick surgery recovery, normalizes heart rhythm and function, improves tolerance to exercise and quality of life.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Lowers blood pressure, prevents arrhythmia, thins platelets to prevent blood clots, and reduces inflammation.
  • Ubiquinol: A reduced form of Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10). Supports heart health and maintenance; recommended by veterinarians.
  • Dosage information for nutritional supplements can be found here:

In addition to supplements:

  • Be sure to brush your dog’s teeth twice a week! It’s been proven that cavity causing bacteria can get into your dog’s bloodstream and create problems that lead to heart failure.
  • Avoid flea collars and other products toxic to dogs.
  • Keeps your dog away from paints, gasoline, cleaning goods, and other toxins.
  • Make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date.

The best part about using vitamins, supplements, and herbs is there are no side-effects. Also, you can give your dog any of these supplements with your dog’s heart prescriptions.

Vet Knows Best

Before adding any supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies to your dog’s menu, let the vet know which vitamins, supplements, and herbs you plan to use. The vet can adjust the dosages, if necessary, and document this on your dog’s chart.

Important Reminder

Remember to brush your dog's teeth at least twice every week. Veteranarians agree that bacteria that causes gum disease and tooth decay can lead to heart disease. 75% of middle-aged dogs have gum disease, that means they may be destined for heart disease.



Is Heart Disease Common in Dogs?

Risk Increases with Dog's Age

You might be surprised to find that heart disease in dogs is common. In fact, 10% of dogs are susceptible to heart disease. As your dog gets older, his/her risk of acquiring heart disease increases dramatically. A full 60% of senior dogs are afflicted with a valvular heart disease, such as mitral valve disease!

But not just old dogs are afflicted with heart disease; here are the percentages and ages of dogs suscepible to heart disease:

  • 10 % of dogs ages 5 - 8
  • About 25% of dogs ages 9 -12
  • About 35% of dogs 13 years old, and
  • 75% of dogs 16 years old and up

Please Rate This Hub!

Shadow refused to eat during his final few days-- he got too skinny.

Shadow refused to eat during his final few days-- he got too skinny.

  • Canine Valvular Heart Disease
    Valvular heart disease (VHD), a condition caused by breakdown and thickening of heart valves. Symptoms are coughing, pale gums, difficulty breathing, fainting. Treatments includes drug therapy and nutritional modification.
  • Cardiomyopathy
    Information about cardiomyopathy in dogs.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
    Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): Pet Health Topics is a collection of articles written at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University about common problems and diseases in companion animals and demonstrates common procedures that may
  • Finding Holistic Veterinarians in Your Area
    Are you looking for holistic veterinarians near your area? Dr. Royal, Dr. Kneuven, and Dr. Broadfoot may be able to help you.
  • Your Dog's Heart
    Information and resources about heart diseases in dogs,

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© 2015 Miriam Parker

Post Your Comments Here

Miriam Parker (author) from Ontario, CA. 91761 on April 12, 2017:

@LIveMusicLoverLyn: Thank you!

Lyn from England on April 02, 2017:


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