Do you occasionally—or perhaps even frequently—notice gagging sounds and/or motions from your dog; gagging sounds that do not result in any vomit being expelled?
Are you entirely sure that the sounds you are hearing actually represent gagging and not simple coughing?
Even the healthiest of dogs are known to gag from time to time.
This gagging can sometimes be due to coughing or something stuck on the dog’s throat, but in most cases, those sounds you hear are actually the result of retching, and they can occur with or without the presence of vomit.
So what should you do if your dog is gagging or retching?
And what is causing the behavior in the first place?
These are the questions we will answer in more detail below.
Gagging/Retching versus Coughing
Before we dig into all the possible reasons for gagging without throwing up, it’s important that you learn to distinguish between gagging and coughing.
Just like their human counterparts, dogs can cough—and they can cough for many of the same reasons we do.
Upper respiratory infections, for example, including the common cold, can affect our pets, causing sore throat, excess phlegm and, yes, persistent coughing.
Dogs can also suffer from allergies.
Seasonal allergies, like allergies to pollen, can cause coughing in dogs, as can allergies to things like mold, dust or even cat hair.
In other words, the gagging you hear may not be gagging at all, but rather an actual biological response to irritants in the throat and airway.
In most cases, a coughing dog is usually not cause for concern.
For example, if an infection is behind the cough, chances are the cough will go away as soon as the infection clears the body.
Coughing during specific times of the year, like springtime, or only coughing in areas with lots of dust, could point to allergies in your dog.
This type of coughing should be brought to the attention of your vet, who may prescribe medications that can help curtail your pet’s symptoms.
Unfortunately, not all coughing is benign in nature (as you will see in more detail in the section that follows).
One example of the potential seriousness of coughing is the condition known as Kennel Cough, which can often be very harmful.
For the purposes of this article, the important thing to note is the difference between coughing and retching.
At times, both can sound like “gagging,” but with retching you will normally see other symptoms that are not always present in a dog that is merely coughing.
When retching, your dog will almost always lower its head, anticipating vomit to be expelled.
Retching is also a “full-body” activity, as if your dog is digging deep within itself in an attempt to get rid of whatever is ailing him.
Whether you believe your dog is coughing or retching, you should definitely take notice, especially when the gagging sound becomes consistent or chronic.
This type of gagging may be a sign of an underlying illness or condition.
Sudden gagging, or gagging that seems to come out of the blue, perhaps after eating a meal, could mean that your dog is choking on something.
In these instances, quick action on your part could mean the difference between life and death.
Why Is My Dog Gagging but Not Throwing Up: The Reasons—and the Steps You Should Take When It Happens
Whether your dog is coughing or actually gagging/retching, it’s important that you get to the bottom of it, especially if the action came on very, very suddenly, perhaps after his evening meal, or if the gagging is sustained and chronic, consistent over many hours or over many days.
Of course, because our four-legged pals cannot actually verbalize what is going on with them, it is completely up to us as owners to do the necessary detective work and decide whether our pet needs to be seen by the local veterinarian.
Below we have listed several potential reasons for gagging in dogs, beginning with the most serious possible causes.
We have also highlighted the actions you should take for each of these causes.
Your Dog Is Choking
Although rare, there are hundreds of cases of canine choking every year in this country.
Choking is the result of something becoming lodged in the airway of your dog, preventing them from breathing normally.
Because of this blockage, your dog may begin gagging or retching in an attempt to clear the object or substance.
Most cases of canine choking happen because of foreign objects.
Some dogs, for unknown reasons, have a tendency to put almost anything in their mouths, from sticks and rocks to small children’s toys.
When they ingest these foreign objects, sometimes the items can become stuck in the throat, making it difficult for them to take in air.
These episodes can be very scary and extremely dangerous; and they require the immediate attention of your veterinarian.
If your dog begins to gag, the first thing you will want to do is look inside his mouth (if possible) and try to determine if there is indeed a foreign object lodged there.
If there is, you should take him to the vet immediately, as time is of the essence in situations like these.
It is NOT recommended that you stick your hand inside your pet’s mouth, unless you are absolutely sure you can safely remove the object.
It is very common for pets to bite down during these episodes, and reaching your hand inside one’s mouth can be very dangerous.
Choking in dogs is a fairly rare occurrence.
Usually, a dog will able to clear the object on his own, either by coughing it up or eventually ingesting it.
However, if you own or work at a place where many dogs are present—places like kennels or dog training facilities—you may want to think about taking a class in canine first aid.
Among other skills, these classes typically teach a version of the Heimlich maneuver for dogs—a maneuver in which you can manually assist your dog in clearing a foreign object from his throat or airway.
Gastric Dilation and Volvulus
If your dog’s gagging, retching or coughing is not the result of choking on something foreign, there is another potential reason for the behavior: a condition called Gastric Dilation and Volvulus, or GDV.
GDV is a serious condition that affects the gastrointestinal system of your pet.
While GDV can only be diagnosed by your pet care provider, it’s important to note here that the condition may cause gagging sounds and motions in your dog—actions that require the immediate attention of your veterinarian.
If you fear the gagging sounds from your pooch may be the result of GDV, you will want to look for other symptoms as well—symptoms that might confirm this diagnosis.
- Belly distension. Is the tummy of your dog a bit bloated, swollen or distended, or perhaps firm to the touch? This is a hallmark of GDV.
- Drooling. Excessive drooling is also common in GDV.
- Weakness. Weakness in the legs or listless behavior.
- Foaming of the mouth. White foam inside the mouth is not always caused by rabies; it is also one of the primary GDV symptoms.
- Rapid heart rate. Look for signs of a rapid heart rate, such as fast breathing and an inability to catch his breath.
A quick response time is vital when dealing with an episode of gastric dilation and volvulus, so be sure to get your dog to the nearest pet urgent care facility as fast as you can.
Other Potential Causes
While choking and GDV are definitely the most serious and often the most sudden reasons for gagging or retching behavior in your dog, there are also a few other causes that, while not as grave as the former, still demand your attention.
Here are just a few of those causes:
- Age. Age catches up to all of us, even our dogs. Our muscles, including the ones that help with digestion, can become weaker, making it more difficult to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, like chewing and swallowing.
- Your dog ate grass. While grass may look like a colorful and appealing snack to your pooch, it definitely does NOT agree with their sensitive digestive systems. As a result, many dogs will gag and retch after eating any measurable amount of grass or sod. Sometimes these gagging sessions will produce a small amount of vomit, but not always.
- Infection. Infections of the gastrointestinal system can also cause dogs to retch and gag, even when there is no food in their systems to vomit up. These infections are usually caused by viruses, but they can also be caused by bacteria and even fungi. If your dog is gagging due to a viral, bacterial or fungal infection, you should also notice other symptoms as well, such as a loss of appetite, weakness and fatigue.
Finally, as we mentioned in the introduction, sometimes “gagging” is not actually a retching sound, but rather the sound of “coughing.”
This is certainly the case in the canine condition known as Kennel Cough.
Kennel cough is a type of respiratory infection which is not directly related to the gastrointestinal system.
In this condition, which also demands immediate attention from your veterinarian, you will notice other symptoms in addition to the coughing sound, including sneezing; weakness and fatigue; nose discharge; and fever.