Gagging is a throat reflex. Dogs usually open their mouth widely and make a retching sound. If it is brief, it is usually not a cause for concern. Older dogs may gag more often due to underlying health issues.
Gagging in dogs can be mistaken as a cough or vomiting. Gagging or retching sounds like they are trying to vomit while also coughing. Sometimes they bring up white foam or mucous. If it persists or is accompanied by other signs contact a vet.
What to do
What to do if your dog is gagging?
Check your dog
- Are they well in themselves?
- Are they agitated and gagging persistently?
- Is there anything stuck in their mouth?
- Is this a sudden and short episode?
- Is it associated with exercise or excitement?
- Are they drooling saliva?
- Does their tummy appear to be bloated?
- Contact a vet for an emergency appointment: If your dog seems agitated or subdued, struggling to breathe or gasping for air, gums or tongue becoming blue or grey.
- Contact a vet if it’s not getting better: If it’s a brief episode and they’re otherwise well. Monitor your dog for the next 48h.
Common causes of gagging in dogs
- Kennel cough
- Something trapped in the throat
- Drinking too quickly
- Other respiratory infections, such as lungworm disease
- Throat problems, such as laryngeal paralysis
When to worry
When you should be worried about your dog gagging
Seek emergency vet care if your dog is:
- Struggling to breathe or gasping for air
- Gums or tongue becoming blue or grey
- Non-stop gagging
- Pawing at the mouth
- Excessive panting/drooling
- Agitated or subdued
- Not eating or drinking
Joii can help if:
- Recurring gagging
- Nasal discharge
- Reduced appetite
Tips on how to prevent your dog from gagging
There is no way to prevent gagging. This is a reflex response of your dog’s body and it protects their airways.
We can only prevent problems that trigger this reflex. You can do this by:
- Keeping up to date with kennel cough annual vaccine.
- Monthly deworming them for lungworm.
- Taking them to your vets for annual checks.
- Being careful when letting your dog play with small objects or sticks.
- Offering water gradually after exercise or play.
Is your dog gagging, coughing or trying to be sick?
- Gagging: Gagging is a throat reflex. Dogs usually open their mouth wide and make a retching sort of sound. Gagging usually happens just before or after a cough. Sometimes they bring up white foam or mucous.
- Coughing: Coughing is often identified as a hacking sound as if your dog is trying to get something out of their throat or mouth. It doesn’t bring anything out and if it does, it’s quickly swallowed.
- Vomiting: Vomiting is rather obvious as food or stomach contents will come out on the floor.
If you are unsure we recommend you take a video of your dog and show it to a vet.
How to diagnose the cause of gagging in dogs
To help determine why your dog is gagging, your vet will:
- Talk through the history of your dog’s recent events
- Check your dog’s mouth, face and listen to their chest
Additional tests to rule out other conditions might be recommended by your vet:
- Radiographs (x-rays)
- Check their throat under general anaesthetic
- Rhinoscopy (looking through their nose and throat with a camera)
- Blood tests
- Occasionally MRI or a CT scan
How to help your dog if they are gagging
Only problems that trigger the gagging reflex can be treated.
- Something trapped in their throat: If you can’t easily remove this, take your dog to a vet now!
- Drinking too quickly: Provide them with smaller drinks more frequently.
- Nausea: Look for drooling, vomiting, or eating grass behaviour. If you see it, stay calm and monitor them for the next hour. If they continue to vomit, we recommend reading the vomiting article.
- Kennel cough: Keep up to date with kennel cough vaccinations.
How vets may treat gagging in dogs
Once your vets identified the cause, they can provide better treatment options. For instance:
- Respiratory infections: Lungworm: a prescription type of monthly deworming is necessary. Other infections may need antibiotics.
- Throat problems: Laryngeal paralysis usually requires surgery. Other throat problems can be treated or managed with anti-inflammatories or steroids.
Are some dogs more at risk of gagging than others?
- Older dogs can be more prone to gagging due to their vulnerability to diseases of the throat and oesophagus.
- Dogs with flat faces: Brachycephalic breeds often suffer from BOAS. Their body shape is a result of some anatomic changes, that frequently result in gagging.
Other causes of gagging
Gagging with coughing may be a warning of other serious diseases, including:
- Heart disease
- Bloat or twisted stomach
- Windpipe collapse