Why Do Dogs Sneeze?

You’ve probably noticed your dog sneezing at some point. While this can be entertaining and cute when it comes out of nowhere, it can be worrying if your dog continues to sneeze. If your dog’s sneezing has you worried, you are probably wondering if you should take them to the vets and what you can do to get them back to their healthy and happy self. In this article, we have put together all the information you need to know about sneezing dogs and how to help them.

What Is a Sneeze?

Most of us see sneezing as a sign of sickness or poor health, which is true in some circumstances, but not all. Sneezing is actually a method that the body uses to rid itself of unwanted material and to keep itself healthy. A sneeze is a reaction to “bad” particles in the nose canal.

Sneezes are essentially involuntary contractions that push air from the lungs through the mouth and nose. They are not only caused by bad particles, but also anything that irritates the mucus membrane that is inside the nasal passage.

The occasional sneeze is not a problem, however, continuous sneezing for an extended period of time can be a sign of other health complications. Additionally, if your dog is acting distressed or out of character while sneezing, it may be best to contact your veterinarian.

What to Look for in a Dog Sneeze?

Sneezing is perfectly normal for dogs and humans, but excessive amounts of it can be a sign of bigger issues. We always recommend that you seek veterinary help if you think that your dog’s sneezing problem is the result of sickness or underlying health issues.  There are a number of different things to watch out for that can help you determine the cause and severity of your dog’s condition including:

Breathing Problems

Obstruction or inflammation of a dog’s nasal airways can cause sneezing, and it is typically a reaction to a medical condition. Most of the time, these conditions are not serious at all, and can be similar to the common cold found in humans. However, some conditions can be a bit more serious and may require veterinary assistance. Minor inflammation of the airways can usually be treated with over-the-counter medication.

Bleeding

If you notice bleeding from your dog’s nose, you should seek advice and treatment from a veterinarian. Bleeding is not usually caused by constant sneezing, but can increase the frequency of it. A bleeding nose could be the sign of more serious health problems.

Discharge

Yellow or green discharge in addition to your dog’s sneezing is most likely caused by an underlying health condition. Your dog may experience discharge from their eyes, nose or mouth and it can signal a wide range of different issues. You should seek the advice of your vet if the discharge continues for more than 24 hours.

Swelling

Swelling or a puffy face can be scary for dog owners. Many different things can cause a dog’s face to swell, from inspect or animal bites to allergic reactions. In addition to a swollen face, your dog may also sneeze as well. If you notice any swelling you should monitor your dog closely. You should take your dog to the vets if the swelling increases or their condition worsens. Most reactions to animal or insect bites should subside after a couple of hours.

Common Causes of Sneezing in Dogs

Just like with humans, there are a number of different things that can cause sneezing in dogs. Let’s look at some of them below:

Allergies

While dogs typically react differently to allergens than humans, some of them can cause canines to sneeze. Seasonal allergens such as pollen are a likely cause of your dog’s sneezing. If your dog’s sneezing problems line up with spring or summer, an allergic reaction to pollen is probably the cause.

Sneezing caused by seasonal allergies will usually last about two to four week. Your dog may also have watery eyes and they may chew their paws and scratch themselves excessively.

If you would like to read more about seasonal allergies in dogs, check out our guide to dog hay fever.

Upper Airway Obstruction

In some cases, a dogs sneezing can be caused by an upper airway obstruction. This is similar to humans who snore severely and suffer from sleep apnea. Any excess tissue that is located in the upper airway can lead to an obstruction that causes a dog to sneeze.

An obstruction may be caused from any number of things; including foreign bodies, cancer or polyps in the nasal passage. However, the most common cause of obstruction in the upper airways is Brachycephalic Syndrome, which is an airway obstruction condition that is usually found in breeds such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Pugs. This is because they have pushed-in snouts that can become easily blocked. The airway blockage can lead to sneezing, snorting, and snoring.

Foreign Bodies in The Nasal Passage

A “foreign body” in your dog’s nose is essentially something that should not be there. Some dogs love to dig or sniff the ground obsessively, which can lead to foreign objects such as soil, dust or grass getting up into their nasal passage.

This causes your dog to sneeze as the inside of their nasal passage is lined with tiny hairs that are super sensitive. Sneezing is the body’s way of trying to expel the foreign object and it works very effectively. Occasionally, medical intervention is required as sneezing just isn’t enough to remove the foreign object.

