A. You didn't mention how long your dog has been coughing, which can help determine whether this is a recent problem or a chronic condition. In general, a gagging, hacking cough tends to be associated with tracheobronchitis. The most common causes of tracheobronchitis are infection (kennel cough) and allergies. Recent exposure to other dogs as in a dog park or kennel could lead to infection. If allergies are the culprit, the time of day and where the dog is located when she coughs can often help pinpoint an allergy source.
A honking cough, which is more paroxysmal (happens in fits), can be associated with either reverse sneezing or a collapsing trachea. Reverse sneezing happens when the pharyngeal gag reflex is stimulated by irritation of the soft palate and throat. Sometimes reverse sneezing is caused by nasal mites, sometimes allergies are involved, and sometimes no particular cause for it can be found. A collapsing trachea is a much more severe problem. It is caused by defects in the cartilagenous tracheal rings. It is more common in middle-aged and overweight dogs, and in small breeds (Yorkies, Pomeranians and Chihuahuas). Because collapsing trachea can become a very serious problem, but it is treatable, I would recommend you have your dog examined by your veterinarian. It is always difficult for us to assess coughing and sneezing behaviors, particularly because the dog will never perform them while at the veterinarian's office. Some veterinarians will ask you to videotape the coughing with a cell phone or video camera. There are good diagnostic tests available to ensure that your dog doesn't have a serious problem.
Q. This may be more of a question for a plumber: Is there any possible harm in flushing kitty poop that has kitty litter stuck to it down the toilet? I have never heard or seen anything about it, but it just seems to me that it could cause problems. I have a friend who does this. I haven't said anything, since I don't know if anything is wrong about doing it, but it worries me.
A. I highly recommend that you not flush regular litter down the toilet, even a small amount. I have heard of people having toilet problems from doing this. I've even heard of problems resulting from flushing the clumping "flushable" litter. It could be an expensive problem to repair. Another reason to not flush litter, even flushable litter, is that municipal sewage treatment plants do not usually kill the T. Gondii parasite, which is carried in cat feces. Cat owners using flushable litters may be unwittingly contributing to the death of some forms of marine life.
--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to email@example.com. Her column runs every other week.