Question from Sharon Barrett:

I think my 2 Yorkshire Terriers may have hay fever as the last 2 days they have been sneezing, they are 6yrs old can I give them antihistamines?

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Sharon and thank you for your question about your two sneezing Yorkshire terriers and whether it  is safe to give them antihistamines.  The first thing I would advise is not to treat your pet without having discussed this with your vet or better still having had your pet examined.  I know that we often do not complete a course of medication for ourselves or our pets and end up with tablets left over which we keep just in case they may be useful.  We should really not use medications unless they have been prescribed specifically for an individual pet or under the direction of your vet.

Why are my dogs sneezing?

 Sneezing can be due to allergy such as hay fever (Atopy, allergic to an inhaled substance) but in dogs is more commonly due to infection or irritations from inhaled substance e.g. dust/smoke or a foreign body e.g. grass seed/thorn.  Less common but a possibility is also that some dogs can develop tumour type growths in their noses.

The simplest way to make a diagnosis is to give a detailed history of what has been going on with your dogs for the last few days, where they have been and what they have been exposed to.  Your vet will then perform a full examination of your dogs, which may include looking up their noses, some pets will allow this to be done with or without some local anaesthetic spray and or sedation.  If infection is suspected then your pet might have an increased temperature which can be easily checked by your vet.

Sometimes the type of discharge coming out of your pets nose can provide information, it is more likely to be clear and thin if simply allergy or viral infection however with bacterial and fungal infections the discharge may be thicker and yellow/green.  If blood is present then this suggests some ulceration of the lining of your dog’s nose may have occurred.

A common cause of sneezing in an otherwise well dog is kennel cough infection (infectious trache bronchitis), this can sometimes show up as sneezing and a watery nasal discharge through to a harsh dry choking type cough.  Kennel cough is very easily spread by contact with other dogs or the droplets they cough or sneeze out.  Vaccination does exist for kennel cough via injection/nasal spray but it is not 100% effective as kennel cough is brought about by some bacteria and some viruses which can change (mutate) making them tricky to vaccinate against.

What further test might be done?

Your vet might suggest that blood tests, x-rays or rhinoscopy may be needed to help make a diagnosis.  Blood tests can be to check the general health of your pet and give an indication of infections or allergy. X-rays show a lot of detail of the nasal passageways, if they are symmetrical, and if there is anything abnormal present there.  X-rays will most likely be done under a general anaesthetic to allow the best positioning of your pet and a nasal flush can be performed too.  A nasal flush is when sterile saline is flushed up each nostril and then some of the liquid is sucked back out and can be examined under a microscope or sent to a laboratory for analysis.  Rhinoscopy is when a very thin tube or camera is inserted up the nostril to have a close and detailed look for any changes or foreign material.

In some cases trial treatment may be opted for before major diagnostic tests are performed, the decision as to how things go is made between you and your vet.

What treatment might be given for my sneezing dogs?

 As mentioned treatment might be tried on its own if infection or allergy is suspected which could include antibiotics, steroid or antihistamines. The medications may be given as tablets or injections. Antibiotics can be used in the treatment of allergy if infection is also present.  Some allergies are treated using immunosuppressant medications or specific vaccines.

If a foreign body is found this will be removed and then your dog may need some antibiotic and pain relief to allow the lining of its nasal passageways to heal.

If a growth is suspected then this will have a small piece taken out (biopsy) which will then be sent for analysis to determine the best course of treatment, which may be surgical removal and or chemotherapy.

The prognosis for your dog will depend on what has caused the sneezing and how effective the treatment available for that specific cause is.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question and that your dog’s sneezing is soon under control and they are back to their normal selves.  It is really important to work with your vet to get the correct treatment for your pet to have a speedy recovery.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)