Should You Give Your Dog Cough Medicine?


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When your dog starts hacking, wheezing, or honking, you’ll definitely want to help. We’ve all had coughs before and know how much they absolutely stink. But there’s one thing you should do before you try to purchase cough medicine for dogs.

If you’re a returning visitor to Daily Paws, you know what’s coming: If your dog is coughing, you need to talk to your veterinarian. Not all coughs are equal, and your vet is the one who will determine what kind of medicine your dog needs, says Michael Stone, DVM, DACVIM, and associate clinical professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The treatment is based on the cause.

“It’s very safe to give cough medicine to a dog who has a benign disease, but it’s very dangerous to give cough suppressant to a dog who has a disease that needs to be treated differently,” he tells Daily Paws.

So you’re better safe than sorry when it comes to your dog’s cough medicine. Here’s what you need to know:

Is There Cough Medicine for Dogs?

Indeed there is, but you should have your veterinarian either prescribe or recommend (if it’s over the counter) the drugs your dog needs.

Your dog might need canine cough suppressants—which limits coughing—or he might need something to clear out his lungs, called an expectorant. That would be the case if your dog has pneumonia, when he needs to get the gunk and bacteria out of his lungs, Stone says.

That’s why a proper diagnosis is so important. You don’t want to limit coughing if your dog has pneumonia, so don’t immediately reach for a cough suppressant.

“If you stop the cough, that’s risking not being able to clear that material and, therefore, making the pneumonia worse,” Stone says. The same goes for when dogs cough because of heart disease. Stone says a cough suppressant could actually speed up heart failure, which could be fatal.

However, treating pneumonia and heart disease with medication specific to those ailments—antibiotics for pneumonia, for example—can eventually ease your dogs’ coughing.

A collapsed trachea, however, can be aided by a cough suppressant like dextromethorphan. Same goes for your dog with kennel cough, though you might be able to simply monitor your dog’s cough until it departs on its own.

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Stone says it’s hard to know how well cough suppressants work, though. Some dogs might have better or worse coughing days based on a variety of conditions. Plus, there’s the ever-present challenge of not being able to simply ask our dogs how they’re feeling and get an answer.

Vets might also suggest using a nebulizer or humidifier, though that’s not common, Stone says. However, the bottom line remains that your veterinarian is best equipped to determine medicine your dog needs.

Can I Give My Dog Human Cough Medicine?

Don’t do this, Stone says. It’s best to avoid all human cough medicine because some products include xylitol, the artificial sweetener that can threaten your dog’s life.

“Any medication that’s got xylitol in it—it’s very dangerous to dogs, and that’s commonly in cough drops,” Stone says.

Plus cough medicine dosage for dogs and humans varies drastically, especially if you have a small dog. For those reasons, it’s best to stay away from all human drugs when considering how best to treat your dog’s cough, he adds.

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How To Safely Give Dogs Cough Medicine

Your dog can be prescribed cough medicine through a variety of methods, Stone says, including pills, liquids, and injectables. Here’s how to administer each kind of drug safely:

  • Pills: You can hide them in food, treats, or even make them tastier yourself. This is probably the easiest option, just make sure to follow your vet’s instructions. Read our guide to giving dogs pills here.
  • Injections: VCA Hospitals has a good how-to guide for giving a dog an injection. Your vet should be able to give you all the supplies you need, even though a pill or liquid medication might mean less effort.
  • Liquid: You can hopefully spread the it over some of your dog’s favorite food, but you might also need to use a syringe to distribute the cough medicine directly in the dog’s mouth. If that’s the case, you’ll follow similar steps to giving a cat liquid medicine.

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