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From time to time, your dog may cough or sneeze, wheeze, snort, gag and heave. But how can you differentiate between when your dog is coughing or dry heaving?
Surely, if you are a first-time dog owner, you may not know the difference. And if you and your dog are still getting to know each other, you may not recognize the sounds in your new canine companion.
In this article, we are going to give you a comprehensive overview of dry heaving in dogs. What is it? What does it sound like? How can you tell it apart from other sounds of canine distress?
What causes dry heaving in canines? What can you do to stop it? How do you know when to contact your dog’s veterinarian for help? Read on to find out!
Please note, though this content cites academic and veterinary sources, it is in no way a substitute for veterinary advice. Always consult your vet when your dog is displaying abnormal symptoms.
How to Tell Your Dog Is Dry Heaving
Dog wheezing, gagging, coughing, heaving – dogs can make all kinds of worrying sounds that send us running to check and see what is wrong.
How can you tell dry heaving apart from all the other range of sounds that your pup makes on any given day?
Dry heaving in people is basically vomiting but nothing is coming out. Dry heaving in canines is exactly the same.
As Care points out, you can think of dry heaving like “unproductive retching.”
The key is that your dog is using their abdominal muscles in a way that suggests they are trying to push something up and out of the stomach or esophagus.
This is distinct from the sound they may make when trying to “clear their throat”. Essentially, if your dog has ever pulled too hard on their leash and had to take a throat clearing break, you’ll know that sound, though it differs from coughing or dry heaving.
So if your dog looks and acts and sounds like they are trying to throw up but you don’t see anything coming out of their mouth, it is most likely dry heaving that you are seeing.
Of course, never wait to call your veterinarian if you are worried about your dog. There are some potentially fatal health issues that can cause dry heaving, as we will talk about in the next sections in this article.
Five Most Common Reasons for Dog Dry Heaving
In this section, we tell you what canine veterinarians have to say about the five most common reasons why your dog might start dry heaving.
As the American Heartworm Society highlights, one of the common symptoms of internal parasites is a dry cough.
When undetected, heart worms grow inside the lungs, heart and circulatory system.
Tapeworms and roundworms are also common culprits when a dog is dry heaving. Tapeworms grow inside your dog’s intestinal tract, while roundworms colonize the lungs and respiratory passages.
Bloat, gastric torsion, is a condition that can quickly become life threatening if left untreated.
As the Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island explains, gastric dilatation occurs when the stomach twists.
Veterinarians are not sure exactly what causes this, but it is more common in deep-chested dog breeds like German Shepherds. Twisting cuts off airflow to the stomach.
Deep dry heaves can be one warning sign of bloat.
3. Kennel cough.
As the American Kennel Club (AKC), points out, kennel cough is a bronchial infection.
It is highly contagious and can readily pass from one dog to the next in a boarding or doggy daycare setting.
The most characteristic sound associated with kennel cough is more of a honking cough sometimes referred to as a “goose honk.” But dry heaving is another warning sign.
If your dog has a habit of trying to swallow non-food items or eat an entire chew toy in a single swallow, then obstruction is a very real threat to watch for.
This is especially critical if you are caring for a small or toy sized breed with a very tiny trachea. Tracheal collapse is a real threat in toy breeds like the Chihuahua and Maltese, but can happen to any size dog.
As well, it goes without saying that if you recent had to give your dog a pill (or other oral medication), it may not have gone down as smoothly as intended.
5. Laryngeal issues.
The larynx is the voice box. In you, the larynx helps you form words and talk. In dogs, the larynx aids in barking, whining and – sometimes – gagging, coughing or heaving.
Laryngeal inflammation, paralysis or tumors can all cause dry heaving in dogs.
As PetMD points out, laryngeal paralysis can be especially common with senior Labrador Retrievers.
Other Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Dry Heaving
While the five dog health issues you read about are generally regarded as the most common causes for dog coughing and gagging and dry heaving, they are far from the only causes.
Dogs can get themselves into all kinds of trouble no matter how carefully you dog-proof your home environment.
Here are some other possible reasons why your dog might suddenly start dry heaving.
Tonsillitis is an inflammatory disease that can cause the tonsils to swell up. This in turn can cause dry heaving because the tonsils start to block air flow to the throat and lungs.
If you see mouth breathing along with dry heaving, this can be an indication of blocked airflow due to enlarged tonsils.
As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) explains, distemper is most common in young puppies who have not yet been vaccinated against this disease.
Distemper not only passes quickly from dog to dog, but can even pass from an infected mother dog to the unborn puppies. Dogs can also catch it from wild animals.
There is a vaccine that all dogs should get to protect against this potentially fatal condition.
BOAS (brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome).
Yet another possible explanation for why your dog might be dry heaving is BOAS. There are three basic muzzle types: long, medium and short.
A short muzzle is called brachycephalic. Bulldog breeds are a perfect example of this muzzle shape. Some short muzzle dogs can develop another type of airway obstruction related to the lack of room inside their mouths.
