Why Does My Dog Cough At Night But Not During The Day?

It can be concerning for dog owners when their furry friend develops a cough that seems to worsen at night. While coughing during the day can often be brushed off as normal, persistent coughing, gagging, or choking sounds overnight likely signals an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention.

In this article, we will explore some of the most common causes of nighttime coughing in dogs. We will analyze possible medical conditions, environmental factors, and lifestyle considerations that could lead to nocturnal coughing episodes. Key questions addressed include:

  • What health problems commonly trigger coughing in dogs at night?
  • How can you differentiate between kennel cough and other more serious conditions?
  • Could reflux, allergies, or irritants in the home environment cause night coughing?
  • When is coughing at night an emergency situation?
  • What diagnostics and treatments are available for chronic night coughing?
  • How can you manage or prevent coughing episodes in your dog?

Gaining a better understanding of the most likely reasons dogs cough at night can help owners seek proper veterinary care and relief for their furry companions.

Possible Causes

There are several health issues that could potentially cause coughing in dogs at night but not during the day:

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is one of the most common causes of nighttime coughing in dogs. Kennel cough is an upper respiratory infection caused by bacteria or viruses that leads to inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. The cough is often harsh and dry. Kennel cough is very contagious and dogs can catch it from contact with infected dogs at places like dog parks, groomers, and boarding kennels. Kennel cough symptoms tend to worsen at night when the airways become drier (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-coughing-causes-treatment/).

Heart Disease

Heart disease like valvular disease or congestive heart failure can cause fluid buildup in the lungs. This results in coughing episodes that tend to worsen at night when the dog is lying down. Cough from heart disease may produce white or pink tinged phlegm or foam. Panting, difficulty breathing, and weight loss may also occur (https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/healthcare/why-is-my-dog-is-coughing).

Collapsed Trachea

Tracheal collapse occurs when the cartilage rings supporting the trachea weaken, causing the airway to flatten. This leads to a dry, honking cough that can be stimulated by excitement, exercise, pulling on the leash, or even just breathing. Dogs may have worse tracheal collapse symptoms at night. Obesity can contribute to tracheal collapse (https://www.goodrx.com/pet-health/dog/dog-coughing).

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by bacterial and viral infections of the trachea and bronchi. It is characterized by a persistent, dry, hacking cough. Dogs contract kennel cough when exposed to airborne organisms or by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. The incubation period is 5-10 days.

Common symptoms of kennel cough include honking, hacking cough that often sounds like a goose honk, coughing fits brought on by excitement or exercise, gagging or retching, sneezing, eye discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. The cough is usually worse at night when the airways tend to constrict. The irritation from the infection leads to inflammation of the trachea and bronchi, causing bouts of coughing. Kennel cough can last anywhere from 10-21 days if untreated.

While kennel cough resolves on its own, treatment involves antibiotics, cough suppressants, and anti-inflammatories. Prevention involves vaccination and avoiding exposure to infected dogs. Proper rest, hydration, and TLC can help soothe nighttime coughing fits.




Heart Disease

Heart disease, such as mitral valve disease or dilated cardiomyopathy, can lead to congestive heart failure in dogs. As the heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently, blood backs up in the lungs causing pulmonary edema. This buildup of fluid in the lungs can irritate the airways and trigger coughing, especially when the dog is lying down at night.

Congestive heart failure leads to coughing due to a few reasons:

  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs – As blood backs up in the lungs, fluid leaks into the air sacs. This causes inflammation and irritation, stimulating cough receptors.
  • Enlarged heart – As the heart enlarges, it can put pressure on the trachea. The trachea then collapses easier when the dog is lying down, leading to irritation and cough.
  • Poor circulation – Heart disease reduces blood flow and oxygen delivery. The lack of oxygen can directly irritate airways.

Cough from heart disease tends to worsen at night for several reasons. When lying down, fluid shifts in the lungs, putting more pressure on irritated airways. The trachea is also more likely to collapse when lying down. At night, the respiratory drive is lower, so coughing reflexes are further reduced. All these factors come together to make dogs with heart disease cough more frequently when settling down to sleep.

If a dog has a heart murmur or heart disease, new onset coughing warrants further evaluation by a veterinarian. They can determine if congestive heart failure is the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment to manage fluid accumulation and support heart function.

Collapsed Trachea

A collapsed trachea is when the cartilage rings that hold the trachea (windpipe) open become weak, causing the trachea to flatten and narrow. This makes it more difficult for air to pass through and can irritate the airways, leading to a persistent, dry cough often described as a “goose honk.” According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, this cough may worsen at night, with excitement, or when pressure is put on the trachea from a collar or leash (source).

Tracheal collapse is more common in small and toy breed dogs like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers. The tracheal cartilage loses its C-shaped rigidity over time, causing the airway to narrow and making it prone to irritation, inflammation, and coughing. This often worsens at night when dogs are lying down, as the soft tissues in the neck put more pressure on the weakened trachea.

