Sneezing is a common occurrence in dogs, and is not always indicative of a medical condition. Irritants such as dust or grass can lead to sneezing, and it is also part of normal canine communication and play. As with any mammal, occasional sneezing is expected in dogs. Sneezing is more concerning when it is excessive and continues to happen over time. Sneezing seen alongside other symptoms like a bloody nose, appetite loss, and lethargy requires more urgent medical attention.
Sneezing is associated with a number of conditions, the most common being nasal foreign bodies, nasal mites, fungal infections, dental abscesses, tumors, and rhinitis. Diagnostic tests such as a physical examination, rhinoscopy, nasal swab, and bloodwork are useful for determining the underlying cause of sneezing. Treatment and prognosis for sneezing varies depending on diagnosis.
Sneezing is sometimes normal and no cause for concern. Sneezing becomes concerning when it is severe, chronic, or associated with other symptoms like bleeding (epistaxis), discharge, congestion, eye irritation, appetite loss, or lethargy.
Some flat-faced dogs (brachycephalic) are prone to frequent sneezing, but it’s important to avoid concluding this is normal until any potentially treatable underlying causes have been ruled out. The most common cause of a sudden onset of severe sneezing in an otherwise healthy dog is an inhaled foreign body. This is not expected to be a life-threatening emergency, but dogs in this condition are uncomfortable and benefit from receiving care as quickly as possible. Sneezing does not indicate an emergency in and of itself.
There are many reasons for a dog to sneeze, including, but not limited to
• Normal behavior and communication (play) • Irritants/objects, transient or lodged in the nose
• Infectious diseases: Nasal aspergillosis is one example of a common fungal infection of dogs
• Parasitic diseases, like nasal mites • Dental disease, especially abscesses of upper teeth
• Inflammatory diseases, such as rhinitis • Tumors
Sneezing in newborn puppies is usually due to a cleft palate.
While sneezing is a common manifestation of allergies in humans, it is not for dogs. Only in rare cases do dogs sneeze as a result of allergies.
Sneezing in dogs varies widely because the scope of potential underlying conditions is so broad. In many cases, sneezing is adaptive and not a problem. The reflex occurs as part of the body’s first line of defense against foreign or irritating substances (including pathogens). For example, the sneezing associated with inhaled foreign bodies or irritating aerosols typically comes on suddenly and severely as the dog’s body tries to flush out the irritant. The sneezing stops once the irritant or object is flushed out.
One of the most common causes of chronic sneezing in an otherwise healthy dog is a nasal foreign body. It is very common for dogs who live where there are large/dense populations of foxtail grasses to inhale a grass awn and experience severe sneezing. The long, hairy spikes on these seeds cause them to get stuck in the nasal canal, so medical intervention is usually necessary to retrieve them.
Sneezing that occurs along with other symptoms like lethargy, appetite loss, and nasal congestion is more likely due to an infectious disease, dental abscess, or tumor.
In cases of severe sneezing, a therapeutic trial with a parasiticide to rule out nasal mites is a common first step prior to an aggressive diagnostic workup. If further diagnostics are indicated, they may include:
• Physical examination • Nasal swab • Diagnostic imaging • Nasal flush for cytology • Rhinoscopy
• Bloodwork • Biopsy
Sneezing can be mistaken for snorting. Snorting is an intake of air, and reverse sneezing the same, except done rapidly with an accompanying honking sound. Sneezing is an expulsion of air. Sneezing is also distinct from coughing. Coughing is an expulsion of air (and/or mucus) from the mouth, whereas sneezing is through the nose.
Sneezing commonly occurs as a solitary symptom, as is the case with inhaled foreign bodies.
Sneezing that occurs along with signs of generalized illness like lethargy, appetite loss, and eye discharge is more commonly associated with infectious diseases.
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