Brachycephalic (short-muzzled) breeds are more prone to sneezing and snorting. They may develop a condition known as Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS).
We’ll discuss all of this in-depth below, as well as what to do if your dog won’t stop sneezing.
Table of Contents:
1. Something’s Stuck up their Nose
One of the most common reasons dogs sneeze is that they have foreign bodies in their nostrils. This can include dust, fur, grass, food, or foxtails burrs.
The problem can range from harmless to incredibly concerning, depending on what’s inside of your dog’s nose and how far into the nostril it’s gone.
Fur or dust can be sneezed out easily. Small objects may also fall out when your dog sneezes. But if they won’t stop sneezing or their nose begins to bleed, it’s likely a sign of a greater issue.
See your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment. Don’t try to remove the object yourself, or you might lodge it deeper into your dog’s nose.
Your veterinarian will provide treatment options, which may require surgery if the object has gone too far into your dog’s nose.
2. Something in the Air is Irritating them
Another reason for constant sneezing is that there are irritants in the air. These can make their way into your dog’s nose.
Think about how you feel if pollen drifts toward you in the wind or you inhale a lot of dust while cleaning your attic. This problem intensifies for humans or dogs with allergies.
Irritants can include pollen, dust, smoke, or scented products. Your perfume, cleaning products, or air fresheners might not agree with your dog, and you might have to stop using those products around them.
3. They’re Feeling Ill
Illnesses and parasites can cause a dog to sneeze uncontrollably. If your dog won’t stop sneezing, it’s best to get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Here are some common ailments that cause sneezing in dogs:
Dogs can develop mild or severe flu symptoms. Mild cases involve red eyes, discharge from the eyes and nose, sneezing, and coughing. Symptoms can last up to 30 days and go away on their own, but your veterinarian can provide treatment to keep your dog more comfortable.
Severe canine influenza can cause fever, loss of appetite, and pneumonia. Your dog may have difficulty breathing or cough up blood.
If you notice more severe signs of illness, such as if your dog stops eating or coughs up blood, take them to the emergency veterinarian. They may need to be hospitalized in order to recover.
Seasonal allergies in dogs can cause discharge from the eyes and nose, itching, and sneezing. I have allergies myself, and in the spring, I sometimes sneeze six or seven times in a row! When I visit my grandparent’s dog with allergies, I’ll often notice him itching or sneezing more than normal, too.
If your dog has seasonal allergies, they’ll most likely sneeze at specific times of the year or in certain weather conditions. For instance, temperature changes and rain can set off allergies. If your dog is allergic to a specific plant, they may sneeze uncontrollably as its pollen drifts through the air.
Other allergies, such as dust or mold allergies, can also cause excessive sneezing.
Allergies aren’t typically life-threatening but can cause discomfort in your dog’s day-to-day life. Your veterinarian can help determine your dog’s specific allergies and treat them accordingly.
We touched on foreign objects in your dog’s nose above—but unfortunately, they may also be dealing with foreign insects!
Dogs catch nasal mites from the dirt outside or via contact with other dogs. They cause sneezing, swelling, and discharge. Your dog might also bleed from their nose.
Your dog is most likely to have nasal mites if they are a large breed over three years old.
Your veterinarian will diagnose nasal mites by looking inside your dog’s nose with an endoscope. They may flush the nose to remove the mites. They’ll likely prescribe antiparasitic medication as treatment.
Sometimes, symptoms do not clear up with treatment. It’s thought that, in these cases, there may be other diseases present.
It’s important to follow up with your veterinarian after treatment, especially if symptoms remain or worsen.
If your dog is over seven years old and their sneezing has grown worse over time, a nasal tumor might be the culprit. These can also cause nose bleeds, though typically only from one nostril.
Nasal tumors are serious because they are cancerous. Your veterinarian can diagnose using imaging, and treatment typically consists of surgery followed by radiation or chemotherapy.
It’s important to begin treatment immediately so that the cancer does not spread locally, which can lead to the growth of brain tumors.
Pneumonia is a serious condition. You’ll notice symptoms such as fever, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, dehydration, and tiredness. Pneumonia can be treated with medications or, in severe cases, hospitalization.
If your dog is displaying severe symptoms of pneumonia, bring them to the emergency vet immediately.
Asthma in dogs displays as heavy or fast breathing, energy loss, low appetite, and blue gums. Your veterinarian will rule out other diagnoses before diagnosing your dog with asthma.
Treatment typically involves steroids, inhalers, and avoiding triggers such as cigarette smoke. Asthma can cause permanent damage if left untreated.
Emergency veterinary care is needed if your dog has trouble breathing or blue gums.
Lastly, respiratory infections can cause tiredness, lack of appetite, runny nose, difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing, and fever. Your veterinarian can diagnose your dog with a visual exam, temperature check, and, occasionally, fluid samples.
Respiratory infections can be treated using medication.
Many different viruses and bacteria cause kennel cough; it’s actually used as a broad term for infectious or contagious coughing conditions.
Your dog is most likely to catch kennel cough after exposure to many other dogs, such as when boarded during your vacation. However, dogs can transmit kennel cough just by sniffing one another. It’s incredibly contagious.
