How to Ease Chest Congestion for a Dog

By Scott Morgan

Upper respiratory infections in dogs can lead to congestion in the chest that in turn can become life-threatening if left untreated. The good news is, the outward signs of upper respiratory trouble are easy to spot and the condition usually is treatable.

Respiratory Conditions Leading to Congestion

Respiratory flu or seasonal allergies can progress to lung congestion in dogs. The source of an infection can be any of several things:

  • Kennel cough

  • Canine flu H3N8 or H3N32

  • Injury to the chest area

  • Distemper

What to Watch For

Symptoms of chest congestion can start subtle but usually become obvious quickly. A major sign of congestion is an inability to breathe easily unless standing.

A deep, nagging, hacking cough is another sign of trouble. A wet cough could also signal pneumonia, which likely will cause lethargy, loss of appetite or even fainting.

While a fever of 101 to 102 degrees F often indicates an infection, congestion from allergies, irritants or underlying problems such as congestive heart failure will not cause a fever.

Take your dog to a vet immediately if you see any signs of congestion. Untreated congestion can kill a dog in as little as two weeks.

Treating Chest Congestion

Medicine From the Vet

Your veterinarian may administer diuretics to help remove fluid from the lungs, particularly if he's suffering from congestive heart failure, the most common cause of canine lung congestion.

Your vet likely will place your dog on a healthy diet with little exercise, if congestive heart failure is the problem. Too much activity could be life-threatening.

Warm and Dry, but Hydrated

Keeping your dog warm and dry, and, preferably indoors, can greatly shorten the time he's sick and help him breathe more easily. Cold air constricts breathing systems.

A vaporizer, however, will help keep your dog's breathing tubes moistened, which also will help ease congestion in his chest.

Percussion Therapy

Coupage, a.k.a. percussion therapy, is a patting of your dog's chest with a cupped hand. Strike gently but rapidly several times on your dog's chest wall. This helps loosen deep-set phlegm and secretions and triggers coughing to help your dog bring up the fluid.

Coupage should be performed at least four times daily and should be continued at home as long as the patient has a cough.

Use a Nebulizer

Similar to a vaporizer, a nebulizer disperses a mist containing medicines that will help eliminate congestion in your dog's chest.

Run the nebulizer for 20 minutes over the course of a week. If the problem persists, call your vet.

Congestion stemming from allergies or bacterial infection can be treated with medication, but congestion stemming from flu or viral infection cannot. Only the symptoms can be treated.