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Help! My Senior Dog is Gagging

Black dog gaggin outdoors in grass

Gagging is normal reflux for canines, and it becomes more frequent as your dog grows old. This is because senior dogs produce more mucus and are more likely to gag on it. However, occasional gagging is usually not a problem and veterinary help is recommended only if this condition persists. Keep reading to know about the possible causes (and their solutions) if your senior dog is gagging continuously.

Why is My Senior Dog Gagging?

If your pup seems to be gagging all the time, it’s imperative to consult your vet to determine the cause. A variety of reasons can make your old canine companion gag. The most common of these causes are as follows.

Foreign Object

White dog laying on its back with a small apple in its mouth

Small objects, like broken pieces of toys, can get stuck in the back of your dog’s throat and cause gagging. This can happen at any stage of life and older dogs are also prone to this problem. Therefore, it’s very important to observe your pooch when he/she is playing with toys or roaming outside. Senior dogs with dementia and other mental problems are more likely to ingest harmful objects.

Kennel Cough

Yellow labrador retriever coughing outdoors in grass

This condition is characterized by a typical goose-like cough, which can also result in gagging. It is a contagious respiratory disease that is quite familiar to the common cold. For example, it progresses gradually and goes away on its own.

However, you must give your dog a proper diet and rest while he/she is ill. Similarly, it’s important to observe your old pup closely because a complicated case of kennel cough can lead to pneumonia. Vaccines can be an effective remedy to prevent kennel cough.  

Cancer

Golden retriever being examined by a vet

Although a cancerous tumor in the lungs causes your dog to gag, cancer in any other part of the body can also be responsible. Whether the tumor is primary or secondary, the canine will find it harder to breathe. Hence, he/she will exhibit persistent coughing and gagging. Some other symptoms, like limping, can also be observed if the cancer is affecting the bones.   

Laryngeal Paralysis

Beagle laying down in a dog bed on hardwood floors

This is one of the most likely causes if your senior dog is gagging. In this condition, your pup can’t control the muscles and nerves that are used for closing the larynx. Hence, mucus and food particles can enter the voice box of your pooch. It will make him/her cough and gag to clear the airway.

Laryngeal paralysis is usually difficult to detect in the early stages because it progresses gradually. However, you can identify this problem by observing other symptoms, like panting.  

Heart Disease

Close up of a hand holding a stethoscope listening to the side of a tan dog

Any problem with your dog’s heart can make him/her gag and cough as the amount of fluid in the lungs increases. This is because an affected heart can’t pump the blood properly and it becomes stagnate in the lungs. In most cases, this disease is often accompanied by fast breathing and lethargy. However, the vet will need to perform a detailed examination to identify the exact cause.

Asthma or Allergies

Hound dog outdoors in falling leaves sneezing.

Just like old people, senior dogs are more vulnerable to this problem as their airways become inflamed. Many irritants, like pollen, dust, and smoke, in the environment can cause asthma to canines. They cough and gag to remove the disturbing particle from the airway.

Older pups can also suffer from a range of allergies. In addition to environmental factors, dogs can also be allergic to several food items. In case of an allergy, sneezing, itching, and hair loss are also quite common.   

Tracheal Collapse

While long haired dog laying on hardwood floors with its tongue stuck out.

Also known as the windpipe, the trachea is a vital part of the respiratory system. A ring of cartilage is responsible for keeping it open so that the air could pass through it. However, this cartilage can become weak with age, causing the windpipe to collapse. Hence, the dog will cough and gag as he/she tries to clear the passage for the air to pass.

NOTE: Smaller breeds, such as Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terriers, are more vulnerable to the collapsed trachea.

Obesity

Overweight pitbull laying on hardwood floors

It is not surprising to see your older dogs gain some weight. This is because senior pups become less active and their metabolism also slows down. As a result, they lose their stamina and can over-exert themselves, quickly. If that’s the case, they will cough and gag in an attempt to catch their breath.

The collar of your senior dog can also be responsible for his/her gagging. When he/she becomes obese, the collar becomes uncomfortable tight around the neck. Therefore, the pup coughs and gags to ease the discomfort.   

What to Do if My Senior Dog is Gagging?

Beagle being petted by a senior man.

It can be challenging to observe anything unusual because gagging is normal canine behavior. However, several other symptoms, like difficulty breathing, drooling, and excessive panting can suggest that something’s wrong. If you have noticed continuous gagging in your senior dog, taking him/her to the vet should be your first priority.

Medical Treatment

Woman holding onto the head of a yellow lab while it is being examined by a vet.

The veterinarian will start the examination by clearing the mouth and throat of your pup. If he/she doesn’t find anything that could be obstructing the airway, he will move to the next step. He will look for other symptoms to rule out conditions, like kennel cough and allergies. Fortunately, most cases of dog gagging are quite easy to treat.

In case of a serious medical condition, such as tracheal collapse and heart disease, some tests will be needed. They will help the vet to determine the severity of the disease and figure out a suitable plan of action.

Natural Remedies

Clear tea cup of chamomile tea with chamomile flowers in top of the cup.

These methods can be quite beneficial if there’s no underlying condition that is triggering the gagging of your senior dog. They will soothe the irritation to the trachea and larynx to prevent your pooch from coughing and gagging. For example, vitamin C and elderberry supplements can be quite effective. Likewise, manuka honey and chamomile tea can be very soothing for your dog’s throat.

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