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Why is My Dog Coughing and Then Collapsing?

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Why is My Dog Coughing and Then Collapsing?

As if watching a dog cough wasn't worrisome enough, seeing a dog coughing and collapsing, falling over to the ground may send the most stoic dog owners on high alert. There's really no way to sugarcoat things, a dog collapsing after coughing or engaging in exercise is a worrisome symptom in dogs as it can be indicative of something seriously wrong that requires immediately veterinary attention. It's unfortunate, but some dogs may never wake up from a syncope. So if your dog coughs and then falls over to the ground, don't just assume it's an innocent happening that will unlikely happen again. Chances are, it will, and it may be even worse than before, so this is something that you want to bring to your vet's attention sooner than later.

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A Closer Look

Syncope is the medical term for fainting and it depicts a temporary loss of consciousness. Generally, this transient blackout in dogs is due to the brain being abruptly deprived of energy. The source of energy that the brain is being deprived from is usually either oxygen or glucose.

The brain is an organ that totally depends on oxygen and brief deprivations will lead to syncope. As little as a 10 second deprivation of energy is sufficient to cause collapse in dogs.

Fortunately, most syncopal events are of short duration. with the dog regaining consciousness from as little as a few seconds to minutes.

Syncope in dogs is characterized by the dog suddenly collapsing to his side and developing stiff legs. Some dogs will let out a yelp during the episode which is often perceived by dog owners as fear or pain, when it's due to release of central nervous system activity. Involuntary urination or defecation is not uncommon during these episodes.

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Syncope is not really a primary disease; it is wrong to say 'my dog has syncope'. Rather, syncope is a symptom complex that requires investigation as to what is causing the brain to be deprived from blood flow and therefore its primary energy sources, glucose or oxygen.

While syncope and seizures are often confused with one another as they are similar in many ways, if the dog's syncope is always exclusively triggered by coughing, it's unlikely to be a seizure and more likely to involve a syncopal event. In order to prevent further syncopal episodes, it's important determining the underlying cause of the dog's coughing so to address the issue correctly.

Cough and Drop Syndrome

A dog passing out after coughing is not unusual, so much so that veterinarians often refer to it as "cough and drop syndrome" or they may use the more professional medical term "tussive syncope." There are several causes that may cause cough and drop syndrome in dogs. One of them is what is known as a "vasovagal response."

When a dog is coughing violently, it may trigger stimulation of the vagus nerve which lowers the dog's heart rate and blood pressure. This temporary shortage of blood flow and oxygen causes the dog to collapse until blood flow to the brain is restored.

In this case, treatment entails controlling the dog's coughing so to reduce these episodes and finding whether the coughing can stem from an underlying problem.

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Problems with The Heart

When coughing or any other forms of exertion cause a dog to collapse, this is often indicative of a problem with the dog's heart. Possible heart problems that are associated with coughing include heart murmurs and irregular heart rates, explains veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin.

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Coughing on its own is often indicative of heart problems. What often happens is that an enlarged heart ends up pressing on the dog's trachea triggering the dog to cough.

If your dog is coughing and then collapsing, it's important to have your vet run several tests to determine the presence of heart disease. Your vet may request X-rays, an EKG, and perhaps an ultrasound of the heart and Holter monitoring. It may help seeing a board-certified internal medicine veterinarian (DACVIM) specializing in cardiology.

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Problems with Trachea

Coughing and falling over isn't always suggestive of an underlying heart disorder, at times, the issue may be triggered by problems with the dog's trachea.

A collapsed trachea is a condition that is common in small breed dogs. The dog's trachea, or more simply windpipe, is simply a tube that is composed by rings of cartilage and muscles.

In a normal, healthy dogs the trachea is rigid and aids in the transportation of air to the dog's lungs.

In a dog affected by a collapsed trachea, the trachea has weakened and collapsed causing difficulty for the air passing through. This triggers the dog to develop a honking cough. Small dog breeds are predisposed to this problem and their persistent coughing may trigger the vagal nerve response as explained above.

Treatment often involves the use of cough medications for dogs and for severe cases, surgical intervention may be needed which entails the insertion of tracheal stent so to maintain the trachea open. Using a harness instead of collar is important in dogs predisposed to collapsed trachea so to prevent harm to the trachea.

"Cough (tussive) syncope... This form of situational syncope occurs most often in bracheocephalic dogs however is also common in dogs with airway disease, tracheal collapse or those with sever left atrial (LA) enlargement causing compression of the left maintstem bronchus."~ Dr. Henry Green III, veterinary internist.

The Bottom Line

As seen, a dog collapsing and then coughing is something that needs to be taken seriously. It may be your dog may just needs a cough suppressant to reduce the episodes, but heart problems are often a trigger as they may prevent the blood from flowing efficiently enough to supply the brain. Fortunately, many heart conditions can be managed with heart medications. If your dog is coughing and collapsing, you therefore want to bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

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