Achoo! It’s sneeze season for humans. You’re pretty likely to be fighting off some sinus issues this time of year, but what about your best bud? Why is your dog sneezing? If you notice that your dog is sneezing a lot, it could be due to allergies, a virus, or even just play.
Read on for more information about what causes dogs to sneeze, the different types of dog sneezes, and when to be concerned.
Dog Sneezing at Play
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.
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 diffuse a stressful situation. Dogs use their whole bodies to communicate, and the sneeze is yet another tool in their arsenal.
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.
Is Something Stuck in Your Dog’s Nose?
If you see 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 may be something stuck in their nose. The most likely culprit is a blade of grass, a hair, a particulate of food, or a foxtail burr.
The family of plants known as foxtails are weed-like and have a sharp, barbed seed. Those prickly burrs scatter everywhere and can be extremely dangerous for animals that encounter them.
According to petMD, foxtail burrs can get stuck in a dog’s snout, eyes, mouth, genitals, or other areas of the body, and once there, they migrate—which can lead to permanent damage or even death.
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.
Another common cause of excessive sneezing and coughing in dogs is allergies. Just like humans, dogs can experience an allergic response to dust, pollen, mold, a flea bite, a food, or an irritant that might be in the air or have been sniffed up by an overzealous snout.
Your pet’s sneezing may be due to allergies if you also notice that they are extra itchy (either all over the body or in one specific spot), have runny discharge from their eyes or nose, or are coughing and wheezing.
If you suspect your dog’s sneezing fit is the result of allergies, talk to your vet. They can identify specific allergens and help you devise a treatment and management plan.
The Canine Reverse Sneeze
You’re likely to be pretty alarmed if your dog suddenly makes a repeated gasping or choking sound. However, there’s frequently an innocuous reason for that terrifying noise: the reverse sneeze.
A reverse sneeze is when your dog inhales loudly through their nose in spasms that can sound like choking or gagging. The American Kennel Club (AKC) notes that this common and incredibly weird 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. If your pet seems to be in a lot of discomfort or can’t stop reverse sneezing, you may be able to help by gently massaging their throat or lightly blowing in their face. This should trigger the swallowing reflex, which can help ease the spasms. Getting your pet some fresh air might help, too.
It’s unlikely that 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 or becomes more serious.
Signs of Trouble
If you notice that your dog is making a honking sound (rather than the characteristic snork noise 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.
petMD says that this could be a sign of a tracheal collapse (which is more likely to occur in smaller breeds) and can be very serious.
Your Dog Has a Cold or the Flu
Just like humans, dogs can contract common cold viruses that might trigger a sneezing fit. If you notice additional symptoms like a runny nose, a fever, watery eyes, or a general lack of energy, it’s likely your dog has come down with a bug.
According to the AKC, most dog colds are relatively harmless and should clear up on their own, but it’s still best to check in with your vet as soon as your dog starts to show symptoms (particularly if your dog is very young, very old, or has a compromised immune system). Your vet will be able to rule out a more serious infection that could require additional treatment.
If your dog is sneezing uncontrollably or has other symptoms like a hacking cough, sudden lethargy, lack of appetite, lots of discharge from the eyes or nose, or a high fever, they might have contracted the canine influenza virus.
You should call your vet right away if you suspect your dog has the flu. It’s possible for canine influenza to progress to pneumonia or another dangerous condition if improperly treated.
Because dogs with the flu are extremely contagious, the AKC notes that you should warn your vet about the possible flu case before you take your dog in for an exam—they may have a protocol for containing or minimizing the spread of the virus.
If properly treated, flu symptoms should subside in about two or three weeks. However, it’s best to keep your dog isolated from other dogs (and cats) for about thirty days after the onset of symptoms to prevent transmission.
After your dog has visited the vet, check out our roundup of natural remedies for dog colds to see how you can help alleviate their symptoms at home.
Though your dog’s sneezing 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.
Featured image: Unsplash/danielsan