Ask the Vet: Why Do Dogs Honk Like Geese?

Dr. Ivana Crnec

When dogs honk like geese, dog owners often wonder what's up with their dog.  A honking sounding cough in dogs is weird after all, as it may sound like nothing we have ever heard before. Hence, why many dog owners refer to it as a honking sound, almost as if dogs were geese.  Following are several potential causes for a honking sounding cough in dogs and what may cause it, by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.

Coughing is a defense mechanism that naturally removes unwanted material from the air passages. The mechanism is also triggered by damage or irritation to the lining of the airways. Coughing may be brought on by various causes, such as pressure from collars, allergies, pollution, poisons, infections, worms, heart conditions, lung diseases, injuries, respiratory tract tumors or a collapsing trachea. 

Why Do Dogs Honk Like Geese?

A dog with a severe or persistent cough should be seen by a vet. The type of cough often suggests the diagnosis.

 For example, a deep, dry, hacking cough may suggest infection of the throat or trachea, a spasm of prolonged coughing when the dog is lying down may indicate heart disease, while a goose-honk cough is likely to be caused by reverse sneezing, kennel cough or a collapsing trachea. 

Let's take a closer look at these three conditions known for causing a goose-honk cough in dogs. 

Reverse Sneezing in Dogs 

Reverse sneezing is a curious condition also known as laryngospasm. During an episode of reverse sneezing, the dog snorts inward in a sometimes violent paroxysm that may last for up to a minute.

The exact cause of reverse sneezing is unknown. The problem often occurs whenever a dog becomes overly excited, for example, such as when the owner returns home. It is believed that the condition can also be triggered by:

· Fast eating and drinking

· Exercise intolerance

· Pulling on the leash

· Allergens such as pollen, dust, perfumes

· Household cleaners and chemicals

· Foreign substances in the throat.

Reverse sneezing is fairly common in small breeds, particularly in Yorkshire Terriers and Beagles. Dogs with smaller throats are more likely to develop this condition. Also, brachycephalic dog breeds (such as Pugs, Boxers and Shi-Tzus) are at higher risk of reverse sneezing. The condition worsens as the dog ages.

The episodes of reverse sneezing may be frequent, but they are never prolonged. After an episode, the dog behaves completely normal, as if nothing happened.

No treatment is usually needed. Most episodes of reverse sneezing are self-limiting and resolve on their own without any treatment or medications. It should be well-accented that massaging from the larynx forward may significantly shorten an episode.

If allergy is the underlying cause, it is recommended to talk to your vet about prescribing you some antihistamines. Ideally, if possible, you should eliminate the allergen from the dog’s environment.

Immediate veterinary attention should be obtained if your dog had an attack of reverse sneezing and instead of improving after the attack it collapsed. In such case, the vet will need to eliminate the possibility of having a foreign body obstructing the larynx and causing the episode.

Kennel Cough in Dogs  

Kennel cough or canine cough, are popular names given to a variety of infections that cause damage to the larynx, trachea and bronchi. These diseases include infection with the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and infection with a variety of viruses, including parainfluenza and adenovirus types CAV-1 and CAV-2. Other infections that damage the trachea and bronchi include distemper and mycoplasma.

An infected dog is bright and alert but has a harsh, dry, non-productive cough. The cough is very unique – namely when the dog coughs the sound resembles a honking goose. Pinching the dog’s windpipe triggers the distinctive cough.

Puppies, small dogs prone to tracheal collapse, individuals suffering from chronic bronchitis and those with reduced immunity are susceptible to secondary bacterial infections in the lungs. This is a serious complication. Affected dogs have a fever, are lethargic and may be uninterested in food. If pneumonia develops, the cough becomes more moist-sounding. There may also be wheezing and rapid breathing.

Although highly contagious, kennel cough is not a life-threatening condition. In fact, more often than not, kennel cough is a self-limiting condition that given enough time resolves on its own. However, this approach is only recommended in mild cases. More severe cases of kennel cough require veterinary attention and proper supportive care.

Tracheal Collapse in Dogs 

Tracheal collapse is the result of a congenital and anatomical defect in toy breeds, particularly the Yorkshire Terrier, but also the Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Italian Greyhound and Toy Poodle. 

Although dogs are born with the problem, it becomes evident with increasing age. The normally rigid structure of the trachea becomes weakened and more prone to collapse under pressure. Ultimately, the tracheal rings become so weakened and loose that they create a constant tickle in the throat.

The affected dog coughs like a honking goose. Coughing is triggered by excitement and physical activity. It is more likely to occur in overweight individuals or in those suffering from respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis.

The vet will first eliminate other possible causes of the coughing, such as heart disease. A collapsing trachea is confirmed by X-rays.

The course of the treatment is determined based on the severity of the condition. If obesity is an issue, weight loss is recommended. If overly-excited behavior is a component it is advisable to practice excitement reducing training or in more severe cases, to use mild sedation.

Medications like bronchodilators, cough suppressants, and corticosteroids are useful to achieve reduced secretions and suppressed coughing.

In addition, it would be helpful to eliminate any pollutants or irritants that may either aggravate or trigger the problem. Some irritants cannot be eliminated but luckily others (such as cigarette smoke can).

In some cases, surgery to insert a tubular support for the collapsed trachea is performed. Sadly this approach is not always applicable. Namely, if the problem is located in the neck area the surgical approach warrants efficacy. On the flip side, if the problem is in the chest cavity part of the trachea the approach is not suitable.

The Bottom Line

 Coughing is a natural reflex, a response to clear the airways of excess mucus and debris. It is a cause for concern only if it is severe or persistent, or if it sounds unusual – for example, if it sounds like a honking goose.

If a dog honks like goose it requires immediate veterinary attention. The underlying cause that triggers a honking cough is often benign and self-limiting (as it is with reverse sneezing). Sadly, in some cases, the underlying cause can be serious and even life-threatening (as it is with tracheal collapse).  

About The Author 

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.