Why dogs sneeze

We all do it and so do dogs: sneeze. The difference is dogs don’t sneeze into their elbow, they just let it all out (yuck!).

As Claudia Kawczynska (Editor-in-Chief of The Bark) writes “Dogs’ sense of smell is their superpower; using their noses, they decipher the world. So, no surprise that, like us, they occasionally sneeze, and often for the same reasons. Random sneezes aren’t necessarily something to be concerned about. Common irritants include pollen, household products (another reason to always use pet-safe versions), perfume and second-hand smoke; or water inhaled while swimming or during a bath. Dogs will also sometimes sneeze when they’re excited, or during play.

However, some sneezes should definitely be paid attention to and their causes treated or ruled out. If your sneezing dog has nasal swelling, a persistent runny nose or nose bleeds, or is pawing at her nose, there’s likely to be an underlying reason. Have your vet check her out without delay.”

Most of the time, sneezing is the result of a transitory irritation of a dog’s nasal passages. In this circumstance, a sneeze is the body’s way to dislodge or expel the irritant. If that irritant is, say, a stray bit of leaf, a snip of freshly cut grass or some other small object that gets hoovered up during your dog’s investigation of her environment, a sneeze or two is usually enough to do the trick.

However, for the next few months, there is always a danger that your dog may inhale a foxtail (a fishhook-like dried grass seed) or other barbed grass awn. If this happens, you may see your dog sneezing incessantly for a few minutes, being unable to rid herself of this foreign body. Even if the sneezing stops, this may not be the end of the issue if the foxtail has travelled further up the nasal cavity.  A tiny little drop of blood might appear on the tip of the nostril; this can be an indicator that the object has traveled up the nostril. If you see this or feel that your dog may well have inhaled a foxtail, take her to our veterinary clinic sooner rather than later.

So what other factors may cause your dog to sneeze?

Just like us, a dog can have seasonal allergies. Plant or grass pollen, dust mites, and certain household chemicals are the most common culprits for allergy-related dog sneezing. Dogs who have allergies often are more prone to skin and ear infections as well. Talk with your vet about the best ways to treat these allergies.

Frequent sneezing sometimes signals an infection caused by a virus, bacteria or fungi. Viruses (including distemper and parainfluenza) can cause a dog to sneeze. Bordetella is one of the bacteria that causes kennel cough, as well as sneezing. Aspergillosis is a common nasal infection caused by inhalation of aspergillus fungus, which is basically everywhere. Other inhaled fungi, such as cryptococcus and blastomycosis, also affect a dog’s respiratory system and will cause sneezing. All of these are treatable and can be diagnosed (or ruled out) by a visit to the vet.

In rare cases, persistent sneezing can be caused by nasal mites. These tiny insects, about only one millimeter in size, are found in dirt, and dogs who dig with their noses (as some dogs are wont to do) may contract them this way. These mites, which can be very irritating to dogs, are contagious, and require treatment. Your veterinarian may prescribe topical or oral medication to eliminate and prevent nasal mites.

A cancerous tumor in a dog’s nasal passage is sometimes the cause of excessive sneezing. Nasal cancer makes up from 1 to 2 percent of cancers in dogs and has an 80 percent malignancy rate. Longer-snouted breeds like Collies and Dachshunds are the most susceptible.

Is your dog sneezing when excited? When your dog is having fun rollicking with her pals, she might be doing something called “play sneezing”. Sometimes a dog will do this to signal to other dogs that they’re “just playing” or it’s “just a game.” Or they may sneeze when they’re zooming in the yard, from the sheer joy of it. (Smaller dogs are more likely to do this.) Nothing to worry about!

And don’t forget, “bless you” is always an appropriate thing to say, whoever has just sneezed!

About the author

Steve King

Steve King

Steve King was President and Founder of Community Therapy Dogs Society, a volunteer with Lions Foundation of Canada and a dog trainer.

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