This is called “reverse sneezing.” Dogs with BOAS may exhibit reverse sneezing on a regular basis (not to be mistaken with regular sneezing in dogs)
This can lead to dry heaving, especially if the dog tries to eat too much food at once or swallow a big gulp of water.
In addition, this can lead to bouts of your dog coughing and gagging.
Separation anxiety or situational stress.
Separation anxiety in dogs can be a very serious issue. Some breeds are known to be more prone to the condition. But often separation anxiety arises after trauma, abuse or neglect.
Situational stress can be come severe when there are loud sounds like thunderstorms or seasonal fireworks. Car rides that induce motion sickness can also cause severe systemic stress.
These types of issues are also known to cause dry heaving in some dogs.
Gas or upset stomach.
Finally, dogs can get gas or upset stomach just like people can. Some dogs can express this distress through dry heaving.
Acid reflux may cause burping in dogs just like it does in people. Here, your dog may be burping or retching up air but you just don’t see anything coming out. This is another form of dry heaving to watch for.
Contact with toxins.
With increased use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides and other chemicals, more dogs become exposed to these toxins and suffer as a result.
If you can’t find any good reason for why your dog has suddenly started dry heaving, start ty looking around your home and yard.
Try to see if there is any chance your dog has come into contact with toxins, poisons or foreign objects. Contact animal poison control immediately for guidance on next steps.
Remedies for When Your Dog Is Dry Heaving, Coughing or Gagging
It can be very upsetting and stressful to listen to your dog retching or dry heaving! Are there any home remedies you can try to ease your dog’s distress?
We will look at the best remedies for dry heaves in dogs in this section.
But remember, if you are unsure how serious the issue is, never wait. Contact your dog’s veterinarian or drive right to the nearest animal emergency room for help.
Otherwise, the best remedy is always going to relate back to the reason for the dry heaves. This is why some of the remedies on this list may seem to contradict each other.
If you don’t know why your dog is dry heaving, then visiting your veterinarian is always the first step.
1. Make your dog comfortable.
Observe your dog to see if there is any sign they are too hot or too cold. Dog breeds with thick coats are often more prone to overheating.
Similarly, very small or hairless dog breeds are often more likely to get chilled quickly.
2. Withhold food.
If your dog is dry retching and you suspect any kind of airway obstruction, be sure not to offer food or water or toys or anything that could worsen the situation until you can get your pup to a vet.
For dogs that have an upset stomach, fasting can also be an effective way to let the dog’s system get rid of the offending item. However, make sure water is still available.
You may want to wait a full 24 hours to make sure the dry heaves have stopped before offering food again. Take the guidance of your veterinarian here.
3. Offer food.
If you suspect your dog has a sensitive stomach or acid reflux, sometimes offering a small amount of food will calm the stomach.
If this helps, you may need to adjust the feeding schedule so your dog never goes for a long period with nothing in their stomach.
4. Offer an herbal remedy.
Ginger tea, fennel tea and mint tea can be helpful to ease upset stomach issues in dogs. Chamomile, dandelion, marshmallow root and peppermint tend to be particularly good for nausea issues.
Be sure to dilute the herbs well with warmed water.
For dry heaving that seems to be related to anxiety or stress, such as separation anxiety, an herbal aid with flower essences can be helpful to some dogs.
Ginger can be particularly soothing if the reason for the dry heaving is related to motion sickness.
5. Consider probiotics.
If the dry heaving is related to acid reflux, sensitive stomach or food allergies, probiotics formulated for dogs can help ease inflammation and sensitivity in the gastrointestinal tract.
However, before dosing your dog on your own, it is always smart to consult your veterinarian for guidance.
6. Give homeopathy a try.
Just as there is homeopathy for people, there is also homeopathy for pets. Homeopathy should be offered only under the guidance of a trained and certified pet naturopath or veterinarian.
Should You Consult Your Veterinarian About Dog Dry Heaving?
When your dog is coughing, dry heaving, or gagging, the best course of action is always to call your dog’s veterinarian or the nearest animal urgent care center for guidance.
This is especially vital when your dog has no prior history of these symptoms.
For some dogs, such as dog breeds with short muzzles that have been diagnosed with BOAS or reverse sneezing, owners become familiar with dry heaving episodes and learn how to cope at home.
But for dogs with predisposition to gastric torsion (bloat), tracheal collapse or heart worm, prompt veterinary care can be a lifesaver.
It is smart to keep the contact phone numbers for the animal poison control hotline and the nearest animal urgent care center in your phone for after hours or holiday needs.
Dry Heaving Symptoms That Require Urgent Veterinary Care
When your dog is dry heaving and that is the only symptom, you may be able to safely remain at home and take guidance from your dog’s veterinarian over the phone.
But if you see any of these symptoms, don’t wait. Your dog needs to be seen right away.
– Shaking uncontrollably.
– Pale gums and skin.
– Vomiting and/or diarrhea.
– Rash or hives.
– Foaming at the mouth.
– Sudden change in temperament.
This will help you decide what is best for your dog.