The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Why is my dog sneezing?

By Dr. Jacqueline Brister

black labrador sneezing

Just like people, dogs can sneeze for many reasons. Some reasons are no cause for concern, like an occasional sneeze if your dog snorts up too much dust or pollen. Sneezing is the body’s normal reaction to this because it helps to keep the airways clear. Another example of a normal sneeze is a “photic sneezing reflex.” Animals and humans have a natural tendency to sneeze when they are suddenly exposed to a bright light, usually sunlight. However, sneezing can also be caused by more serious issues. If the sneezing becomes frequent and your dog has watery eyes, a runny nose, and/or poor appetite, you may want to get him or her checked out by your veterinarian.


Another very common cause of sneezing in dogs is allergic rhinitis. Dogs can be allergic to just about anything, including pollens, dust, mold, and, believe it or not, human dander. If your dog’s sneezing accompanies seasonal changes, it could be linked to springtime allergies. In order to differentiate allergies from infection, your veterinarian will likely need to run several tests. He or she may also need to refer your dog to a veterinary dermatologist for specialized skin tests. This will determine what your pet’s allergies are.

Dental Disease

Another extremely common cause of sneezing in dogs is tooth decay. Because of the shape of a dog’s mouth, the teeth in the mandible (i.e., upper jaw) are extremely close to the nasal cavity (i.e., the nasal passageways). If dental disease becomes severe enough, even if the problem is not obvious to the naked eye, tooth infections can create a hole from the mouth leading into the nasal cavity. This is called an oronasal fistula and often requires removal of the diseased tooth and oral surgery to fix the hole. The most common teeth that cause oronasal fistulas are the upper canine teeth. Dachshunds seem to develop this issue frequently compared to other dog breeds.

Nasal Foreign Bodies

Because dogs use their noses to sniff and snuffle their way along the ground, it is not uncommon for them to accidentally sniff something up their nose. Common foreign bodies (i.e., objects that shouldn’t be in the nose) are grass awns or grass seeds. Another way a dog could develop a nasal foreign body is by eating something and inhaling or coughing it up the back of the nose. Unfortunately, to diagnose (and often remove) a nasal foreign body, specialized tools and imaging may be required such as an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a camera on the end that can fit through the nose or the back of the mouth.

Can dogs get colds?

Yes and no. Colds in humans are caused by certain types of viruses that affect the upper respiratory tract (i.e., the nasal passages, mouth, and throat). The most common type of cold virus people catch is called a rhinovirus. Dogs can also get upper respiratory tract infections, but they do not get the same colds as people. For clarity, and because the “common cold” we hear about refers to the rhinovirus type, people in veterinary medicine don’t often use the term “cold.”

Upper respiratory tract symptoms in dogs can be similar to that in people:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy

Bacteria and viruses that cause these cold-like symptoms in dogs include canine distemper virus, canine coronavirus, kennel cough syndrome (a group of bacteria and viruses including Bordatella bronchiseptica and parainfluenza virus), canine adenovirus type 2, canine influenza virus, and canine herpes virus.

Are canine upper respiratory tract infections contagious?

Just as human colds are not contagious to dogs, canine upper respiratory tract infections are typically not contagious to other species. However, these types of infections can be contagious to other dogs, especially older, sick, or pregnant dogs and young puppies. The good news is that many of these infections can be vaccinated against, which will lessen the symptoms or prevent the illnesses altogether.

What can I do about the my dog’s sneezing?

If your dog is sneezing frequently or showing cold-like symptoms, call your veterinarian. He or she will likely recommend a check-up. After your pet has been examined, the vet can give you options for how to resolve the issue and provide you with a plan of action. Be sure to let your veterinarian know if the treatments are helping or if your pet is getting worse. Always call your vet’s office if you have any questions or concerns.

Related Ads
Mind if we pay your vet bills?

Pet health insurance is administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency, LLC and underwritten by one of the licensed insurers of American Modern Insurance Group, Inc., including American Modern Home Insurance Company d/b/a in CA as American Modern Insurance Company (Lic. No 2222-8), and American Southern Home Insurance Company. Coverage is subject to policy terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, underwriting review, and approval, and may not be available for all risks or in all states. Rates and discounts vary, are determined by many factors, and are subject to change. Wellness Rewards is offered as a supplementary, non-insurance benefit administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency in the United States. © 2020 American Modern Insurance Group, Inc.  Wellness Rewards not available in Rhode Island.