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canine health problems
Why is my dog gagging

The essentials

  • Dogs gag from time to time — Gagging could be from something as simple as eating too quickly.
  • Monitor a gagging dog for 24 hours — Keep an eye out for other symptoms, like coughing or wheezing, which could signify an underlying health problem.
  • Talk to your veterinarian — If your dog is suddenly gagging often, have a vet perform an exam and any tests to determine the cause. Infections, heart disease, and other ailments could be the issue.

You’re on the sofa, catching up on your favorite shows, when all of a sudden, you hear it — a deep, honking sound followed by the straining noise of a dog gagging. This sound is enough to make any pet parent leap from their cozy seat or jump out of bed from a deep sleep. But does a dog’s gagging mean they are about to vomit?

Not always. Sometimes, your dog may have just eaten their food a little too fast or swallowed it “down the wrong pipe” as we humans like to say. Gagging isn’t exactly a scientific term, but it does help describe a sound you might hear from your dog’s mouth. It could be harmless, but gagging may precede vomiting or could be a symptom of an underlying health condition. You could also be confusing the sound of a cough for gagging. Sometimes, gagging may come before a cough, and other times, your dog might cough and then gag. Each of these behaviors can mean something else is wrong with your pup, and it may be time to call the vet.

Not sure what gagging sounds like or having trouble differentiating it from a cough or other sound? Here’s an example of what a gagging dog sounds like:

Potential causes of a dog gagging 

Although your dog may gag for natural, harmless reasons, this behavior can signal that a more serious health condition may be responsible.

  • Inflamed larynx. The larynx can become inflamed , swollen, or built up with fluid, especially for obese or brachycephalic dogs with compressed faces, such as pugs or bulldogs. The inflammation may lead to coughing, gagging, or noisy breathing.
  • Laryngeal paralysis. Laryngeal paralysis is when the nerves of the laryngeal muscles weaken, and cartilaginous opening of the larynx collapses. Gagging followed by a cough is a common symptom of this condition.
  • Infection. Infections, particularly respiratory infections, may cause a dog to gag and/or cough. Kennel cough is a type of highly contagious respiratory infection. The cough sounds like a honking noise and may be accompanied by gagging.
  • Pneumonia. Pneumonia is when the air sacs in a dog’s lungs become inflamed or filled with liquid or pus. This makes it more difficult for the dog to breathe, and the dog may cough or gag as they try to breathe.
  • Foreign objects. A dog may gag and rub their face against the floor if they are choking on something that is stuck in their throat.
  • Heart disease. Some heart diseases, such as heartworm disease, can cause the heart to enlarge and the airways to compress. Worms in the heart can cause a backup of blood, leading to fluid accumulation (edema) in the lungs.
  • Sinusitis or rhinitis. As nasal fluids drain into the back of the throat of a dog with a sinus infection or rhinitis, the dog may gag to try to clear the throat.
  • Gastroenteritis. Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract may cause your dog to gag, especially after they eat or drink.
  • Intestinal parasites. Parasites, like roundworm, can move from the intestines to the air sacs in the lungs, causing the dog to cough or gag.
  • Bloat. Bloat, also known as twisted stomach or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), can be deadly for dogs. Symptoms of this condition include vomiting or attempts to vomit, gagging, a swollen stomach, and weakness. If your dog shows signs of bloat, you need to take the dog to an emergency vet immediately.

Your dog may just gag, or they may gag then cough, or cough then gag. The order of gagging and coughing can help you get a better idea of what may be wrong. For example, if they cough then gag, there may be something wrong with their lower respiratory system. If the dog gags then coughs, it may be laryngeal paralysis.

If a dog coughs before they gag

Coughing followed by gagging is usually a symptom of a lower respiratory problem, such as bronchitis or other inflammation. This may mean the dog is trying to force air in or out of the body.

If a dog gags before they cough

If the dog gags, then coughs, it may be a sign that something is wrong with the larynx. The dog may have inflammation of the larynx or could have laryngeal paralysis.

When should you see a vet?

If your dog has a one-time incident of gagging but is otherwise behaving and breathing normally, there is usually no cause for concern. Keep an eye out for any new symptoms or recurrent gagging issues, but otherwise, your pup should be just fine.

If your dog has an ongoing gagging problem or is experiencing other symptoms, like coughing, trouble breathing, or difficulty eating or drinking, there could be a serious underlying health condition. For continuous gagging or additional symptoms, you should schedule a veterinarian visit.

Excessive coughing or gasping, collapsing, and blue or purple gums are all things that should warrant an emergency visit.

Dr. Erica Irish

DVM

What to do if your dog is gagging

If your dog does start gagging, pay close attention. You may need to intervene if you suspect they are choking, and you may need to talk with the vet if your dog is gagging frequently.

Monitor their symptoms — Your dog might gag just once, or they may gag frequently. Keep an eye out for 24 to 48 hours after you first hear your dog gag, and check for other symptoms such as bloat, nasal discharge, wheezing, coughing, or lethargy. For ongoing gagging and additional symptoms, schedule a vet visit.

Examine for foreign objects — Your dog may be gagging if they swallowed something they shouldn’t have, which can be dangerous. Take them to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will check for foreign objects and remove them safely or run tests for other possible causes of gagging and provide treatment.

Follow up with your vet — If the gagging was a symptom of a medical condition, the vet will prescribe your dog a treatment plan. Make sure to follow the prescription and take note of how your dog responds to it. Be sure to follow up with your vet about how your pet is doing, bring up any additional or ongoing concerns, and ask any questions that have come up since your visit.

Preventing your dog from gagging

You can’t always prevent a dog from gagging, but there are ways to minimize risks. Always keep choking hazards, like sticks, small objects, cords and wires, sharp and/or cheap bones, and other dangerous objects away from your dog. To keep your pup in good health, schedule regular vet visits for preventative care, so the vet can keep an eye out for issues like kennel cough, larynx inflammation, or other infections and diseases. Your pet insurance policy may cover routine care, so long as you have a wellness plan.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my dog coughing and gagging?

Dogs may cough and gag for a number of reasons. Minor things, like eating too fast, can be the problem, but this behavior can also be a sign of something more serious, like a respiratory infection.

What is the best way to treat a dog that is gagging?

First, check for any foreign objects in case your dog is choking. Monitor the dog for at least 24 hours after you first hear gagging. If gagging persists or you suspect your dog is choking, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

What causes a dog to keep gagging and throwing up?

If your dog is gagging and vomiting, they may have eaten something they shouldn’t have, they may have an upset stomach, or they could be choking on a foreign object.

How can I get my dog to slow down when eating?

To encourage your dog to eat more slowly, pet parents can toss a ball or toy into food dishes, or switch to a puzzle or slow feeder. You may also consider more frequent yet smaller meals if your dog is getting especially hungry between feeding times.