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Butterfly’s Heart


Butterfly started coughing about a month ago. It was only on occasion and seemed to be in response to her rawhide chews, so I stopped giving both dogs those treats. But the coughing continued; it was a sort of hacking sound, like there was something stuck in her throat and she was trying to cough it up.


“Mommy, Butterfly sounds funny.”

I was concerned because it was the one question her cardiologist always asked me when he gave me the results of her twice yearly echocardiograms: has she been coughing? Even if her heart looked the same since her previous visit, he asked about coughing, and I always said no, she wasn’t coughing much. She’d sneeze here and there, or cough when she tried to swallow too much kibble at once, but, no, coughing was not one of her things. He never really explained why he was asking, and after the first three times I stopped asking him.

So when I noticed that she was coughing almost daily, I got scared, and made her an appointment with her regular vet. I thought it could just be allergies, and that I was getting hysterical for no reason, but really, I was afraid her heart disease had progressed.

I’ve worried about losing Butterfly since the first day we brought her home, because not only was she already eight-years-old, but she had a heart murmur they’d just noticed when we adopted her. They hadn’t heard it when they were removing her bad teeth, or excising a lump under her armpit. If they’d noticed the heart murmur, the staff said, she wouldn’t have been out on the floor and up for adoption – she’d have been in a special foster program for heart patients. So I was very lucky that they hadn’t noticed.


My Lucky Day!

Butterfly’s vet did a chest x-ray that showed no changes to her heart to go along with the coughing, but she said she wanted to try Butterfly on a heart medication anyway, to increase blood flow, and see if that would help. She said that the coughing could be caused by her enlarged heart pressing on her trachea, making it more difficult for her to swallow. But that was just a guess, really. Possible side effects of her new medication would be lowering of blood sugar and listlessness, but I already do blood sugar tests for her diabetes, so it wouldn’t be an extra burden.

Fortunately, or not, there was no significant change in her blood sugar readings, and no sign of listlessness. But, she’s still coughing, three or four times daily in short bursts. She coughs a little bit when she wakes up, she coughs a little bit when she eats, she coughs a little for no reason I can see. Her mood and energy level are still great, though, and she eats and drinks and runs and pees and poops like normal. And she’s loving the twice daily doses of peanut butter. But there’s the coughing.


“Peanut butter?”



We have to go back to the vet and see what she says about the heart medication and the coughing. Maybe we’ll have to try a different kind of medication. Maybe she’ll tell us to redo the echocardiogram before the six month mark to make sure it really is her heart that’s causing the cough. But I’m worried. Butterfly came home as an eight-year-old puppy mill survivor, with a questionable heart, and then developed diabetes within her first year with us, so there’s always been a ticking clock over her head. I make sure to revel in her presence as much as I can and make sure that I don’t miss anything of the life she has left – but I still worry every day, and I picture my life without her as a barren wasteland. I need Butterfly to live to her full expected life span of twelve to fourteen years, but more would be better. She’s at eleven and a half now.


My baby.

I’d like to find out that the coughing is something unrelated to her heart, like, maybe she’s trying to learn how to talk and this is the first step, or she’s decided to store kibble in her throat for later, and it’s more difficult than she expected, or maybe it’s just allergies. That would be wonderful.

pix from eos 006


About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

162 responses »

  1. Awww. Sorry to hear about her cough. It is so worrisome when our babies (pets) are sick. It is so frustrating because they can’t talk to us to tell us what is going on. And vets do the best they can, but sometimes it just seems so inadequate. Hang in there.

    Perhaps she just has a little cold . . .

  2. I am sorry she is going through a tough time – my prayers are for both her and you and of coarse I send puppy hugs and get well wishes.

  3. A neighbor of mine had a Japanese Chin dog which is a cousin of the Shih tsu (sp?). He developed a dry cough too.. But it didn’t have anything to do with his heart. It was his trachea. I believe it kept collapsing. The vet gave her medicine to manage it and he wasn’t supposed to bark a lot as this exacerbated it. Like Butterfly he was an elder when he developed it and I believe he lived to his full life expectancy of about 13.

  4. Three Pups and a Couple of Kitties

    I’m so sorry. It’s hard when our pups are sick and we don’t know exactly what’s going on. Prayers and hugs ~ Margret

  5. Do hope it’s allergies but at least you’re aware and keeping a good eye on her.

  6. Aw not having answers can be so frustrating. Poor Butterfly.

  7. A worrying time for you. I do so hope that everything is ok with Butterfly and that it is only just a cough.

  8. Glad Butterfly’s chest xray was clear but I do think your vet will likely send you off to for an echo sooner than what is scheduled. Normal xrays could have shown a collapsed trachea but not always, particularly when the coughing is intermittent. Little dogs with heart conditions do a lot better than larger breeds because their little tickers just don’t have to work so hard to pump blood throughout a big body. There are all sorts of different medications we have at our disposal now, too. Looking forward to an update on your little love bug. She won the adoption lottery when you rescued her!

    • Thank you! We weren’t able to get an earlier echo appointment, but the vet is gonna look at her in a week or so and see if the new medication is helping or if we should try something else. As long as there’s peanut butter involved, Butterfly is in.

