Dog Sneezing: how to know when it’s trouble


We’ve all chuckled at the sight of a nosey dog, sticking his head into an old box from the attic, and being surprised by a sneeze or two.  How can one tell the difference between these snoopy-sneezes and those which are a real problem?

A dog who is sneezing to the point of excess has irritated nasal passages. One can help by closely monitoring him for other symptoms. Adding moisture to the air, or a dose of nasal saline spray often helps. Sneezing that is not resolving itself must be investigated by a veterinarian. 

 Most of the time, the dog has snorted up some foreign matter, and is just trying to get rid of it.  Read through this article, and if you still have a gut feeling that something is amiss, but you can’t figure out what it is, call your veterinarian’s office.  The information presented here will serve as a troubleshooter for you, your dog, and his sneezing. 

Should I be worried if my dog is sneezing?

All dogs sneeze, sometimes – Just like us!  Because of that, a case of sneezing is one time that you can safely judge your dog by human standards.  In other words, if you wouldn’t find that amount of sneezing a problem in a human, your dog is probably OK.

When your dog’s sneezes come one after another, something is clearly bothering him.  Sneezing accompanied by other symptoms is also a cue to start looking for a problem.

Why does my dog keep sneezing and won’t stop?

A dog sneezes, because something is irritating his nasal passages.  Your veterianarian calls an itchy dog nose “rhinitis.”  The Merck Veterinary Manual does a superb job at describing various reasons why your dog’s nose might itch, all in one neat, little paragraph.  Following the quote, you will find its data boiled down into my easy-to-use infographic.  I’ve designed it just for you, to help you troubleshoot your pup’s sneezing woes:

“Signs of rhinitis include nasal discharge, sneezing, snoring, open-mouth breathing, and/or labored breathing. Pawing at the face and discharge from one nostril often suggests the presence of a foreign object. Tears and inflammation of the membrane surrounding the eyes (conjunctivitis) often accompany inflammation of the upper respiratory passages. The nasal discharge is clear but may become mucus-like or contain pus as a result of secondary bacterial infection. Sneezing, in an attempt to clear the upper airways of discharge, is seen most frequently in acute rhinitis and tends to come and go in cases of chronic rhinitis. Affected dogs may also experience an aspiration reflex (“reverse sneeze”), a short rapid inhalation in an attempt to clear the nose. Tumors, fungal disease, or chronic inflammatory rhinitis can cause a chronic nasal discharge that starts out as 1-sided but becomes 2-sided; another sign is discharge that starts out as mucus or pus but later contains blood. Fungal rhinitis can be painful, causing dogs to be “head shy” (that is, avoid having their heads pet).”

Merck Veterinary Manual

How do you treat a sneezing dog?

A super-safe, go-to treatment for your dog’s sneezing is saline nasal spray.  I saw one website that mentioned you can ask your veterinarian how to make your own.  

Don’t.

If you’ve read my other articles, you know I’d be the first person to DIY something, but not saline nasal spray.  First, it needs to be sterile – The nasal passages are very close to the brain, so you don’t want to be hosing any bacteria into your dog’s nose – He’s having enough trouble, already!  Second, you can buy a bottle of saline nasal spray, from Dollar Tree, for a dollar.  

Here is my most important nasal spray tip: 

Be sure to use the bottle in a way that you are spraying something in, without drawing dog yukkies (not the official term) back into the bottle.  The way to do it is thus: after you have squeezed the bottle, keep it tightly squeezed, until you have withdrawn the bottle from the nose.

Saline Nasal Spray Pro Tips

  • Never share saline bottles, even between your dogs.  
  • Write your dog’s name on his bottle.  
  • After each use, clean the tip of the bottle with some rubbing alcohol.  
  • Opened saline bottles keep better in the refrigerator.
  • WARNING: Never use allergy, decongestant , or any form of medicated nasal spray on your dog!

Solution for Dog’s Sneezing Caused by Dry Air

If it’s Winter, your dog’s nasal passages may be dried out.  I know that always makes me sneeze.  You can solve this by simply putting some moisture back into the air.  I set a full kettle on my wood stove or on a stove burner. 

If a flame-free choice is more practical for you, a humidifier is definitely the way to go.  This small humidifier is great, because I can move it around to wherever my dog is hanging out, without the extra weight and mess that moving a large unit would incur.

A daily spritz of the saline nasal spray works well for winter-dry dog noses, too.

Aspirating Irritants from Dog’s Nose

The nasal aspirator is a handy tool for removing small debris from your pup’s nose.  At this point, I could throw in a link for the Rolls Royce of nasal aspirators; but to be honest with you, the Dollar Tree has these, too.  They are located with the baby supplies. This item consists of a small, plastic cone attatched to a rubber bulb.  

Because you are trying to remove something (as opposed to insert something), the squeezing process is the opposite of using the saline bottle – Before you insert the tip of the bottle into the nose, squeeze all the air out of it.  That way, after you place it just inside the nose, release the pressure, and zoop!   It works like a little, dog-nose vaccuum cleaner!

Pro-tip: using a dose of saline nasal spray prior to using the aspirator will help loosen up the debris.

My Dog has This Weird Sneeze

“…consecutive inspiratory bursts through the nose.”

Reverse sneezing, as described by Richard B. Ford, DVM

That might be a reverse sneeze, also called stertor.  My second greyhound, Shannon, will always be remembered for his “big, chuffley dog-sneezes.”  He would wind up with a lot of mouth movement and weird faces, and then when he finally sneezed, he almost seemed to swallow it. 

Richard B. Ford, DVM,  describes reverse sneezing as “…consecutive inspiratory bursts through the nose.”  

He goes on to say that it is usually a sign that your dog has something stuck further down than his nasal passages.  What the dog is actually doing is trying to, sort of, suck the irritation down to where he can swallow it.  

After Shanny would do this, if I watched carefully, I could see him swallow after the reverse sneeze….and then go back to sleep, of course!

This video shows a good example of this phenomenon in action:

When should I take my dog to the vet for sneezing?

I’m happy to say that it’s a pretty simple decision – If a human family member was sneezing as much as your dog is, would you call the doctor?  If the answer is “yes,” then you should definitely call the veterinarian’s office, and see what they think. 

Resources for Further Exploration 

Learn the full details of reverse sneezing.

Read a comparison of the different types of dog sneezes.

Learn more about more serious diseases behind sneezing.

Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare

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