Why does my dog keep sneezing?


Dogs, just like people, do occasionally sneeze which is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However if your dog is sneezing very frequently or persistently then it would be a good idea to see your vet. They can perform a thorough clinical examination. 

A sneeze is essentially a normal reflex to clear the nasal passages of any irritant particles. A dog’s nose is quite sensitive and can be irritated by a number of things such as dust, pollen, certain household sprays and perfumes. Brachycephalic (short faced) breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs may be more prone to sneezing from mild irritation, as their nasal passages are very condensed.

Causes of sneezing

Foreign body 

Particularly if your dog suddenly develops sneezing when outside or on a walk. Sneezing constantly could be a sign that something is stuck in the nasal passage – commonly a grass seed. You may also notice them rubbing their face along the ground or pawing at their nose.

Growths/tumours 

A cancerous mass in the nasal passages could cause local inflammation as well as destroying the turbinates (passages and folds) in the nasal passages. Benign masses like polyps or cysts can cause irritation which will result in sneezing.

Fungal infection 

A fungus called aspergillus can cause a nasal/sinus infection. This can result in sneezing, nasal discharge, swelling and sometimes nasal pain and nosebleeds. It’s caused by inhalation of the fungus from dust or hay.

Mites 

Nasal mites are very rare in the UK currently but have been reported in Europe.

Reverse sneezing 

This is when a sneeze isn’t actually a sneeze! It may sound like a honk or a snorting sound, accompanied with noisy breathing in. It’s thought to be due to irritation at the back of the mouth. Some dogs may do this when they get excited but often there is no obvious reason for it! You don’t need to worry if your dog occasionally does this. But if it’s regular you should get it checked out.

Generally dogs with an upper airway respiratory infection will more commonly cough as opposed to sneeze.

How can sneezing problems be diagnosed?

Your vet will perform a thorough physical examination. They will listen to your dog’s breathing, check their temperature, check for nasal pain. Also assess whether the problem is unilateral (affecting one side) or bilateral (affecting both nasal passages). They will take a history from you to find out when the sneezing started. If it’s been intermittent or persistent, if there has been any nasal discharge. If so what the consistency and colour this has been. They will also need to know if there have been any concurrent signs like them being off colour, off their food, gagging, or coughing.

To identify the cause of the sneezing to determine the best course of action and treatment your vet may need to perform some diagnostic tests, particularly if they seem distressed or are sneezing non stop. These may include:

  • Sedating or anaesthetising your dog to enable them to look up the nose – this can be done with a rhinoscope (endoscope). 
  • An X-ray of the nasal passages and sinuses may be required.
  • Samples may be taken – this is done by flushing a small amount of saline up the nose to dislodge any material that shouldn’t be there or to get a sample of the discharge to send to the laboratory for analysis.
  • A biopsy  may be required if any masses or growths are discovered to determine if they are cancerous or just inflammatory changes.
  • In some cases an MRI or CT may be required.

How can sneezing be treated?

Sneezing is a symptom of something else going on, not a disease entity in itself, so the treatment will very much depend on what’s causing it. 

If a foreign body like a grass seed is located this  will be removed with forceps and usually no other treatment is required. Benign masses like polyps can be removed surgically. More invasive or malignant growths can often be too difficult to remove completely. However some of these cancers will respond well to other treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Your vet may recommend referral to see a specialist veterinary oncologist. Fungal infections are treated with medications but these often require long treatment courses and can have side effects.

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