  9. Rachel, I didn’t read through everyone’s comments because I’m on the run right now so if this has been said already, I’m sorry. My little 9lb Earl started coughing too in his old age and my vet said perhaps a harness instead of a leash would help. His elderly trachea was being squished by the collar and the pull on his leash. It worked and his coughing diminished down to practically nothing. Perhaps this is worth a try. An easy fix and Butterfly would look darling in a little vest… Cricket might want one too:) Love and hugs to all Rachel and I hope this helps..

    • I’ll ask the vet, thank you! Though Cricket would NOT be a fan of going along with Butterfly on that one.

      • I think Cricket and Earl would have liked each other:) Getting Earl in the vest-type harness was easier than the strap type and of course the process was even better when treats were involved. He didn’t mind it once it was on, it was the “getting on” part that was tricky at first. You got to be quick Rachel. LOL I am so NOT quick…

      • I spent last night trying Cricket’s old harnesses on Butterfly and then measuring her for a new one that would actually fit her. She had a blast! There were so many treats involved!

  10. Darn, meant to tell you that Earl’s cough didn’t just happen when or after we went for a walk, his cough happened during the same situations you mentioned, when he ate etc…

  11. With all the tests that have been performed, it kind of does sound like it could be allergies which can be treated to eliminate the coughing. Paws crossed for you and that sweet little Butterfly pup! 🙂

  12. My best thoughts are with you & Butterfly

  13. Oh Rachel, when I read your title, I started to worry. I can only imagine what you are going through. Butterfly is such a sweetheart! We have a rescue dog that was older when he was found in a thunderstorm with one eye missing and the empty socket filled with fleas. he’s all fixed up now, but I know he spent some terrifying times before he came to live with us. We love him to pieces, like you do Butterfly and Cricket. We know he won’t be with us forever, but as long as he is, he will be loved to death!
    Here’s hoping Butterfly has a long long time to hang out with you, your mom, and Cricket!

  14. Sorry to hear about Butterfly’s coughing. I hope it is nothing serious.

  15. Gidget coughed like that (especially in the mornings) all the time. She didn’t have kennel cough, no heart problems, but she did have allergy issues but the med they gave us didn’t stop the coughing completely. The Vet then guessed maybe it could be acid reflux or her trachea. Since we moved to a townhouse the coughing has lessened significantly: hardwood flooring and berber carpet as opposed to the plushie carpet we used to have. I also had started giving her more soft food than hard kibble and I put it on a flat saucer so she doesn’t scarf it down too fast (I get her Prescription Hills i/d dog food since her system has trouble digesting.) The food adjustment helps in lessening the irritation to her trachea. Lastly, I bought her this: [HomeoPet Cough]. It’s FDA approved and has no chemicals but I was still nervous so I only put a drop into her water. She didn’t have a negative reaction so later on I gave her two drops into her mouth. Then later on three. The cough stopped long enough for her to get some relief (it would wake her up too early sometimes.) Now, the only time she seems to get a cough fit is early in the morning after the fan has been on all night. Seems to dry out her throat. If it ever continues I just give her coconut oil or the cough remedy. Hope maybe the cough remedy can help Butterfly get some relief and that the vet’s figure out what’s wrong!

  16. Allergies would be a good bet…the trick is to find out *exactly what* she is sensitive to…could be almost anything in the environment with some animals. Good luck to you and sweet Butterfly!

  17. My Gizmo has severe allergies, especially at this time of year. I hope that’s all it is! Butterfly is a little angel. I especially love the photos of her flying!

  18. Oh sorry to hear about that cough poor darling. I hope all is well for sweet Butterfly , hope it is just a passing thing.
    Good Luck xx

  19. Ah…so much to worry over when our babies have health problems. I, too, will hope that the medical explanation for the coughing is found and/or that Butterfly is learning to speak. Regardless, I will hope that she continues to enjoy the good life with you, Cricket and your mom. Fingers crossed. And anything else I can think of. My heart is with yours.

  20. Hope it’s nothing!

  21. Long life to Butterfly, that’s my sincere wish. Take care, my friend!

  22. A beautiful dog. I will put her in my prayers and hope that everything will be alright. Just thinking I have had really rough sore throats and wound up coughing and hacking for quite a long time. Maybe it is something like that when even humans come down with really bad coughs and finally shake them. My Sid sends her a sympathetic meow.

  23. Very moving. May you enjoy every moment with your beautiful Butterfly.

  24. Like Dee, I “liked” the post on Butterfly ‘s cough, but it, too, made me sad. My ” baby” Zush is hurting and between the heat and stiffness in her hind legs, I get her out for a walk, but my heart breaks. I haven’t even gotten her swimming in the bay yet this year! I cherish every moment with her and curse the clock ticking over her.** hugs **

  25. So sorry that you are going through this struggle. I can totally relate, as my 14+yo Bichon has had a cough and is on three heart meds. Plus I’ve got an 8yo pup with a devastating cancer, and I am watching him wither away. Thankfully, his meds keep him feeling good, and I know he still loves living. For now. Sometimes I feel like I’m running an infirmary. Sounds like you are as committed to your 4leggers and their well being as I am. Not an easy path to travel sometimes. I hope the answer to Butterfly’s cough is a simple and nonthreatening one. Hang in there.


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