Dogs make all sorts of noises when communicating with other dogs, people or just to themselves. Some, such as growling, have a fairly obvious meaning behind them, but others may be harder to interpret. Grunting can have both positive and negative connotations and may or may not be related to a medical condition. Here, we explore the possible reasons why your dog might sometimes sound more like a pig than your furry four-legged companion!


Some breeds, particularly the brachycephalic type breeds, are much more likely to grunt than others. This is because of their conformation where their short muzzles and recessed noses mean that their soft palate and tongue are often over-large for their size. This causes that typical grunting snort so characteristic of breeds such as pugs, French bulldogs or boxers. Currently, there is a movement against the breeding of these types as they can suffer many health problems related to their shape and features. 


Grunting is a common sign of a happy dog. Whether enjoying a belly rub, a tickle behind the ears or scratching that persistent itch, dogs may rhythmically grunt to show enjoyment.  They can also do so at other happy times, such as greeting their owner or waiting for food. Puppies will grunt when playing or feeding from mum; again, a frequent sign of contentment.

Reverse sneezing

Reverse sneezing is a very common and usually completely harmless thing that dogs can do. But a lot of owners mistake it for choking and will panic. It often happens in response to a nasal irritant. It means the dog will repeatedly and rapidly inhale air and make a snorting noise in their nose or mouth. Episodes will generally self-resolve within a minute or so, but gently stroking the dog’s throat can help. 

Laryngeal paralysis

The larynx, or voice box in humans, sits at the top of the trachea and contains the vocal folds which are innervated by the laryngeal nerve and move to create different sounds. When the laryngeal nerve stops working properly, it can cause paralysis of the muscles that control these folds meaning they often become flaccid, resulting in a grunting sound as the dog breathes. This is more common in older large-breed dogs such Labradors. The symptoms can sometimes be relieved with medical treatment but ultimately surgery may be required.

Respiratory disease

Any respiratory illness that causes congestion can cause a dog to grunt. Other signs can include coughing, sneezing or shortness of breath. Grunting can also be a sign of a severe impairment to the respiratory system such as a narrowing or obstruction of the airways or compression of the lungs within the chest cavity, such as by fluid. 


Grunting is one of many noises that dogs can make in response to pain. Older dogs with arthritis may grunt when they get up or sit down, due to discomfort in their joints. Often gastrointestinal problems such as bloating or pancreatitis will cause a dog to grunt, again, due to the pain associated with these conditions. In these cases, dogs will generally also be off their food, may vomit or be lethargic. 

The general advice is if your dog is grunting but it’s a noise they have always made and they are very well in themselves without signs of illness, then you don’t need to do anything. If it’s a new noise or if they are showing other symptoms of being unwell, then it would definitely be worth getting them looked at by a vet. Sometimes, taking a video or recording of the sound can help with a diagnosis, in case they don’t demonstrate it in the consult room. Most of the time, a grunt is just one noise in your dog’s wide repertoire of noises, but it’s worth being aware of other potential reasons for it, and if in doubt, always speak to your vet. 

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