If a foreign object is located in your dog’s nose, you may notice them sneezing, pawing at their nose and possibly even nose bleeds. Your dog may also have slightly different breathing and there could be a lump or bulge on one side of their face or snout.

Foxtails

Foxtails are small, spiked balls of pain and are commonly found in places like California. In late spring to early summer, Foxtail plant heads go brown and dry, and then spread across the landscape. They are particular attracted to dogs and can cause all sorts of problems. You will often find Foxtails in your dog’s fur, embedded into their paws, in their ears and up their nose.

Foxtails can go far into your dog’s nostrils, making them very difficult to remove. If your dog starts sneezing uncontrollably all of a sudden, then it could be caused by a Foxtail in their nose. At this point you should seek out help from your veterinarian, as it will be incredibly difficult for you to remove it.

Nasal Mites (Pneumonyssoides Caninum)

Nasal mites are microscopic bugs that make themselves at home inside your dog’s nasal passage. They can cause terrible itching in your dog’s nose, which could be the reason your dog is sneezing excessively. The mites are so incredibly irritating that they can even cause nosebleeds and chronic nasal discharge.

It is almost impossible to prevent your dog from getting nasal mites, as they are often found in places where your dog loves to put their snout (dirt, holes, etc.). They can also contract nasal mites off other infected dogs.

Nasal mites are identified by taking a nasal swab and putting it under a microscope. If you suspect that your dog has nasal mites, it is best to take them to the vets immediately, as they will be able to run a swab test for you and select the best treatment method.

Infections or Diseases

Occasionally, sneezing in canines can be a sign of more serious health complications. There is a wide range of different diseases and infections that produce sneezing as a symptom. Diseases and infections that effect or are located in the upper respiratory system, like Kennel Cough, are the main culprits. Dogs that are suffering from upper respiratory infections will usually cough as well as sneeze.

An infection caused by the opportunistic Aspergillus fungus can also cause sneezing. It is believed that a nasal Aspergillus infection is contracted when there is direct contact with the fungus through the nose and sinus. Symptoms other than sneezing include pain and bleeding, possible discharge from the nose and visible swelling. Some other infections, like the distemper virus, can not only cause sneezing, but can also be deadly.

Additionally, dental problems such as an infected tooth or root can be a cause of sneezing in dogs as well. This is because the third upper premolar has roots very close to the nasal passage. An infection around this area can lead to sneezing and nasal drainage.

While many infections are short, some can be more serious. If your dog continues to sneeze for an extended period of time, you should contact your vet to determine the main cause and get a treatment plan sorted.

Nasal Tumours

While the word tumour sounds pretty scary, nasal tumours are actually pretty common, especially in dogs with larger snouts, like Irish Wolfhounds or Collies. Nasal tumours are often found in dogs over the age of eight and second-hand tobacco smoke has been identified as a significant cause of them in dogs. These tumours can obstruct a dog’s nasal passage and can cause them to sneeze.

While most tumours do not turn into cancer, they can continuously grow, which can cause your dog to sneeze more frequently. In addition to sneezing, a dog that has a nasal tumour may also experience bloody discharge from their nose. Tumours can grow incredibly slow, so always keep an eye on your dog if you sense something is up.

Any dog that is suffering from a bloody nose should be taken to a veterinarian for a check-up. Your vet will be able to determine the cause of the bloody nose and will be able to recommend a treatment plan. Unfortunately, surgery on the nasal command can be difficult, but your vet may be able to recommend something else.

The Vacuum

Interestingly, vacuum cleaners can be the cause of a dogs sneezing. When you turn a vacuum on, it blasts out clouds of fine dust into the environment. Dogs (and even humans) with sensitive noses can react to this.

Household Cleaners and Irritants

Household cleaners and irritants like cigarette smoke can trigger sneezing in dogs (you can read more about the effects of smoking on pets here). Canine’s noses are incredibly sensitive to different products and items that we use around the house. Try and match up your dog’s sneezing with the product or item you are using.

For example, does your dog start sneezing when you use a particular cleaner? Or is it caused by dust build-up in your house? Work out what is causing your dog to sneeze, and try to limit their exposure to it. This may mean putting them outside when you are using a cleaning product.

