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Dry Heaving in Dogs

While it may not happen often, dogs can fall ill unexpectedly. But what do you do when they are showing symptoms and you don't quite know the cause? Here, our Memphis emergency vets talk about why your dog may be dry-heaving or coughing and what you should do when it happens.

Why is my dog dry-heaving?

Anytime your dog shows extreme signs of illness, it can be nerve-wracking. It can be confusing when they look and sound like they need to vomit, yet nothing is happening.

Some of the common reasons behind dry heaving in dogs include:

  • Tonsilitis 
  • A tumor partially obstructing your dog's throat 
  • Upper respiratory infection 
  • A foreign object lodged in your dog's throat 
  • Gastric dilation-volvulus (bloat)

Like certain other symptoms, if it only happens once, it may not be a concern, although you should still schedule an examination. This examination will allow your vet to rule out any serious health concerns.

What medical conditions cause dry heaving in dogs?

Many different illnesses and conditions can result in dry-heaving dogs. These are:

Kennel Cough (Bordetella)

Bordetella is a contagious condition that mainly affects dogs that spend time in social situations. If your dog contracts kennel cough they will experience a runny nose and a loud honking cough. Dry heaving can be one symptom of kennel cough. Since kennel cough is highly contagious, dogs displaying signs of the condition should be isolated from other dogs to limit the spread of the condition. If you are worried that your dog may have contracted kennel cough you should call your vet immediately.

Bloat (Gastric Dilation-Volvulus)

Bloat can be fatal to dogs that do not receive emergency veterinary care immediately.

This complex medical condition occurs when the dog's stomach fills with air, increasing pressure and preventing blood from the dog's hind legs and abdomen from returning to the heart. In some cases, the stomach flips, cutting off even more blood flow and causing the pancreas to produce toxic hormones, which can cause the dog's heart to stop. Signs of bloat include dry heaving, an enlarged abdomen, increased salivation, restlessness, and signs of pain if you touch the belly.

Without treatment, dogs suffering from bloat will likely go into shock within 1-2 hours, experience increased heart rate, lose strength, and the condition will become fatal. If you see any signs of bloat in your dog, you should immediately call your vet or our emergency veterinary hospital.

Object Lodged in Throat

If your pooch has something caught in their throat that is causing a partial obstruction it could result in gagging, retching and dry heaving as your dog works to force the object out. Anytime you think that your dog has an object stuck in their throat you should call your nearest emergency vet immediately to have your dog's airway cleared.

Tonsillitis, Sore Throat or Throat Infection

When your dog experiences a throat infection or illness, it can result in difficulties with breathing, swallowing and gag reflex. If your dog has swollen tonsils, it could lead to repeated gagging and dry heaving. Contact your vet if you suspect that your dog has swollen tonsils.

Tumor Causing a Blockage

Any growth in the back of your dog's throat could cause breathing and swallowing issues, resulting in gagging or dry heaving. If your dog has a growth in the back of its throat, it will need to be surgically removed to clear the airway and stop your pup from dry heaving. If you spot any growth in your dog's throat, contact your primary vet to schedule an examination.

What can I do if my dog is dry-heaving or coughing?

No matter the possible cause of dry heaving, if your dog suffers from these symptoms, you should contact your vet or our emergency veterinary hospital immediately. Your dog's life could depend on it.

Kennel cough and tonsilitis may be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or oral antibiotics and may not be considered urgent. However, more serious causes of dry heaving will require veterinary intervention.

Foreign objects can damage the throat or shift and block the dog's ability to breathe, and bloat is always a veterinary emergency.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

If your dog keeps dry heaving, coughing or gagging, please contact our emergency vets at Animal Emergency Center right away.

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