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Why Do Dogs Sneeze?

For me, it’s a puff of dust from a seldom regarded book, a little too much black pepper on my food, or a walk outside in the early summer when the pollen covers everything in pale green. I can feel it welling up in my chest and getting ready to explode. Usually there’s no stopping it, although occasionally I get lucky and can stop it before it gets too far. Every language has its own way of responding. God bless you! Gesundheit! ¡Dios te bendiga! Sneezing is universal, and that includes our four legged companions.

bassett sneeze
Sneezing is the body’s way of expelling an unwanted foreign object from its nasal passages. It can be a very normal thing, or it could be a sign of something much more serious. Let’s take a look at some of the potential causes and try to answer the question, “Why do dogs sneeze?”

Allergies

Many people, especially those new to the dog world, are not aware that dogs can have allergies in much the same way people can. Whether it be food related or airborne irritants, dogs are susceptible. Sneezing could also be the result of an insect bite or other trauma to the animal’s airway. This should be quickly evident by doing a thorough visual examination, at which point getting the dog to your vet or animal ER is vital.

dog flowers
Some over-the-counter allergy meds can really help dogs combat seasonal allergies, but it’s important to have them checked out by your vet first to (1) make sure that is the best course of action and (2) to obtain dosage recommendations. Usually sneezing as a result of allergies will be accompanied by watery, irritated eyes as well as some light breathing distress or coughing.

Colds

sick dog thermometer
It’s also possible that your dog has picked up a cold somewhere and is sick. If this is the case, it’s recommended that you take them to your vet. Influenza (which can lead to Kennel Cough) and Parainfluenza Viruses are two such ailments that can affect dogs. Sneezing and watery eyes are among its symptoms, and, left untreated, could develop into a fatal chest infection or pneumonia. The vet will do an exam and determine the best course of action, even if it is just waiting it out and treating the symptoms or complications that arise from the initial virus, which itself cannot be directly treated.

Communication

There have been many times over the years that I would swear our dog (current, and former) would sneeze AT us to either emphasize a point he was trying to make, or other times to seemingly express his dissatisfaction (usually at being denied food). This led me to think, are dogs capable of this level of expression? It turns out that they are, according to Alexandra Horowitz at the Dog Cognition Lab (http://dogcognition.wordpress.com/) who says that, while (sadly) research in this area is lacking, it is pretty clear that dogs do sneeze and snort in a communicative way. “I think it is clear that, like a person coughing or clearing her throat, a sneeze could be used in a quasi-meaningful way,” says Horowitz.

bulldog sneeze
As you can see, a simple sneeze can be anything but. Whether your pup is coming down with something or just trying to get your attention, knowing what to look for and what to do is important. As always, when in doubt, contact your veterinarian. But try a treat first, sometimes, that’s all the medicine that’s needed!

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