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What causes sneezing and reverse sneezing in dogs?

By Natalie Sacks, RVT.  Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Davis, MVB

Sneezing (and reverse sneezing) is a reflexive spasm of the throat and soft palette. It is triggered by an irritation to the roof of the back of the throat known as the nasopharynx. Irritation to this area can be caused by a variety of things. 

Some dogs will have a reverse sneezing episode triggered from getting excited, or if they pull on their collar around their throat.  Environmental irritants such as pollens, perfumes, or sudden change in air temperature can trigger reverse sneezing, as can a nasal infection (bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic) or from an object sniffed up in the nose.  

In most cases, sneezing and reverse sneezing is nothing to get too worried about, but in some situations, persistent sneezing (and reverse sneezing) can be a sign that there is something more serious going on. These include:

 

Allergic Rhinitis

Like humans, dogs can also have allergies which can lead to sneezing. If you notice a seasonal change in your dog’s sneezing habits, it could very well be from environmental allergies to certain pollens or plants. Your veterinarian will be able to run tests to see if your dog has environmental allergies. 

 

Dental Disease

Dogs can develop dental disease that can become severe and diseased teeth can lead to an oronasal fistula where an abnormal connection develops between the oral cavity and the nasal passageways. If this is the case your veterinarian will likely have to remove the diseased problem tooth or teeth. Your dog will feel much better afterwards! 

 

Nasal Infections

Aspergillus fungus is spread by the inhalation of mold spores found in the environment on dead leaves, compost piles or other dying vegetation. Symptoms of this type of infection can be sneezing, nasal discharge, bloody discharge, facial swelling, fever and weight loss. Your dog will need to see a veterinarian and receive appropriate testing and treatment. 

 

Foreign Object in the Respiratory Tract

Dogs love to sniff their way along the ground and can end up with something stuck in their nasal passage. It could be a grass seed, a leaf or a stick. Your dog may be able to sneeze it out but, if not, your veterinarian may need to remove it. It is best not to try to remove anything yourself that is up inside the nasal cavity as you may accidentally push it further inside. Veterinarians have specialized tools made just for this purpose.

 

Nasal Polyp or Tumor

Unfortunately, in some rare cases ongoing sneezing can be a symptom of something more serious, like a nasal tumor or cancer. Nasal tumors can be associated with other symptoms such as difficulty breathing through the nose, bloody nasal discharge and noisy breathing, and often asymmetry or bulging on one side of the muzzle.  If you see any of these symptoms you should book an appointment with your veterinarian.

 

Nasal Mites

Although it is rare, sneezing can also be caused by small mites that live inside your dog’s nasal passages. They can cause bleeding and nasal discharge and are very bothersome to your dog. They are spread nose to nose between dogs and are highly contagious. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication for your dog to get rid of these little stowaways.

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