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Help for a Dog Coughing Up Blood

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If your dog is coughing up blood, you are rightfully concerned and should consult with your vet to diagnose the underlying cause as soon as you can. The medical term for coughing up of blood is hemoptysis, and, as one may imagine, this is an abnormal finding and requires prompt investigation as the underlying causes can be quite serious. It's important to distinguish coughing up blood from vomiting of blood and bleeding from the dog's gums, mouth and throat. In hemotysis, the blood originates from the lower respiratory tract. As always, it's important to consult with your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

dog tired

Signs of Trouble

Coughing up blood may be an isolated event occurring only once, or it can be a sudden presentation or perhaps present for some time along with other signs of trouble.

Signs of trouble that warrant an emergency visit include bruising on the abdomen, pale gums (white, gray or yellow), bloody diarrhea, pin-point bleeding (petechiae), trouble breathing and lethargy. If the coughing persists and there continues to be blood or there are large amounts of it, it's important to see the vet immediately, remarks veterinarian Dr. John.

Also, you should see your vet immediately if your dog happens to have an increase in respiratory rate or trouble breathing. Your dog's respiratory rate should be less than 40 breaths per minute when your dog is at rest and not panting. To count your dog's respiratory rate, consider that one respiration consists of one breath in and out.

If your dog's respiratory rate is high and your dog has pale gums, this could be indicative that the dog is bleeding elsewhere in the body and requires an immediate trip to the emergency vet, suggests veterinarian Dr. Jessica O. 

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A Bleeding Disorder

Any time there is suspicious bleeding affecting dogs, a bleeding disorder should be investigated. Bleeding disorders that interfere with the ability of the blood to clot can be caused by autoimmune diseases such as immune mediated hemolytic anemia or autoimmune thrombocytopenia. At times, congenital bleeding problems may be present such as hemophilia A or B or Von Willebrand's disease, which is common in certain breeds like the Doberman, standard poodles and golden retrievers.

If there are chances that ingestion of rat or mouse poison is a possibility, it's important to realize that these products contain toxins that cause blood clotting problems. If you suspect your dog ingested rat poison, consult with your vet as soon as you can.

Erlichia, a condition caused by ticks, can also cause bleeding. Due to a low platelet count, the affected dog may develop cough with blood, explains veterinarian Dr. Loretta. 

Dog Gasping for Air Before Dying

A Respiratory Disorder

Coughing up blood in dogs can be indicative of a respiratory issue such as severe bacterial or fungal pneumonia or bronchitis. Other possibilities include a respiratory foreign body (grass awn, foxtail) or high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), which can happen secondary to advanced and severe heart worm disease or left side congestive heart failure.

On a lighter note, at times, repeated coughing such as as seen in kennel cough, can cause a dog to cough up mucus with a streak of blood. In such a case, it could be that the forceful coughing caused a small blood vessel to rupture somewhere, explains veterinarian Dr. Marie.

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It's always important though to have a dog with hemoptysis see the vet if it persists so to rule out the several potentially serious conditions listed.

A Digestive Disorder

At times, the bleeding can be associated with a problem with the dog's upper digestive tract. It could be that the dog has ingested a foreign body that has caused damage to the digestive tract or it could occur as a result of irritation to the dog's esophagus or stomach.

A dog with a stomach ulcer may develop bleeding in the digestive tract, but generally, in these cases though, dog owners will see their dogs vomiting up blood (hematemesis) rather than coughing up blood.

One thing to consider though, is that sometimes dogs may not cough up blood originating from their respiratory tract but may swallow it and this can cause confusion as to its source, considering that this may trigger the dog to regurgitate the blood or vomit it back up as seen with digestive disorders.

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A Sign of Cancer

As in people, the coughing up of blood can be indicative of cancer. While dogs do not smoke cigarettes, they can become the victims of second hand smoke too. The effect of pollution can play a role too considering that dogs who live in urban areas are more predisposed to develop lung cancer than dogs living in rural areas. Albeit the fact that cancer can affect dogs of any age, older dogs are more predisposed, in particular dogs between the ages of 10 and 12.

Cancer of the lungs, may cause affected dogs to develop coughing with or without blood, wheezing, rapid breathing, trouble breathing, exercise intolerance, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss. Not always though do dogs show symptoms by the time of diagnosis.

Lung cancer in dogs can be primary or secondary, deriving from another form of cancer. When a dog presents with limping due to bone cancer, an x-ray of the lungs is often done so to check for spread to the lungs which is a common finding. Cancer of the liver or spleen can also spread to the dog's lungs.

At the Vet's Office

chest xrays dog

Your vet will inquire on the amount of blood you have seen and will ask you to describe the cough. He or she may ask you if your dog has any recent history of trauma as sometimes coughing up blood can be seen in dogs after being hit by car due to chest injuries.

Your vet may also ask if your dog is current on heart worm medication. If the blood is substantial and your dog appears weak, your vet will want to stabilize your pet, before going into diagnostics.

The vet will listen to your dog's heart and lungs and will look at his gums to check their color. The mouth may also be checked to check for any bleeding. X-rays of the heart and lungs may be taken and blood work will help check if the dog's blood is clotting fine and whether the shape of the red blood cells are normal. Tests to check for tick-born diseases may be run if the dog lives in endemic areas (areas where certain tick-born diseases are particularly prominent).

Treatment for a dog coughing up blood varies based on the vet's findings. If the dog is suffering from a bleeding disorder, a blood transfusion may be needed if the blood loss was significant. Autoimmune disorders are treated with medications such as steroids. If the dog ingested rat poison, the vet will want you to give your dog prescription vitamin K. If your dog has heartworm disease and is coughing blood from pulmonary hypertension, a veterinarian may prescribe sildenafil to lower the high blood pressure in the vessels, explains veterinarian Dr. Micaheal Salkin.

As seen, a dog coughing up blood can be due to serious underlying disorder. If you notice blood in your dog's sputum, please see your vet sooner than later.

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