My dad used to have a sweet brown Chihuahua named Taco. That little guy would start sneezing like mad anytime he thought he was going for a ride in the car! It was his way of communicating that car rides were a very special event for him.
As cute as happy dog sneezes are, it gets concerning when a dog repeatedly sneezes when he’s not excited. If your dog is sneezing more than normal, read on to find out the common causes of sneezing in dogs and how to stop it.
Causes of Sneezing in Dogs
- Behavioral: As mentioned above, some dogs sneeze when they’re excited. This is a normal behavior and is not cause for concern.
- Irritant or allergy: Dry air, chemicals, perfumes and dust can all irritate a dog’s nose enough to cause sneezing. Allergies can also cause sneezing, although it’s not as common as skin symptoms in affected dogs. Allergic dogs do have a lot of “reverse sneezing.” A reverse sneeze is more of a repetitive, noisy sucking in of air through the mouth in response to a tickle in the back of the throat.
- Infectious disease:
- Virus There are many viruses that can infect a dog’s respiratory system. One of the worst ones is Distemper virus because it can also infect the nervous system. Other viruses may have only a local effect, causing nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing. One common dog respiratory virus is canine parainfluenza virus. Viruses are most often spread by close contact with infected dogs.
- Bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is the bacteria that causes what most people call “kennel cough.” It can also cause sneezing. It’s highly contagious and is passed between dogs like the common cold is passed in humans.
- Fungus Aspergillus is the big one in this category. Other fungi that can infect a dog’s nose include Cryptococcus and Blastomycoses. Fungus is everywhere in our environment, but some dogs can develop a nasal/sinus infection from fungus.
- Mites: Pneumonyssoides caninum are mites that live in the nasal passages of dogs. The parasite has worldwide distribution but occurs most commonly in Scandinavia. About 1–1.5 mm in length, P. caninum mites are passed by direct contact between dogs.
- Foreign objects: Food and plant material (like foxtails) are some of the things dogs can get trapped in their noses. As long as the object remains in the nose, it will cause irritation and sneezing.
- Tumors: Nasal tumors are not all that common, accounting for 1–2% of all canine cancers. However, 80% of canine nasal tumors are cancerous.
- Immune-mediated disease: Idiopathic lymphoplasmacytic rhinitis occurs when the immune system is overactive and creates inflammation in the nasal passages. It’s a common cause of chronic nasal discharge and may cause sneezing.
- Tooth root abscess: The roots of dog’s teeth are quite long. The deepest tips lie very close to the thin wall of tissue that separates the nose from the oral cavity. When a dog develops a tooth root abscess it may extend into the nasal passages, leading to inflammation and sneezing.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Sneezing
- Check the nose. Using a good lighting source, look for nasal discharge, foreign objects, etc.
- Evaluate your dog’s overall health. Is she eating and drinking normally? Have you noticed any coughing? Has she had recent exposure to infectious disease (going to boarding kennels is a good way to pick up a dog respiratory virus).
- Apply saline nose drops. Use plain saline rinse sold for use in human sinuses/noses. Saline can help moisten dry nasal passages and rinse irritants away.
- Try an antihistamine. Over-the-counter antihistamines are helpful for mild allergy symptoms. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is tolerated well by dogs and comes in pill or liquid form.
- See your vet for an examination and possibly diagnostic testing which may include:
- Radiographs of your dog’s nose and skull can show inflammation, bone erosion, and tumors.
- Blood tests like complete blood count (CBC) and fungal tests are helpful to find inflammatory responses and specific fungal diseases.
- Rhinoscopy is a special imaging procedure done while your dog is under anesthesia. A narrow tube with a camera on the end is manipulated into the dog’s sinuses to look for foreign objects, inflamed tissue and tumors. A rhinoscope also allows a veterinarian to collect tissue samples for cellular analysis and culture.
Sneezing is a normal part of life for dogs. A few excited sneezes are no problem. Even a random sneeze once or twice a day is probably normal. But if your dog feels poorly, has nasal discharge or is sneezing more than a few times a day, you should consider the possible causes. Get your veterinarian involved to get to the root of the problem so your dog can get the right treatment to feel better fast.