Dog Sneezing: What Does It Mean?

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / May 13, 2018
dog sneezing

Maybe you just took a long walk with your four-legged friend or perhaps you just got home from a business trip. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Fido has a sneezing episode. The dog sneezing probably surprises your pup just as much as it surprises you.

Your pup may look adorable when sneezing, but dog owners may start to wonder if there may be something wrong. Is something causing the sneezing “attack”? Is your dog sick? Should you make an appointment with your veterinarian?

dog sneezing

Why Is My Dog Sneezing?

We often view sneezing as a sign of sickness. While sickness is a reason for humans sneezing, it is less likely for dogs.

The dog’s body is able to sense when the nasal cavity of has a build-up of “bad” particles. These particles irritate the mucous membrane inside of the nasal passages. As a result, the dog sneezes as a reflex, to get rid of the irritants. Therefore, more times than not, when your dog sneezes, it is actually beneficial.

However, sneezing can also be a symptom of an underlying issue that needs medical treatment such as an infection or upper respiratory disease.

Now, let’s get into what could potentially be causing this irritation.

Daily Environmental Irritants

Perhaps the most common reason for why your dog is sneezing is daily environmental irritants. These irritants include candles, household cleaners, cigarette smoke, among many others. Just think, if something irritates you or your company’s nose, it can also irritate your dog’s nose.

It is important for dog owners to recognize what everyday irritant is causing the sneezing. Dogs can be very sensitive to products that are not natural and it is important to limit exposure to these potential causes.

Nasal Mites

Chronic or repetitive sneezing in dogs may be due to parasites (namely nasal mites) that live in the dog’s nasal cavity. Nasal mites only reach about a millimeter in length making it challenging for dog owners to spot them at first.

In most cases, dog owners won’t see advanced symptoms of a nasal mite infestation until it becomes too overwhelming for the immune system to handle it. If your dog is having constant sneezing fits, we recommend having a veterinarian examine them for these mites. It’s much better to catch and treat them early on before additional issues have the opportunity to develop.


If your pup loves to frolic through sunny California, you’re probably familiar with foxtails. Even a short canyon jaunt can leave your dog covered in them.

Foxtails may become launched in your dog’s nasal cavity and cause an uncontrollable sneezing attack. It will often be difficult for dog owner’s to remove the foxtail from the nasal cavity and medical intervention will be necessary.


vacuum makes dogs sneeze

Another common cause of sneezing in both dogs and dog owners alike is the vacuum. Vacuuming causing a circulation of dust to pick up which can irritate anyone with a sensitive nose.


Allergic rhinitis is nowhere near as common in dogs as it is in humans. However, it does exist and may be a cause of your dog sneezing.

In most cases, dogs show signs of allergies in the form of skin irritations, itchy eyes, ears, and paws.

Obstruction of the Upper Airway

Sneezing may be a result of obstruction of the upper airway. One obstruction that can lead to sneezing is excess tissue in their upper airway.

Obstructions may come from polyps, cancer, or foreign bodies in the nasal cavity.

Foreign Bodies

The dog’s nose is incredibly sensitive. Any exploring that your dog does may lead a foreign body in the nasal passages and lead to sneezing.

Even microscopic dust can be categorized as a foreign body and cause your dog to sneeze until the body expels whatever is not supposed to be there.


In some cases, sneezing may indicate a more serious ailment such as an infection or upper respiratory condition such as Kennel Cough. Dog owners should observe whether the sneezing is accompanied by coughing. This is a tell-tale sign of an upper respiratory infection.

Additionally, dental infections can lead to sneezing if a rotting tooth protrudes into the nasal cavity.

Another infection that can cause sneezing is the distemper virus. Unlike a common cold, the distemper virus can be deadly. For this reason, if your dog is consistently sneezing, you should have your veterinarian make sure it’s not an underlying indication of something more serious.

Nasal Tumors

As dogs age, they become more susceptible to developing malignant growths such as sarcomas or carcinomas.

Sneezing is one symptom of a nasal tumor in older dogs.


Best case scenario, your dog may sneeze out of pure excitement. It’s not uncommon for a trip to the dog park or a special treat to be accompanied by a sneezing fit.

