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Your poor dog is gagging, perhaps appearing deeply distressed, and perhaps releasing a small amount of discharge while making a painful retching sound. What’s going on? Let’s take a closer look at what causes dogs to gag.
Dog Gagging vs. Vomiting
Before we get into the most common reasons why dogs gag, it’s important to distinguish between gagging, vomiting, and coughing. When a dog coughs, it’s a lot like a human cough – air is expelled, there might be a little bit of spray from saliva, and the dog probably doesn’t appear to be in distress. When your dog vomits, it’s obvious that stomach contents have been brought up. Gagging is a completely different action: The dog’s mouth opens wide as if it’s about to vomit. Instead of stomach contents, you might see a bit of saliva or mucus, but that’s it. Often dogs will cough before or after gagging.
Reasons Why Dogs Gag
There are quite a few reasons why your dog could be gagging. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.
If you’re walking with a leash attached to your dog’s collar for example, then it’s likely that pressure on the esophageal and tracheal structures is causing your dog to gag.
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This is simple to fix: Get your dog a harness designed to minimize pulling like the ones here, and your dog’s esophagus and trachea will have a chance to heal. In case you don’t think this is a big deal, reconsider: According to dogowner.co.uk, collar pressure on a dog’s neck can damage the thyroid and cause your dog to develop hypothyroidism. Dogs with collapsed tracheas have severe difficulty breathing and those with damaged esophageal structures can experience difficulty eating and swallowing. If a tight collar and pressure from a leash is the reason your dog is gagging, switching to a harness will make life easier on them and you.
Foreign Body Lodged in Throat, Esophagus or Mouth
Dogs explore with their mouths, and if your pet has a tendency to chew on things, then it’s possible that the gagging could be caused by an object lodged in the back of the throat. Sticks, bones, and even toys or pieces of toys can be trapped, damaging delicate tissues and causing your dog to look and act distressed. If your pet is pawing at their mouth, making retching sounds, and / or drooling, it’s possible that something is stuck.
The esophagus carries food to your dog’s stomach. It’s quite common for items to be stuck in the esophagus – bones, sticks, splinters, large pieces of food, and other items that are ingested can become stuck and cause an obstruction. If there’s something stuck in your dog’s esophagus, you might notice your pet attempting to vomit while making dreadful retching noises. Your dog might have difficulty drinking and eating, too.
In some cases, sharp objects puncture a dog’s esophagus. Symptoms include coughing, rapid breathing, and difficulty swallowing. In some cases, a dog with a punctured esophagus will develop a fever.
Sometimes small items can be stuck in a dog’s mouth – sticks and bones are among the most common. If your dog has something wedged between their teeth, under their tongue, between their gums, or even across the roof of their mouth, it’s likely that they will make visible attempts to dislodge it by rubbing their faces on things, pawing at their faces, and gagging. You can make a quick visual inspection to see if you can spot the item and perhaps clear your dog’s mouth, but be careful – if the item breaks, matters could become worse, injuring your pet further or leading to an infection, not to mention causing an accidental bite to your hand.
Foreign bodies can spell serious trouble for your dog, so get them to the vet immediately if you suspect that there’s something stuck in your pet’s mouth, throat, or esophagus.
Medical Causes of Dog Gagging
Besides pressure on the neck and foreign bodies lodged inside the throat, mouth, or esophagus, there are some other reasons why dogs gag:
Anatomical structure: Some “short-nosed” dog breeds such as bulldogs and pugs have an elongated soft palate that partially obstructs the dog’s airway. These dogs gag and snort frequently, and they’ll typically snore while sleeping. The issue tends to increase with exercise and decrease when the dog is relaxing.
Laryngeal Paralysis: Often seen in older retrievers, laryngeal paralysis is a condition in which the larynx fails to close properly, so fluid and food gets into the airway and causes your dog to gag.
Roundworm Infestation: Roundworm larvae travel through the bloodstream into the lungs, causing dogs to cough and gag. Unlike fleas and ticks, roundworm cannot be seen, though it’s still important to keep your dog well-groomed to check for parasites.
Infection: Nasal infections (rhinitis) and sinus infections (sinusitis) cause postnasal drip similar to what you might experience when you have a nasty cold. Symptoms include gagging, coughing, retching, and sneezing, along with nasal discharge. There are quite a few issues that can cause your dog to suffer from rhinitis or sinusitis including distemper, parainfluenza, herpesvirus, and adenovirus. In senior dogs, gagging associated with rhinitis and sinusitis sometimes occurs when teeth are infected or in some cases when a tumor is present.
Kennel Cough: Symptoms of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough that’s sometimes followed by a gagging sound.
Whatever the reason, a dog gagging is usually a sign that something’s wrong. If your dog gags just once or twice and doesn’t seem to be in distress, it’s possible that they had a momentary issue with a piece of food stuck in their esophagus, and that they’ve managed to swallow it. Keep an eye on your pet and call the vet if you think something might be amiss.
If your dog is gagging frequently and/or seems to be distressed or in pain, get to the vet as soon as possible. Whether there’s a foreign body or if your pet has an illness, it’s important to address the issue right away.