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Why is my dog sneezing? Could he have a cold?

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. Sneezing can also be caused by more serious issues. If your dog is sneezing often, or if the sneezing is accompanied by watery eyes, runny nose, and/or poor appetite, you may want to get him or her checked out by your veterinarian.

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, and feeling run-down. 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.

Allergies

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. 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.

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.

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.

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