What is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

It may surprise you to learn that a reverse sneeze is actually not a sneeze at all. The medical term for a reverse sneeze is mechanosensitive aspiration reflex. While sneezing is an expulsion of air from the nose and/or mouth, reverse sneezing is an involuntary, spastic inhalation.

A reverse sneezing episode may last several minutes at a time. You may find that your dog is more prone to reverse sneezing after going for a walk where Fido may have gotten some dirt or pollen into their nose.

While it may sound like there something terribly wrong with your beloved dog, a reverse sneeze is entirely benign. It is simply the tissues of the soft palate and back of the throat showing signs of irritation and it will pass.

What Does a Reverse Sneeze Sound Like?

A reverse sneeze often sounds like a honking nose. Pet owners have also described a reverse sneeze as sounding like their dog is choking or having an asthma attack.

Breeds Prone to Reverse Sneezing

There are certain breeds prone to reverse sneezing including:

  • Pugs
  • Pekingese
  • Shih Tzus
  • Lhasa Apsos

Reverse sneezing is often a common occurrence in smaller dogs and brachycephalic breeds. Brachycephalic means “shortened head.” Dogs that are brachycephalic breeds often have short noses and flat faces. These dogs are also prone to respiratory problems and breathing difficulties.

Can Dogs Get Colds?

sick dog

We have all heard the expression, “sick as a dog” so it may not be surprising that yes, dogs can get colds.

Dog Cold Symptoms

When your dog has a cold, their symptoms often mimic the symptoms of a human cold.

Dog Runny Nose

Clear nasal discharge is often not a cause for alarm. However, if your dog has thick, green or yellow discharge is may be a sign of something more serious than the common cold.


Again, if your dog sounds “stuffed up”, it may be a symptom of a cold that will pass, but it also may be a sign of an upper respiratory condition that will require treatment.

Dog Sneezing

If your dog sneezing is not a symptom any of the reasons we mentioned, it may be a sign that they are fighting off a cold.


Coughing is another sign of a cold, however, when paired with sneezing it is often a clinical sign of an upper respiratory infection.

Watery Eyes

Like their owners, dogs will commonly have watery eyes when they are under the weather.

To sum up, it is entirely possible that your dog has a cold that will pass on its own with rest, hydration, and time.

However, the symptoms of a cold may also be signs that something else is wrong. Dog owners will want a vet to rule out any possibility of conditions like kennel cough, canine influenza, parasites, or infections that need medical treatment.

How To Stop Sneezing in Dogs

cold syrup for dogs

In order to stop sneezing in dogs, dog owners need to determine the underlying cause. For example, if the sneezing is due to environmental irritants, you can limit your dog’s exposure to the factors causing the irritation.

Dog Allergy Medicine

If your dog’s sneezing is due to allergies then your vet may prescribe an allergy medication such as Atopica or Apoquel. However, these drugs (like all drugs) come with a slew of potential adverse reactions that may very well be worse than the allergies themselves.

Also, we want to remind you of all the other reasons why your dog may be sneezing. Allergies are not the only culprit. Oftentimes, dog allergies present themselves in the form of skin irritations and itching. Pet owners should not assume that their dog has allergies simply because they are sneezing.

Natural Remedy for Dog Sneezing

There are several natural remedies for dog sneezing. However, again, pet owners (or your veterinarian) needs to determine the underlying cause before treatment can begin.


Quercetin is known as “nature’s Benadryl.”


Colostrum contains praline-rich polypeptide (PRP) which helps improve allergy symptoms, including sneezing.


Licorice can help reduce inflammation in the upper digestive tract and eliminate mucus in the respiratory tract.

There are a plethora of natural remedies for just amount any ailment that your dog may face. The first step is determining the underlying cause of your dog sneezing.

Dog Sneezing: The Bottom Line

healthy dog

At the end of the day, more times than not, dog sneezing is not a sign of anything worth panicking over. Sneezing is a natural part of your dog’s life. However, if the sneezing becomes more frequent and seemingly out of control, it is very possible that it may be an underlying sign of something more serious.

Being aware of your dog’s normal day-to-day mannerisms and behavior is key to being able to notice any changes. By acting quickly when changes arise, any new conditions can be treated early on so that they don’t progress and pet owners can ensure that their dog lives a healthy life.


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About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for