Catching your dog sneezing can be a cute moment, but is it a cause for concern? Just like in humans, sneezing can be explained by a simple tickle in the nose or it may be an indicator of an oncoming illness. There are many reasons that your dog could be sneezing, ranging from entirely negligible to quite concerning. Let’s explore some of those reasons and when to get help for your dog’s sneezing.
Why Do Dogs Sneeze?
Sneezing is a relatively common symptom. It can indicate a lot of different things, so paying attention to context is very important. Unlike in humans, it’s also relatively common for dogs to sneeze as a means of expressing emotion. This is confusing for onlookers but is generally not a cause for concern. Here are some of the main reasons your dog may be sneezing.
Something Is in Its Nose
Just like people, dogs may sneeze to clear out their nostrils. You may notice your dog sneezing after sniffing the dirt or snuffling through some pollen-heavy grass. This is generally not concerning. Most of the time, you’ll notice your dog sneezes just a few times, then seems to get it out of her system and is back to normal. If your dog seems to be pawing at her face, rubbing her face on the ground, and is looking generally uncomfortable, you might want to check with the vet to ensure there’s not a foxtail or other small object stuck in your dog’s nose!
Dogs can get allergies, just like people. This isn’t quite as common in dogs as it is with people. Allergies and other immune-related processes can lead to dogs suffering from sneezing, runny eyes, and runny noses. Check with your vet to figure out what your dog is allergic to and to ensure that there’s nothing else going on.
Sometimes, you may notice your dog sneezing suddenly during play. One moment she’s wrestling with her best canine pal, and the next she’s having a short sneezing fit. Sneezing is considered a sign of excitement or nervousness by some experts in canine behavior. It’s often seen as an interrupter when playtime is getting a bit out of hand. Usually, the other dog will take the sneezing as a cue to take things down a notch.
Many dogs will sneeze happily while rolling on their backs for a good scratch. There’s not really a good explanation for this other than happiness. Watching a dog do this, the dog is usually the picture of bliss: lolling tongue, soft eyes, loose body. A few sneezes post-roll, a shake-off, and your dog is ready to move on. This type of sneezing is no cause for concern—it seems to simply be an expression of happiness!
One of the most common diseases for dogs to get is called kennel cough. This highly contagious disease is somewhat similar to the common cold in people. It generally clears up quickly with medication and is most common in dogs who recently came from boarding kennels or shelters.
Dogs with kennel cough will generally have some nasal discharge, dull-looking eyes, or runny eyes. The disease also generally comes with a cough that may be more elicited if you palpate your dog’s windpipe. Take your dog to the vet right away if you think your dog has kennel cough. While it’s not generally a dangerous disease, getting over kennel cough can take a while without medication and your sick dog puts other dogs at risk.
There are several other more serious respiratory illnesses that can come with sneezing. Distemper can cause sneezing and is often deadly. Generally, these illnesses will come along with other symptoms, such as coughing, a runny nose, a dull coat or dull eyes, or loss of appetite.
The bottom line is that your dog’s sneezing continues for more than a few minutes, it’s probably a sign of some sort of sickness. If there’s no apparent behavioral reason for sneezing (joy, nervousness, excitement, or something in your dog’s nose), it is a good idea to get input from your vet.
Treating your dog’s sneezing will vary based on the underlying cause. If your dog is simply excited or nervous, calming her down will help. Sneezes that come from joy or something up your pup’s nose will also go away on their own.
But sneezing can also be a cause for concern. Be sure to visit your vet right away if you notice that your dog’s sneezing is paired with:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in behavior or activity level
- Nasal discharge, especially if it’s green or yellow
- Runny eyes or dull-looking eyes
Come prepared to the vet with information on your pet’s symptoms. You may also want to ask your vet if they’d prefer that you leave your dog in the car until your appointment to avoid exposing other dogs to germs. Kennel cough is quite contagious, and your vet may want to avoid exposing young puppies or immunocompromised dogs if she can!
Your vet may prescribe a simple antibiotic to help your dog get over kennel cough. In other cases, your dog may need further testing to determine what’s going on. Generally, sneezing without other symptoms isn’t a huge cause for concern. However, sneezing paired with other symptoms could indicate a myriad of different diseases.
Preventing sneezing will vary based on the cause of your dog’s sneezes. Be sure to keep your dog up-to-date on recommended vaccinations. Avoid areas with high concentrations of dogs (like dog parks or doggie daycares) if your dog has a weak immune system.
Aside from sneezing based on illness, there’s not much reason to try to avoid sneezing. If your dog likes to sneeze during play or after a good roll on the carpet, there’s no harm there!