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dog parent basics

Here’s what to do if your dog keeps sneezing

Is frequent sneezing a medical problem or a simple irritation?

Updated August 28, 2020

Created By

Whitney Williams,
dog sneezing

gesundheit, 📸 by Maarten Van Cutsem

Though sneezing is a normal part of your pet’s life, you may worry if your dog starts sneezing a lot more. Frequent or repeated sneezing could be a cause for concern, but can also be harmless.

Consider the situation surrounding the sneezing to determine what might be going on. Sneezing that also sounds like a snort, for example, is your pup’s way of communicating during play. Dogs often sneeze while playing to let their playmate know it’s all in good fun.

Other sneezes can be a result of something environmental. Maybe you washed your dog’s bedding in a new detergent or used a different cleaning product. Foreign objects, like pieces of a toy or food, could produce a lot of sneezing. If your dog has recently been to the kennel or around other dogs, you’ll need to assess for signs of kennel cough. First, whittle down the possibilities for why your dog is sneezing so much. Then you’ll have a better idea of how to help, if necessary.

Six of the most common reasons dogs sneeze

Environmental allergies. Like humans, dogs can have seasonal allergies to pollen, dust, and mold. Regular bathing can help, and your vet may recommend medicine depending on severity.

Upper respiratory infection. Dogs get viruses too. Although dogs don’t contract the same viruses as humans do (think cold and flu), upper respiratory infections happen. These infections can be viral, bacterial, or fungal, and are highly contagious. Look for symptoms that mirror a cold like an eye and nose discharge, coughing, sneezing, and lethargy. Call your veterinarian right away to avoid complications.

Nasal mites. The problem of microscopic mites living in a dog’s nose and sinuses is widespread. Some dogs will be unaffected, while others will experience significant issues. A vet will have to diagnose but look for things like sneezing, nose bleeds, and facial itching. Ask your vet if antiparasitic meds or nasal flushing can help.

Playing. The snort sneeze is a sign of your dog having a great time. Whether your dog is sneezing on you or another animal, it’s nothing to worry about. This particular sneeze is just a unique form of communication.

Foreign object. Swelling, nasal discharge, sneezing, and pawing at the nose could be signs of a foreign object. Try to assess any missing pieces of a toy or object your pet has been around to help your vet know what to look for.

Nasal tumor. Nasal tumors make up about 1 to 2% of all cancers in dogs. There’s no one cause, but exposure to cigarette smoke and living in urban areas are risk factors.

How to tell if your dog is having trouble breathing

Any question about your dog’s breathing can be very distressing. If your dog is truly struggling to breathe, you should call your vet immediately. Panting because of heat or exercise isn’t cause for concern under normal circumstances. Pale gums, heavy mouth breathing, discolored tongue, and raspy breathing shouldn’t be ignored. If there’s any doubt about your pet’s well being, go ahead and call the vet.

Symptoms of respiratory distress in dogs:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • High pitched wheezing
  • Continued open mouth breathing
  • Extending head or neck to get air
  • Sitting or holding chin up when sleeping
  • Sleeping with a toy between teeth to keep the mouth open for breathing
  • Blue or purple skin
  • Intolerance to heat or exertion
  • Snoring or gagging
  • Collapse

Keep in mind that sneezing in and of itself can have plenty of causes that are not emergencies. Think back to allergies, play, or detergents if sneezing is the only real symptom.

Special considerations for short-nosed dogs

Brachycephalic breeds are dogs with a short nose and flattened face. Some examples are pugs, boxers, and bulldogs to name a few. This particular breed is at a higher risk of breathing problems due to narrow airways.

If your dog falls into this category, you’ll want to be especially mindful of certain symptoms. It can be harder for brachycephalic breeds to get the needed air to cool and calm them after play or heat exposure. If sneezing accompanies any of these symptoms, you may need intervention. Cooling your dog can help, but your vet might give oxygen or sedatives depending on the situation.

Is it reverse sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is a harmless condition where a dog pulls air into the nose instead of pushing it out. The reverse sneeze will sound like a loud, prolonged snort. You might think your dog has something caught in the back of his throat.

A reverse sneezing episode can go on for a few seconds, or a minute. There is no damage to your dog and no cause for concern. The condition is painless and can be likened to a short-lived allergy attack. The cause is unknown but is thought to be a simple nose irritation. Dogs with longer snouts are more commonly affected by reverse sneezing.

Can dogs get the common cold?

You can’t pass your cold to your dog. In fact, dogs can’t get colds at all. Allergies and infections can mirror cold-like symptoms in some cases. If your dog has cold symptoms accompanied by a cough, you may be dealing with kennel cough.

Kennel cough is caused by a contagious bacteria called Bordatella bronchiseptica. Dogs typically pick it up through exposure in crowded conditions like in kennels and shelters. Oftentimes, dogs that pick up kennel cough can also have a combination of different bacteria or viruses contributing to their symptoms.

The most notable symptom is the distinct cough, which sounds like a goose honk. Some dogs may have a runny nose, low fever, and loss of appetite as well. Kennel cough is contagious, so you shouldn’t bring your pet around other animals. Keeping your dog up to date on their Bordetella vaccine will lower their risk of getting kennel cough and decrease the severity of symptoms they develop if they do pick it up.