Although kennel cough involves coughing, not sneezing, the two are often confused for one another. Other symptoms of kennel cough include discharge from the eyes and nose, swollen tonsils, wheezing, lack of appetite, and depression.
If your dog’s kennel cough is due to a bacterial infection, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics. They may also prescribe other medications to keep your dog comfortable, such as cough suppressants.
Keeping up with your dog’s vaccine schedule can reduce their risk of catching kennel cough in the future as well.
4. They’re Playing with Another Dog
Dogs sometimes sneeze when playing together. This is used to show playfulness and diffuse tension.
When dogs play, they use the same tactics as they do when truly fighting or taking down prey. It’s how they learn those behaviors!
But they need to show the other dog, or even human, that they mean well. This is where playful sneezing comes in. It often happens when your dog is very excited and happy, such as at the height of a good play session.
Other ways dogs diffuse tension while playing include bowing, taking breaks, and rolling over into a submissive posture.
If your dog only sneezes during play, you have nothing to worry about. It’s communication, not a symptom of anything greater.
But if the sneezing doesn’t stop, you should look into the other causes above.
Sneezing vs Reverse Sneezing
Sneezing occurs when air is forced from your dog’s nose, typically as a way of clearing the nasal passage. Reverse sneezing consists of repeated inhalations. It may sound like your dog has difficulty breathing or is honking like a goose.
Related article: Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
Reverse sneezing can be caused by excitement or nerves, irritation in the nose, or inflammation.
Other things people confuse reverse sneezing for include coughing, choking, and trouble breathing.
It’s important to see your veterinarian if your dog is reverse sneezing, as only they can rule out other ailments.
That said, reverse sneezing is typically nothing to worry about. If your dog won’t stop reverse sneezing, your veterinarian can do an exam including chest x-rays and looking inside of your dog’s nose and throat with a camera (also known as a rhinoscopy).
Sneezing, Snorting, & Brachycephalic Breeds
Sneezing and snorting are often confused for one another. It’s possible you think your dog is constantly sneezing, but they’re actually snorting. This is especially common in short-snouted, or brachycephalic, breeds.
Sneezing vs Snorting in Dogs
Sneezing is when a dog pushes air out through their nose, while snorting is when they pull air in. These may seem similar if you’re unfamiliar with them.
When a dog sneezes, you may notice discharge from their nose. If you hold your hand by their face, you should feel a burst of air. (Be sure to wash your hands after!)
If your dog is snorting, you’ll instead feel the pull of the air when you hold your hand near their nose. This can be an easy way to tell the difference.
It’s important to know what you’re dealing with for sure so that you can get to the root cause. If you’re uncertain, it might help to take a video for your veterinarian (or bring your dog in to show them the behavior, if it’s continuous).
Causes of Snorting in Dogs
Brachycephalic breeds are most likely to snort continuously. These dogs are unethically bred to have shortened snouts, which makes breathing more difficult for them than for dogs with longer snouts.
Fat dogs might also snort for a similar reason: they’re having some difficulty breathing due to their excess weight.
Lastly, there are a variety of medical conditions that can cause your dog to snort.
Snorting might happen more often when your dog is exercising, especially if they’ve overexerted themselves. Hot weather can also cause difficulty breathing and heat stroke.
Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS)
Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS) occurs in short-muzzled, or brachycephalic, dog breeds. It describes dogs with abnormalities in their airways due to their shortened snouts.
These abnormalities include:
- Stenotic nares (abnormally small nostrils)
- Nasopharyngeal turbinates (ridges of bone that help humidify and heat air as it’s breathed in) that extend behind the nose and mouth, obstructing your dog’s breathing
- Elongated soft palate (roof of the mouth) that blocks the back of your dog’s throat, restricting their airway
- Laryngeal collapse (inability of the voicebox to open as usual) as a result of other abnormalities
- Hypoplastic trachea (small trachea)
- Everted laryngeal saccules (sacs inside your dog’s larynx) or laryngeal saccules sucked into the airway
Brachycephalic breeds can have many problems with their respiratory system due to BAOS.
- Mouth breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Loud breathing
Dogs with severe BAOS may faint or collapse when exercising. Secondary issues include inflammation and heart problems.
Your veterinarian can diagnose BAOS by examining your dog under anesthesia. They’ll first perform bloodwork and chest x-rays to ensure it’s safe to put your dog under.
Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will typically perform surgery while you’re dog is still out so that they don’t have to go under anesthesia twice.
Less severe cases can be treated with weight loss, medications, and management. This means limiting exercise, avoiding hot temperatures, and removing stressors.
BAOS is a serious condition and veterinary treatment is vital.
When to See Your Veterinarian
Sneezing during play or an occasional sneezing fit doesn’t warrant a run to the veterinarian. However, it won’t hurt to bring up the issue during your dog’s next check-up so that your vet is aware of it and can offer their opinion.
If your dog won’t stop sneezing, however, you’ll want to book an appointment as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can diagnose and treat your pup, whether they need cough suppressants for a cold or surgery to remove an object from their nostril.
Severe symptoms such as wheezing, coughing up blood, and going pale or blue in the gums require a trip to the emergency veterinary clinic. If you suspect your dog has lung problems, trouble breathing, or is choking, they cannot wait for care.
Never use over-the-counter medications without consulting a vet first. These might worsen the condition.