Just like us, our dogs sneeze — and just like us, it's usually no big deal. But, learning more about dog sneezing can help you better understand your pet's health and behavior.
A number of factors can lead to dog sneezing. So, whenever you encounter this behavior, it's important to consider the context. As a dog owner, you know your pet better than anyone. If your dog's sneezing has become excessive or the pattern of your dog's sneezing has changed, take note and discuss it with your vet.
Here are the most common causes of sneezing, additional symptoms to look for and signs it's time to visit your vet.
What Causes Dog Sneezing?
Below, we list the causes of dog sneezing from most to least likely. While you'll notice some more serious conditions on this list, the benign conditions you see at the top are by far the most common causes of your dog's sneezing. We also included other symptoms that accompany each of these conditions so you can easily tell when it's time to enlist your vet's help.
When a dog sneezes, it could mean that they're feeling excited, trying to defuse a tense situation or looking for attention.
Dog play can look similar to dog aggression — there's chasing, nipping, and wrestling — so a dog will play sneeze to let other dogs know they're playing, not fighting. Dogs also use sneezes as a calming signal to tell other dogs when everything's alright. And if a dog wants your attention they may sneeze on you or sneeze while looking at you.
In any of these cases, there's no cause for concern. Your dog is simply expressing themself.
If your dog sheds, you probably know what it's like to get dog hair up your nose. That uncomfortable tickle also happens to dogs when they inhale a foreign object, like a blade of grass or a foxtail burr. The object can go up their nose and get stuck in their nasal cavity.
Sneezing typically expels the foreign object so your dog can go about its day. However, in rare cases, a foreign body may get lodged in your dog's nasal cavity, and your vet will need to remove it. If your dog experiences nosebleeds or is frequently pawing at the nose, make an appointment with your DVM.
Breeds with short noses, also known as brachycephalic breeds, are more prone to sneezing and reverse sneezing. This group includes bulldogs, pugs, and Boston terriers.
When your dog reverse sneezes, they inhale their sneeze and begin rapidly breathing in and out, which can lead to a wheezing, snorting, or honking sound. It will sound like your dog has something stuck in their throat, usually because they do. Brachycephalic breeds' short nasal passages make it easier for foreign bodies to get in their noses.
Typically, when these dogs sneeze or reverse sneeze, it will expel the foreign body and you won't need to follow up with your vet. But again, if your dog's nose is bleeding or your dog won't stop pawing at their nose, make an appointment — the foreign body may be stuck in your dog's nasal passage.
People often sneeze because of allergies, and so do dogs. Dogs can experience seasonal allergies to plant and tree pollen, or they can be allergic to environmental irritants like dust, dander, aerosols, and perfumes.
Along with sneezing, other signs of allergies include watery eyes and itchy skin. If your dog only has mild allergies, you may not need to intervene. But, if your dog's allergies are affecting their daily life, causing regular sneezing fits, or making your dog lethargic, talk to your vet about starting your dog on an antihistamine.
The first line of treatment for dogs with environmental allergies is usually an antihistamine and a supportive allergy supplement. You can also naturally support your dog's immune system with a probiotic supplement. In scientific studies, probiotics have made dogs more resilient to allergens.
Another common cause of sneezing that we dog owners can relate to, the common cold can lead to a variety of familiar symptoms in dogs, including sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, and lethargy. Often, we'll recognize our dogs are sick when they have low energy levels and seem disinterested in their favorite activities. Consult your vet if their milder symptoms don't clear up within 3-4 days.
Most colds will clear up on their own within a few days, but if your dog feels hot to the touch, stops eating and drinking, starts vomiting, or experiences diarrhea, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
Dog sneezing can be a sign of several more serious illnesses, including kennel cough. Just like the common cold, kennel cough can cause sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. However, kennel cough is not a virus like the common cold. It's caused by a bacterial infection known as Bordetella, and it comes with one distinguishing symptom: a persistent cough.
If, in addition to sneezing, your dog has a loud cough that sounds like they're choking or honking, call your vet. Although kennel cough sometimes clears up on its own, more serious cases require antibiotics.
Kennel cough is also very contagious. Keep your dog away from dog parks, kennels, and doggy daycares until they're free of this infection.
Canine distemper is an extremely serious and often fatal condition. However, most dogs are vaccinated against it. Puppies younger than four months and other unvaccinated dogs will be most susceptible.
This viral infection can spread quickly from dog to dog or from other wildlife to dog. When an infected animal coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes airborne and can infect nearby animals. Sharing a food or water bowl with an infected animal can also spread the disease.
There is no cure for canine distemper. However, if you spot it early, your vet can offer supportive care and help prevent a secondary infection, which will improve your dog's chances of recovery. If your dog has nasal discharge, a cough, a fever, vomiting, or symptoms related to the nervous system like muscle twitches, convulsions, seizures, or partial paralysis, isolate them from other animals and contact your vet immediately.
If your dog develops a fungal infection in its nose, it can cause sneezing. A fungal infection develops when a dog inhales a fungus — usually, the Aspergillus fungus — that is floating in the air or growing on dead leaves, grass, or grain particles. Most dogs’ immune systems can fight off the fungus before it leads to an infection, but if your dog is immunocompromised, they're at greater risk of infection.
This fungus affects the upper respiratory tract and will lead to nasal discharge (frequently from just one nostril) that has a strong odor. It can also cause nose bleeds, and you may notice your dog frequently pawing at its nose. If you see any of these symptoms, call your vet. Left untreated, a fungal infection can damage the bone structure around your dog's sinuses.
Nasal mites are a parasite that takes up residence in your dog's nose and sinuses. In addition to sneezing, mites can lead to nasal discharge, head shaking, and a high-pitched sound when your dog breathes.
This condition spreads from dog to dog and can also affect cats. So, if you suspect your dog is infected, keep them away from other animals.
Although you will need to make an appointment with your vet to remedy the problem, nasal mites rarely cause serious damage. Your vet can typically get rid of the mites with an antiparasitic medication.
Nasal tumors are a rare form of cancer that can affect dogs. While veterinary researchers can't pinpoint a single cause of this cancer, there are factors that make a dog more likely to develop nasal tumors.
Dogs who are frequently around cigarette smoke or live in a city where there's lots of smog or environmental pollution are more at risk for nasal tumors. Some breeds — especially breeds with long, thin noses like collies, German shepherds, and Airedale terriers — are also at a higher risk.
As with all forms of cancer, early diagnosis will improve your dog's chance of survival. If, in addition to sneezing, you notice noisy breathing, coughing, lethargy, or weight loss, talk to your vet.
When Should You Call Your Veterinarian About Dog Sneezing?
As we mentioned, most incidents of dog sneezing don't require veterinary care. However, if you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet to make an appointment.
- Excessive sneezing
- Nose bleeds
- Persistent pawing at the nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Noisy breathing
- Persistent cough
- Yellow or green nasal discharge
- Weight loss
These symptoms can be signs of the more serious conditions listed earlier. Your vet will run tests to diagnose your dog and get them the treatment they need.
Support Your Dog's Immune System, Naturally
Sneezing isn't usually a sign of a serious condition. But even minor conditions like colds and allergies can be a nuisance for your pet. Help support their immune system naturally with high-quality dog supplements.
Probiotics can make your dog more resilient to everyday stressors like germs and allergens. Pumpkin powder can help restore healthy digestion if a virus gives your dog an upset stomach. And, bone broth can make your dog's food more appealing if they're experiencing a loss of appetite.
Explore more ways to support your pet's health on the Native Pet blog.