Sneezing is a forceful expulsion of air from the dog’s lungs through the nose and mouth. There are several reasons that cause sneezing in dogs, but they might not always be quite obvious. An occasional sneeze or two in an otherwise healthy and happy dog may not be something to worry about, but repeated sneezing or sneezing in a dog that appears unwell is something that should prompt a dog owner to seek immediate veterinary attention. Today we discover several reasons as to why dogs sneeze, and interestingly, sneezing in dogs is not always due to a medical problem!
1) Sneezing due to Irritants
With dogs sniffing around for a good part of their days, it’s normal for them to inhale some dust, pollen and debris. Sneezing is an involuntary action that helps dogs expel mucus containing irritants from the dog’s nasal cavity. Here’s what exactly happens: a dog’s nose is equipped with special sensors that are meant to detect any foreign particles. When these sensors detect something that shouldn’t be there, the cilia (special broom-like structures lining the dog’s nose and lungs) spring into action, and with the help of a sneeze, sweep the irritants out of the dog’s lungs and out of the dog’s body through his mouth and nose.
In order for cilia to effectively work well, they need the aid of mucus which is produced by the dog’s nose. While mucus is far from being something glamorous, it helps moisten and warm inhaled air and keeps the “cilia” nicely lubricated.
So mucus helps trap inhaled particles such as dust, dander and debris or residue from household irritants such as perfume, cigarette smoke, household cleaners, carpet powders and deodorants,while the cilia through a potent sneeze help expel them all out, how cool is that?
2) Sneezing Due to Allergies
While dust and debris can cause occasional sneezing when the irritant in inhaled, allergies generally cause seasonal sneezing caused by grass or tree pollen. Affected dogs develop a strong immune response to the allergen and typically sneeze, develop discharge from both nostrils, their eyes water and they may also start chewing on their paws. While doggy seasonal allergies are nowhere as common as in humans, it does happen and veterinarians can prescribe medications to help these dogs out.
3) Sneezing Due to Foreign Items
Repeated sneezing in dogs may mean that there’s something more going on than just a bit of dust or presence of pollen creating havoc. Sometimes dogs may get dead bugs, paper clips, grass awns or even a foxtail stuck up their noses which will cause violent sneezing fits in dogs. If your dog is sneezing repeatedly and violently or the sneezing is accompanied from a bleeding nose, it’s important to see the vet. The dog may need sedation to look up his nose using a rhinoscope so to check for any foreign items stuck up there. It’s important for dog owners to recognize that this type of sneezing won’t stop until the foreign body is removed from the dog’s nose.
4) Sneezing Due to Teeth Problems
At times, sneezing may be due to some tooth problem affecting the dog. This may sound a tad bit odd, but in reality it makes sense if we take a little lesson in canine anatomy. The root of a dog’s teeth are located next to the dog’s nasal cavity, and therefore, when dogs develop a tooth root abscess, they may develop bouts of sneezing and drainage from the nostril.
In many cases, the problem tooth may need to be removed. Left untreated, the infection will tend to progress and may spread to the dog’s sinuses too.
5) Sneezing Due to Parasites
Yes, sometimes pesky parasites can play a role in those sneezing bouts too. In this case, sneezing could be caused by the presence of nasal mites, which go by the scientific name of pneumonyssoides caninum. Nasal mites, as the name implies, live in the dog’s nose and are transmitted from nose-to-nose contact with other infected dogs. In severe infestations, affected dogs will sneeze, develop nasal discharge and in some cases may also have nose bleeds. Fortunately, a swab of the dog’s nasal lining can detect their presence and these mites can be eradicated for good with vet-prescribed medication. And if you’re wondering, no, nasal mites are not that common, and fortunately, don’t seem to like to infest human noses.
Just as the presence of dust and dander trigger bouts of sneezing, the presence of bacteria or viruses will trigger sneezing in dogs too. When virus and bacteria multiply out of control in a dog’s nose, sneezing will help sweep the nose clean. While the types of viruses affecting dogs are quite different from those infecting humans, the symptoms remain quite similar: sneezing, watery eyes and coughing, possibly accompanied by other debilitating symptoms such as loss of appetite, fever and lethargy.
According to veterinarian Ron Hines, the two most common “cold viruses” affecting dogs include parainfluenza virus and the Type-2 Adenovirus. These viruses are transmitted by sneezes from other sick dogs and are therefore more likely seen in dogs who have been around other dogs such as when being recently boarded, hospitalized or at the local dog park.
7) Sneezing Due to Fungal Infections
Fungal infections may cause bouts of sneezing too. In particular, the nasal form of Aspergillus causes an infection that is localized to the dog’s nose and sinuses. Affected dogs inhale the spores of the fungus when sniffing and then develop symptoms such as pain in the nose, sneezing, nose swelling and bleeding, reduced appetite and discharge from the nostrils.
8) Sneezing Due to Tumors
Sometimes, the presence of a tumor in a dog’s nose may cause repeated sneezing in dogs just as when they have a foreign item stuck there. Chronic sneezing that increases in frequency over the coarse of weeks or months in an older dog can be concerning, as it may be indicative of the presence of a tumor, even though not very common, explains veterinarian Race Foster. On top of the sneezing, affected dogs may have bloody discharge from a nostril. Nasal tumors can be malignant, but there are also benign ones too such as nasal polyps.
9) Sneezing as a Calming Signal
Here’s a brief story about a young Labrador going by the name of Buddy being taught to do attention heeling once in our training classes. This dog would get these sneezing bouts almost every time he was asked to heel. It was almost as if this dog was “allergic” to heeling! We soon figured out that these context-based sneezing bouts had nothing to do with allergies as they appeared only during training sessions.
With time, the owners confessed that they were often running out of patience at home and on walks when the dog was not heeling as they wanted. Once we suggested applying kinder training methods at home and on walks, and introduced a clicker, those sneezing fits soon disappeared! After all, Buddy could not get a treat if he was sneezing at the same time! What does this tell us? Like other calming signals such as yawning and lip licking, this behavior tells us that sneezing may not always have to do with something physical going on, but may involve emotions too!
“Sneezing: probably not a cold, but a way of diffusing a worrisome situation.” Gill Garratt
10) Sneezing Due to Excitement
Ever seen dogs sneezing to their heart’s content when they are excitedly playing? Well, here’s a possible reason. When dogs are excited or playing, they may tend to curl their lips and wrinkle their noses. Wrinkling the nose is something that makes dogs sneeze, explains Dr. Bruce Fogle, veterinarian and author of the book “If Your Dog Could Talk.”
“Dogs that like to curl their lips and “grin” as they play often sneeze after having their nose wrinkled up for a while.”~Debra Eldredge DVM, Kate Eldredge
Did you know? Sometimes dogs also sneeze when they receive a bug bite, when they wake up or when they’re rolling on floor.
Disclaimer: if you are wondering “why is my dog sneezing?” please consider that this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is sneezing, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Pet Education: Sneezing & Nasal Discharge in Dogs & Puppies, by Race Foster DVM, retrieved from the web on August 28th, 2016
- Second Chance Info, Why is my dog sneezing? Sneezing and upper respiratory tract problems in dogs and cats, by veterinarian Ron Hines, retrieved from the web on August 28th, 2016
- Your dog and you: Understanding the canine psyche, By Gill Garratt, Hubble & Hattie; 1 edition (May 1, 2015)
- Idiot’s Guides: Dog Tricks, By Debra Eldredge DVM, Kate Eldredge, Alpha (June 2, 2015)