Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

May 7, 2024 | General Health

Help! My Dog Won’t Stop Sneezing

Let’s face it: Dog sneezes can be cute – the first time they happen. We say “Gesundheit” in a sing-song voice as they shake it off and everyone tends to move on with their lives.

But the fourth time? The tenth? Well, then, dog sneezes can be scary.

“There certainly are a lot of reasons why dogs sneeze,” says Dr. Lois Palin, VMD, of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital. “Some of them are serious. A lot of them are not.”

My Dog Won’t Stop Sneezing

According to Dr. Palin, dogs frequently sneeze for the same reason that we do: to clear our airways in response to environmental irritants, be it pollen, strong odors, smoke, or other stimuli.

More intense episodes, however, can stem from several causes.

Invasion & Obstruction

“Just like humans, dogs might sneeze because they have an infection,” Dr. Palin says. “Sneezes can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and even fungus in some areas of the country.”

Foreign objects or foreign bodies entering and/or getting lodged in the nasal passage can also lead to sneezing fits.

“It’s not a symptom you’re likely to see in people, but if a dog inhales a blade of grass, that can cause irritation,” Dr. Palin explains. “The body’s response is to sneeze to clear the airway. Hunting dogs tend to be at a higher risk for these foreign bodies since they spend more time outdoors with their noses to the ground.”

Other Culprits

Underlying health problems – like nasal tumors or polyps – can also lead to sneezing, Dr. Palin says. “Even mites can get into dogs’ noses.”

Sometimes, she adds, sneezing can even be a symptom of serious dental problems – providing dog owners with yet another great reason to keep up with routine dental care.

Your dog’s breed plays a distinct role, too.

“Brachycephalic breeds – dogs with short noses and flat faces like bulldogs, Frenchies, pugs, Boston terriers, and Boxers – tend to be more susceptible to respiratory issues because their airways are narrower,” Dr. Palin says.

The Social Sneeze

Beyond the physical factors that cause sneezing, there are theories that the canine “achoo” serves as an icebreaker, of sorts, among the pack.

“Sneezing in dogs can actually serve as a form of social communication,” Dr. Palin says. “There’s research that suggests that dogs sneeze during play or social interactions as a way to signal their intentions, to maintain harmony and peace within their group. For instance, a dog might sneeze to indicate its behavior is friendly rather than aggressive, to help prevent misunderstanding with other dogs.”

Dogs, she says, may also sneeze when they’re excited or playful. “This is called ‘play sneezing,’ and it’s a way for them to show that they’re having fun.”

The Reverse Sneeze

Perhaps the most common reason for sneezin’ that veterinarians see is what is known as a “reverse sneeze.” And according to Dr. Palin, it’s kind of terrifying to witness.

“Dogs start to make a series of noisy inhalations or honking noises through their noses,” she explains. “It often sounds like the pup is going to take its last breath.”

Luckily, a reverse sneeze is typically harmless, triggered by irritation of the soft palate and throat which results in a spasm.

“There can be any number of triggers,” Dr. Palin says. “Excitement, eating and drinking, exercise, pulling on a leash, environmental irritants like perfumes or household cleaners, and even postnasal drip in some dogs can cause a reverse sneeze.”

Because reverse sneezing episodes can be difficult to identify as they’re happening, Dr. Palin says concerned pet parents should always consult with a veterinarian to make sure nothing more serious is at work.

Problematic sneezing may also be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Increased frequency
  • Nasal discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pawing at or rubbing the nose

“This is all really important information for a veterinarian to have to determine why a dog is sneezing,” Dr. Palin says.

If your dog won’t stop sneezing, take note. Monitor patterns closely. And keep the animal hospital’s phone number handy.

“If you observe anything concerning, consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Palin says.

And that advice is, well, nothing to sneeze at.