- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Achoo! Is your dog constantly sneezing? The most likely culprits behind his nonstop sinus troubles are allergies or airborne irritants, such as pollen or dust. He might also have some unwelcome foreign matter lodged in his nostrils, like grass or foxtail burrs. And sometimes sneezing can even be your dog’s natural way of expressing happiness during play (how cute is that?!)
Less common, but more serious causes of excessive sneezing include nasal infections, the canine flu, nasal mites, and nasal tumors. We spoke with Rover’s Veterinary Medical Advisor, Dr. Rebecca Greenstein to learn how pet owners can distinguish between more serious sneezing, and sneezing that is just a harmless (and kind of adorable) inconvenience.
Here are a few of the most likely causes behind your dog’s constant sneezing:
- Allergies: Just like humans, dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies. Sneezing caused by an allergic reaction will usually be accompanied by other telltale signs like a runny nose or itchiness.
- Airborne irritants or foreign matter: Irritants like smoke, perfume, pollen, and dust can trigger a bout of sneezing. So can foreign objects (like grass, sticks, or hair) that becomes lodged in the nostrils.
- Playfulness: Dogs sometimes sneeze as an expression of happiness during play. This type of sneezing is nothing to worry about!
- Infections: Nasal infections can be fungal or bacterial and may require medication.
- Canine flu: Sneezing is one of several unpleasant symptoms of the canine flu. Typically, this isn’t a serious condition, but it does require veterinary attention.
Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:
1. Sneezing Caused by Allergies
Just like humans, dogs can experience an allergic response to dust, pollen, mold, flea bites, and certain foods. If your dog’s sneezing is caused by allergies, you’ll probably notice other symptoms as well. You may find they’re extra itchy (either all over the body or in one specific spot), have a runny discharge from their eyes or nose, or are coughing and wheezing.
The best way to avoid flare-ups is to steer clear of allergens that seem to bother your pet. There’s also allergy relief medication like antihistamines that can be prescribed for your dog.
2. Sneezing Caused by Airborne Irritants
Sometimes a sneezing fit is set off when your dog inhales irritants from the air. Identifying this type of sneeze is as easy as assessing your pet’s environment for common culprits, such as smoke, perfume, candles, cleaning products, dust, and pollen.
As long as you can remove the offending irritant, treatment is a nonissue. It’s helpful to keep your house clean and clear of dust. Avoid smoking around your dog, and keep a close eye during any summer bonfires.
3. Sneezing Caused by a Foreign Particle
An overzealous snout will often pick up pesky irritants like grass, hair, sticks, food, or foxtail burrs that become lodged in the nostrils. These unwelcome particles are extremely irritating, and affected dogs are often visibly uncomfortable. Sneezing may ramp up, with no sign of stopping until the material has been removed.
If you notice that your dog is sneezing excessively, pawing at their nose or rubbing it on the ground (more often or more aggressively than normal), or is sneezing blood, there could be something stuck in their nose.
You should contact your vet immediately if you suspect that something is stuck in your pet’s nose. They’ll assess the situation and may be able to prevent it from lodging more deeply in the nasal cavity.
4. Sneezing Caused by Playfulness
If you’ve played with a dog or watched them frolic with other pets, you’ve probably seen a play sneeze in action. Many dogs sneeze dramatically in the midst of play—particularly when things are getting really exciting. These adorable sneezes usually sound like short snorts that come from the nose (not the lungs) during rousing play sessions.
According to dog behavior experts, this kind of sneeze is a type of communication and is likely used to signal to the playmate that the roughhousing is just for fun or to diffuse a stressful situation. Dogs use their whole bodies to communicate, and the sneeze is yet another tool in their arsenal.
Play sneezing is almost always harmless. If you notice your dog keeps sneezing during play, and only during play, it’s likely that their sneezes aren’t anything to worry about. However, if they keep sneezing uncontrollably or you notice traces of blood, you should check with your vet to make sure something else isn’t going on.
5. Sneezing Caused by a Nasal Infection
Fungal and bacterial infections can cause frequent sneezing. Affected dogs may also have bloody discharge from the nose, lack of appetite, and coughing from irritating post-nasal drip.
Nasal infections—whether fungal, bacterial, or viral—warrant a visit to the vet. He or she can prescribe antibiotics or other medications to alleviate symptoms and eliminate the infection.
6. Sneezing Caused by The Canine Influenza Virus
The canine flu is highly contagious and can spread through airborne droplets or contact with an infected dog or contaminated surface. Look for additional symptoms that are often seen with the flu: nasal discharge, runny eyes, lethargy, coughing, difficult breathing, and fever.
For mild cases, treatment may not be necessary. Dr. Greenstein informs us, “we start to treat things if they’re having difficulty breathing, or if it looks like symptoms are getting worse. But for the most part, cases are mild and self-limiting, and only a small percentage of cases become a more serious pneumonia.”
7. Sneezing Caused by Nasal Mites
Although rare, dogs can pick up these tiny bugs when they dig or rub their nose in the dirt. Nasal mites cause irritation and inflammation. On top of frequent sneezing, look for a thick bloody discharge from your dog’s nose. These pests can also cause reverse sneezing, and heavy, noisy breathing.
Thankfully, nasal mites are incredibly rare, Dr. Greenstein confirms. But if your dog does encounter them, he can be treated with general parasite medication. Your vet may also flush your dog’s nose to remove the mites.
8. Sneezing Caused by a Nasal Tumor
While uncommon, frequent sneezing can signify the presence of a nasal tumor. This usually occurs in older dogs and often coincides with nasal discharge or blood from one or both nostrils. You may also notice loud breathing, lack of energy, and weight loss.
Depending on the type and location of the tumor, radiation or chemotherapy can be pursued to successfully halt disease progression. Your vet can advise you on the best treatment plan for your dog.
What Is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
A reverse sneeze is when your dog inhales loudly through their nose in spasms that can sound like choking or gagging. This common yet perplexing reflex is thought to be a response to irritation or inflammation and might help your dog remove foreign objects, allergens, or irritants.
In general, reverse sneezes are harmless. “For the most part, if it’s just intermittent and occasional, then you don’t need to worry,” Dr. Greenstein tells us. It’s very unlikely you’ll need to give your dog medication for reverse sneezing, but your vet might prescribe antihistamines if the reverse sneezing is the result of allergies.
What About Tracheal Collapse?
If you notice that your dog is making a honking sound (rather than the characteristic inhaled “snort” of a reverse sneeze) and seems unable to breathe, has a sudden intolerance to exercise, or has a bluish tinge to their gums, it’s best to take them to the vet right away. This could be a sign of a tracheal collapse (which is more likely to occur in smaller breeds) and can be very serious.
Though your dog’s sneezing—no matter the cause—can be a bit alarming, knowing more about the different kinds of dog sneezes will help you understand when you can help and whether the sneeze is the sign of a more serious issue.
You know your dog best, though: if something doesn’t seem right, a quick call to the vet is always a good idea.