A dog’s cough can be indicative of serious disease. However, dogs can cough for other reasons: dust or allergens in the air, kennel cough or a collapsed trachea. In such cases, an over-the-counter cough suppressant may be appropriate to control or to prevent coughing. Always consult your dog’s veterinarian if you're uncertain about the severity of your dog’s illness. Cough suppressants should never be used by dogs who may have pneumonia.
Dogs who have a dry, nonproductive cough can be treated with over-the-counter cough suppressants intended for human use. These cough suppressants should contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan, which suppresses the cough center in the brain. Unlike prescription narcotic-based cough suppressants, dextromethorphan typically does not cause drowsiness. Products that contain dextromethorphan include the additive-free formulations of Robitussin, St. Joseph Cough Suppressant for Children and Vicks Formula 44 Soothing Cough Relief.
Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine can be used to treat coughs associated with airborne allergens. Benadryl is a commonly used antihistamine for treating dogs.
Medical Conditions that Require Cough Suppressants
Kennel cough is an infectious disease that can be both viral and bacterial. It generally does not need treatment and usually will resolve on its own in a week to 10 days. A cough suppressant can be useful when a dog’s cough is severe enough or frequent enough to interfere with her ability to rest. While a cough suppressant can help a dog be more comfortable during her recovery, it only treats the dog’s symptoms. A cough suppressant does not cure kennel cough.
A dog with a collapsing trachea may be treated with a cough suppressant to reduce coughing episodes that increase the possibility of the trachea collapsing. Use of cough suppressant may be combined with use of a sedative, when needed. Dogs who have had surgery to correct a collapsing trachea often need a prescription cough suppressant, such as torbutrol, rather than an over-the-counter product.
Risks and Side Effects
Cough suppressants should not be used for a cough that produces mucus, as the body needs to remove mucus from the lungs.
Dextromethorphan should not be used in pregnant or nursing females; neither should it be used by animals with allergies to the drug. Some side effects include excitement, nausea, high blood pressure, dizziness, drowsiness or reduced rates of breathing. Dogs also may become addicted to dextromethorphan.
Antihistamines may cause drowsiness and an allergic reaction in some dogs.
When to Contact the Vet
If your dog is coughing for more than a day or if her symptoms grow worse, consult your veterinarian for an updated diagnosis. Chronic coughs lasting for a week or more may be a symptom of other lung, airway or heart disease. Dogs who have severe cases of kennel cough may need antibiotics to control their cough.