Treating your dog's cough with an antitussive medication doesn't cure the underlying cause but offers symptom relief. Vets commonly prescribe antitussives for dogs diagnosed with kennel cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis, or chronic bronchitis. If your dog develops the characteristic honking cough resulting from tracheal collapse, your vet might prescribe an antitussive, along with other drugs. Antitussives are available only by veterinary prescription.
Dogs diagnosed with infectious tracheobronchitis typically receive antitussive medication in conjunction with other treatment, such as bronchodilators. Antitussives interrupt the dog's cough cycle, acting as cough suppressants. Many antitussives are narcotic in nature. In the past, morphine often served as an antitussive in canines, but it's rarely prescribed today. That's partially because of its potential for addiction and abuse, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
Codeine, one of the most common antitussives prescribed to dogs, is available in tablet, syrup and liquid forms. Codeine is related to another opiate, morphine. Also used as a pain medication, codeine is only about 10 percent as effective as morphine as an analgesic but has a similar antitussive ability. Side effects are much less frequent than with similar doses of morphine. Adverse effects include sedation, seizures, breathing difficulties and constipation.
Tablets containing trimeprazine tartrate with prednisolone, marketed under the brand name Temaril-P, combine an antihistamine with a corticosteroid to provide cough relief. Although often administered to dogs suffering from constant itching, Temaril-P also has antitussive properties and is prescribed for dogs with kennel cough and other bronchial coughing. Dogs with diabetes, kidney or liver disease, epilepsy, high blood pressure or cardiac problems should not receive Temaril-P, nor should puppies or pregnant or nursing dogs.
While similar to codeine, hydrocodone, marketed under the brand names Hycodan and Tussignol, is a considerably stronger drug. Veterinary medications combine it with the anticholinergic medication homatropine so humans won't abuse it. Your vet might prescribe it for tracheal collapse, infectious tracheobronchitis or lung infections resulting from viruses. Potential side effects include vomiting, sedation, nausea and constipation. Giving the drug with food can reduce possible adverse gastrointestinal effects.
Butorphanol tartrate, another analgesic, has antitussive properties. However, it packs a powerful punch -- 100 times as strong as codeine. Expect a dog treated with this medication to experience considerable drowsiness. Marketed under the brand name Torbugesic, dogs receive low doses for antitussive purposes and higher doses if used primarily as pain medication. Dogs with kidney or liver disease, Addison's disease, or issues with their central nervous system should not receive Torbugesic. Nor should pregnant or nursing dogs, geriatric canines or debilitated animals.