Reflux and GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common cause of nighttime coughing in dogs. GERD occurs when stomach acid or stomach contents back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation of the esophageal lining.[1] This can trigger coughing as the body tries to clear the irritants from the esophagus and prevent aspiration into the airway.

The position of lying down can exacerbate GERD and acid reflux. When a dog lies down, the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes, allowing stomach contents to flow more easily back up the esophagus. Gravity also plays a role, making it easier for fluid to travel up when lying down. This is why dogs with GERD often cough more frequently or severely when settled down for bed at night compared to being upright during the day.[2]

Symptoms of nighttime coughing due to GERD may be accompanied by gagging, swallowing difficulties, general discomfort, restlessness, and vomiting bile.[3] If acid reflux is suspected, your veterinarian can perform diagnostic tests like endoscopy to examine the esophagus and stomach.

Environmental Irritants

Dust, pollution, smoke and other irritants in the air can often accumulate more at night when the air is still, and this can trigger coughing in dogs. During the day, these irritants get circulated out of the house through open doors, windows, and ventilation systems. But at night when everything is closed up, irritants remain trapped inside.

Dust mites in carpeting, bedding, and furniture are also more problematic at night when the dog is laying in one spot for hours. The dog breathes in the dust mite allergens and this can cause coughing fits.

Cigarette smoke, wood smoke from fireplaces, and other fumes are more concentrated inside the home overnight as well. These irritants can inflame the airways and provoke coughing.

The best way to combat nighttime coughing from environmental irritants is to keep the home as clean and well-ventilated as possible. Consider an air purifier and vacuum and dust regularly. Also avoid smoking indoors at night when irritants are most likely to build up.


To diagnose the cause of a dog’s nighttime cough, veterinarians will typically start with a physical exam and take the dog’s history into account. They will listen to the cough and check the dog’s throat, mouth, and airways for any obstructions or inflammation. Vets may also palpate the neck and chest area and check lymph nodes to feel for any abnormalities.

Additional diagnostic tests commonly used for nighttime coughing in dogs include:

  • Chest x-rays – To check for an enlarged heart, fluid in the lungs, or masses/tumors that could be causing irritation and coughing.
  • Blood tests – To check for indicators of infection or systemic disease that could be contributing to coughing.
  • Fecal exam – To check for heartworms or lungworms.
  • Tracheal wash or bronchoalveolar lavage – To collect samples from the airways and test for bacteria, fungi, viruses, cancer cells, or inflammation.
  • Endoscopy – To visually inspect the airways.
  • Echocardiogram – To evaluate heart structure and function.

Based on the results of the initial exam and diagnostic tests, vets can better pinpoint the cause of night coughing and determine the appropriate treatment approach.


Treatment for a dog coughing at night will depend on the underlying cause. Some common treatment options include:

For kennel cough, vets may prescribe antibiotics like doxycycline or amoxicillin to fight the bacterial infection. Cough suppressants like butorphanol may provide relief from frequent coughing. Increased rest and isolation from other dogs is also recommended to prevent spreading the illness. Most mild cases of kennel cough resolve on their own within a few weeks.

If heart disease or congestive heart failure is the cause, medications like ACE inhibitors, diuretics, and vasodilators may be prescribed to improve heart function and reduce fluid buildup in lungs. Oxygen therapy may be needed in more severe cases. Lifestyle changes like limiting exercise and sodium intake can also help manage the condition.

For collapsed trachea, vets may recommend cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and anti-inflammatories to open airways and reduce irritation. In severe cases, surgery may be performed to reinforce or shorten the trachea. Using a harness instead of a collar can help prevent further damage.

If acid reflux is the culprit, medications like antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors may be used to reduce stomach acid production. Dietary changes, feeding multiple small meals, and not exercising right after eating can also help minimize reflux.

For environmental irritants, removing the source of irritation and using medications like antihistamines and bronchodilators may provide relief. Air filters, humidity control, and limiting time outside when pollution levels are high can also help.


There are several things you can do to help prevent your dog from coughing at night:

– Minimize exposure to irritants and allergens. Keep your home clean and dust-free, avoid using candles or air fresheners, use allergen-reducing bedding, and limit time spent in dusty outdoor environments. This helps reduce airway irritation that can trigger coughing (source).

– Use a humidifier. Dry air can aggravate coughs, so maintaining humidity around 30-50% may help (source).

– Avoid smoke exposure. Don’t smoke around your dog and limit time around campfires or fireplaces. Smoke residue can irritate airways (source).

– Visit your vet regularly. Annual checkups allow early detection of conditions like heart disease that could lead to coughing. Follow your vet’s advice for vaccinations, exams, and medication for your dog’s specific health profile.

Taking steps to promote healthy breathing and air quality, while monitoring your dog’s health, can help prevent nighttime coughing episodes.

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