Excess Weight and Obesity

Dogs who have packed on a few too many pounds tend to display the same symptoms as those with an upper airway obstruction. They will sneeze and snort, and you will probably here them snore as well. If your dog is overweight, talk to your vet about a diet plan for them.

Reverse Sneezing

You are probably wondering what reverse sneezing is. Well, it is more of a honking sound rather than the normal “ahh-choo” sound. It is not really a sneeze at all, but it has a technical term of mechanosensitive aspiration reflex.

Reverse sneezing is actually quite a common occurrence in dogs, especially in smaller breeds and brachycephalic breeds such as Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and Pugs. The sound of a reverse sneeze can be alarming for dog owners. This is because it may sound like your dog is suffering from an asthma attack, struggling to breath or choking.

While a reverse sneeze can be worrying, it should only last a couple of minutes and they are not life threatening. We only recommend that you see a vet if your dog is experiencing repeated reverse sneezing episodes. They should be able to tell you the cause of the problem.

Anticipation or Excitement

As crazy as it seems, your dog’s sneezing may simply be caused by anticipation or excitement. Many dogs, especially small ones, get so excited that they sneeze. This may simply be the anticipation for a treat, a walk, or to see you. Our two black Labs love to snort and sneeze when we come home or when we take them to the dog park. Not all sneezing is bad!

Home Treatment for Dog Sneezing

For dogs that suffer from frequent sneezing or snorting, or those that have had a change in their sneezing pattern, we recommend that you seek veterinary advice. For less serious cases, there are a few things you can do to make your dog a bit more comfortable.

  • Confine your dog – Keep your dog confined to a smaller area. This will allow you to monitor your dog’s behaviour easily and will prevent them spreading any contagious diseases or bugs (if they have any).
  • Avoid too much exercise – You should avoid taking your dog on long walks or to the park. Too much exercise can worsen the condition and interaction with other dogs may spread the problem.
  • Take their temperature – If your dog is reading above about 38 degrees Celsius (101 Fahrenheit) you should seek out the advice of your veterinarian.
  • Avoid using irritants around your dog – As we said earlier, if your dog reacts to certain chemicals or irritants, try to limit their exposure to them. This may mean putting your dog outside when you are cleaning the house or doing the vacuuming.
  • Avoid potential allergens – This is one of those difficult ones. It is impossible to avoid all allergens, but if your dog is allergic to something, try to remove it from their environment.
  • Learn your dog’s normal behaviour – Knowing how your dog normally behaves can help when problems arise. Think of things like how often do they sneeze? What are their energy levels like? And how do they react to the environment around them.

What Your Veterinarian May Do

If your dog’s condition is serious enough to warrant a trip to the vets, or you are just worried about them, here’s a few things they may do during an examination.

  • Look at your dog’s history – Most vets will ask you a few questions about your dog to understand their medical history and behaviour. They may also look up any previous information about your dog’s medical health. They may ask you questions like when did you first notice the sneezing? Have there been any changes? Is your dog showing signs of any other symptoms?
  • Conduct a physical examination – As there can be many possible causes of sneezing, your vet will examine your dog’s entire body as part of the assessment process.
  • Order laboratory testing – A blood test is a common occurrence in situations like these. Blood and other laboratory testing can help identify different causes, diseases or infections. They can also help determine whether your dog is allergic to anything.
  • Conduct X-rays and other imaging – If your vet suspects that there could be an obstruction, tumour or foreign body, they may conduct an X-ray. They may also carry out imaging if your dog is suffering from brachycephalic syndrome.
  • Carry out a visual examination under sedation or anaesthesia – A thorough visual examination may require the vet to anesthetise your dog. They may also take tissue examples as well for microscopic evaluation or use tools to check the upper respritory tract.
  • Recommend treatment – Depending on the cause of the sneezing and what the results from tests show, your vet may recommend some treatment.

Summing Up Dog Sneezing

As you can see, the reason for sneezing in dogs can be varied. There are lots of different things that cause sneezing and treatment can be simply or complicated. Light sneezing is perfectly normal for dogs, but we always recommend that you see a veterinarian if the condition is worsening or you believe it is caused by an underlying health condition.

Now Read: The Ultimate Guide To Dog Skin Conditions and Diseases

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