Skip to main content

Dog sneezing: Vet's guide to causes and when to be concerned

Why is my dog sneezing? A Brazilian Mastiff dog sneezing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're asking yourself, "why is my dog sneezing?" you're in good company! Most dogs sneeze every now and then, and it can be concerning if you don't know what's happening or why it's occurring. 

Fortunately, most sneezes don't indicate a problem. Chronic or recurrent sneezing, however, can reflect an underlying medical condition that warrants treatment. For example, if your dog is sneezing due to allergies, they may need prescription medications or the best dog food for allergies.

Read on to learn more about canine sneezing, so you can better understand this potentially frustrating condition.

Should I be worried if my dog is sneezing?

There are many reasons a dog could sneeze, and these causes range from relatively insignificant to potentially life-threatening. Some dogs sneeze without any rhyme or reason, in response to their environment or behavioral cues. In other cases, sneezing can indicate a significant underlying medical condition.

Allergies are a common cause of recurrent sneezing in dogs. While canine allergies are usually associated with itching and skin inflammation, some dogs develop sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. For more information on coping with canine allergies, read these nine tips for coping with allergic pets.

Sneezing can also occur if something is trapped in a dog's nose. Small particles of inhaled dust might cause a single sneeze, but recurrent or chronic sneezing could indicate a larger object trapped in the nasal passage. Less commonly, nasal tumors can cause chronic or recurrent sneezing by similarly blocking or irritating the nasal passages.

Finally, sneezing can be associated with dental disease. The roots of a dog's upper teeth are located very close to the sinuses and nasal passages. A tooth root abscess or dental infection can cause inflammation in the sinuses and nasal passages, resulting in sneezing.

In general, an occasional sneeze is nothing to worry about. However, sneezing that is persistent and recurrent could suggest an underlying medical issue. If your dog is sneezing repeatedly and/or the frequency of their sneezing has increased over time, a veterinary examination is in order.

Causes of sneezing in dogs

There are three key reasons why your pooch may be sneezing: 

Allergies

In the case of allergies, your veterinarian will first identify the cause of your dog’s allergies. 

There are four common allergies in dogs: grain/dust mite allergy, inhalant allergy, flea allergy, and food allergy. Food trials are typically used to rule out common food allergies in pets, while allergy testing can assess your pet’s response to mites and environmental triggers. 

Based on these tests, your veterinarian will characterize your dog’s allergies and recommend an appropriate treatment. Allergies are managed, not cured. Your dog will likely require long-term use of a hypoallergenic diet, oral medications such as apoquel for dogs, and/or other lifestyle changes to control allergies. 

Dental problems

Canine dental disease is best addressed with a comprehensive dental cleaning, performed under general anesthesia. Your veterinarian will examine your dog's teeth closely and take radiographs (x-rays) of each tooth. 

Diseased teeth will be extracted, and your dog will likely be treated with antibiotics. In many dogs, addressing dental disease alleviates recurrent sneezing.

Nasal issues

A nasal foreign body, in contrast, is typically addressed surgically. Your veterinarian will sedate your dog, then attempt to flush or extract any foreign material from the nose. Removal of a nasal foreign body is curative; no further treatment is usually needed, once the object has been removed from the nose.

Nasal tumors are relatively uncommon, but they do occur. Treatment may require a combination of therapies. Depending on the tumor and its location, your veterinarian may recommend surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.

A Siberian Husky dog sneezing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Why does my dog sneeze when excited?

While some sneezing has a medical cause, this isn't always the case. Dogs also use sneezing to communicate, both with other dogs and with their human companions.

Sneezing is often associated with excitement, and it can indicate a desire to play or interact. In fact, many dogs use sneezing to get their owners' attention. Sneezing may be used as a sign of submission in some contexts, or it may be used as a way to de-escalate rough play. Behavioral sneezing usually does not indicate an underlying medical problem.

Catherine Barnette
Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. 

Why is my dog reverse sneezing so much?

While sneezing can occur in any dog, some dogs have a tendency to "reverse sneeze." This isn't really a sneeze at all; instead, it's a sudden and violent inhalation of air. A reverse sneeze creates a honking or snorting sound, and it may sound like the dog is choking.

We don't know exactly what causes reverse sneezing in dogs. Some dogs have frequent episodes of reverse sneezing, while others will go their entire life without ever having a reverse sneeze. In some cases, an increase in the frequency of reverse sneezing can be brought about by allergies to pollen and other airborne allergens. Other dogs reverse sneeze primarily when they're excited or anxious.

In most cases, reverse sneezing is not a cause for concern. However, it's always best to talk to your veterinarian about any changes in the frequency or severity of your dog's sneezing or reverse sneezing.

A pug that has just sneezed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Summary

The question "why is my dog sneezing?" can have a wide variety of potential answers. An occasional sneeze, happening every now and then, probably isn't a cause for concern. Like us, dogs can sneeze after inhaling dust or other allergens. 

However, if your dog is sneezing on a regular basis or you have noticed a change in the frequency or character of your dog's sneezing, a visit to the veterinarian can help rule out underlying medical conditions that could contribute to sneezing.