When I try and take my dog (Dex) for a walk, within a few minutes he begins making a coughing noise. The first few gags/coughs are usually not 'productive', but then he will start spitting/coughing up clear spit more often than not. Generally this is the worst at the beginning of the walk, and generally settles down about 20 minutes in. In instances where we have not continued with the walk, he pants heavily for the next 15 minutes or so after returning home, and takes quite some time to settle.
I walk him with a harness, and he is not overweight. He never has this issue when chasing after balls in the backyard (where he is flat out sprinting) or other games that involve him running, only when we take him for a walk.
We encountered another variation of this issue a few months back - we had taken him to a friends place and he began coughing/throwing up. He seemed fine, and it looked like spit, so we just kept an eye on him. He continued this off and on for the next few hours, and by the time we brought him back home, he was heavily panting. Considering this had now gone on for 5-6 hours, we took him to the emergency vet. We chose to get x-rays considering we were concerned about this behavior when exercising as well. The X-rays did not show signs of a collapsing trachea, inflammation etc, however one of the view's wasnt obtained due to Dex being restless & panting. The vet thought that this happened because Dex became over excited, and when he coughed initially, this irritated his throat which is why he continued to cough/gag. She also mentioned that it might be an issue with an elongatde soft palate?
Has anyone had any experience with anything similar? I am concerned that walking him is doing more harm than good!
Very interesting case. First I would say it is not exercise related. Because of your comment that chasing a ball and exercising flat out does not cause the problem. But on the walk he displays the symptom. My first through was the collar pressing on his trachea, then you said you use a harness. I would like to see if this harness in any way can touch or press on the very lower part of his chest / trachea. Possible it could cause this.
Next what is interesting is the friend visit and the vet x-ray and exam. That sounds like excitement related ...(perhaps)... hypersalivation, whipping up frothy saliva in the back of the throat etc. This will cause gagging reflex and then become a vicious cycle and be hard to stop. I've seen this in many short neck/face breeds and in excitable "hyper" dogs.
Your veterinarian is quite correct to point out the possibility of an Elongated Soft Palate. This condition is also seen in these short neck/face smaller breeds and is not usually too bad, but they can display a symptom of gagging and coughing from excessive frothy saliva.
A careful (perhaps sedated) examination would reveal this problem. A surgery does exist to correct the problem. (it is the same problem overweight men have with sleep apnea and the upper airway obstruction with snoring and apnea).
I would suggest your veterinarian do a complete exam of the entire throat to see if this is the problem and discuss treatment options.
As an emergency vet, I would add that many of these cases are challenging to diagnose, but may respond to a combination of antibiotics for a possible upper respiratory infection (i.e, kennel-cough) along with low dose steroids (like prednisone) to reduce inflammation of the trachea. Minimizing excitement and activity for the next few weeks might also help reduce the "cough cycle", as Dr. Humphries discussed.
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