Causes Of Sneezing In Dogs

Updated March 21, 2021

Does your dog do this? When mine gets excited or playful he starts sneezing.

Sneezing during play isn’t well understood, but it’s clearly one of the least serious causes of sneezing in dogs.

I’ll take you through the other common reasons, from minor to major. As nearly every one is associated with a runny nose, I’ll also describe the nasal discharge that goes with it.

By the time you make it to the end, you’ll be an expert!

Do Dogs Get Colds?

One cause you won’t find here is the common cold.  Despite what you hear, dogs just don’t get them.

Symptoms like sneezing, congestion, watery eyes or a runny nose are instead likely to be caused by one of the other problems on this list. You can find the causes of coughing in dogs on this page.

Causes Of Sneezing In Dogs

Dog sneezing looks just like human sneezing. The only thing you might confuse with it is reverse sneezing. This is the inward sucking of air accompanied by an alarming grunting noise. Reverse sneezing has different causes and treatment.

So before we start, if this could be your dog, you’ll find some videos at the link. Now to those causes…

Nasal Irritants

The number one cause of sneezing is the only normal one, and the reason why it exists in the first place. When something irritates the nasal lining, it triggers a sneeze. The aim is to expel material from inside the nose.

Examples of irritants are:

  • Dust
  • Smoke
  • Perfumes & sprays
  • Cleaning fluids

You’ll often notice your dog sneezing after an injection at the vet. In this case, the cause is the alcohol swab and their sensitive nose.

Any discharge should be clear and bilateral.

Short Noses

french bulldog nose
Stenotic nares (narrow nasal openings)

You’ll often get a face full of nasal spray when you say hi to breeds like Boxers, French Bulldogs or Pugs. Many short-faced breeds sneeze frequently without it being very important. It’s rarely a concern as long as you don’t hear breathing noises and the discharge is clear.

Those who snuffle or grunt with each breath may benefit from corrective surgery to open the airways. In the case of sneezing, that would be surgery for stenotic nares.


While allergy is a common cause of itchy skin, it’s a rare cause of sneezing or a runny nose. When it does happen, it’s usually at the minor end of the spectrum.

Again, the discharge is clear and bilateral. However, most dogs suspected of having allergic rhinitis actually have the next problem…

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough doesn’t always look like a classic harsh barking cough. Sometimes, especially in puppies and vaccinated dogs, it can just produce sneezing. There’s usually also a bilateral nasal discharge that goes from clear to yellow.

Symptoms just about always improve with treatment. You can read how dogs catch kennel cough here but it’s basically anywhere dogs get together.

Grass Seeds & Foreign Bodies

A dog who sniffs up a grass seed will suddenly start violently sneezing and sometimes even pawing at their nose. One distinctive feature is that the sneezing can be so hard that the nose hits the ground.

The discharge is unilateral, quickly becoming yellow or blood-tinged. Grass seeds can’t go out backwards and need to be removed by your vet. Sneezing tends to reduce with time if the seed isn’t removed.

An easy trap to fall into is thinking it’s fixed when it’s really just the dog getting used to it.

Other foreign bodies only occasionally get up dogs’ noses. I have seen one unlucky dog who had vomited or coughed a dog biscuit into his nasal passages. I also suspect that just like in cats, occasionally nasal disease from another cause can cause dead nasal turbinate bone to act as a foreign body.

Bad Teeth

When the front teeth in the mouth get bad, the infection can push through the thin bone separating them from the nose. We call this an oronasal fistula.

Oronasal fistulas are a lot more common than realised because the tooth can look fine until it’s probed. This is just one of the reasons why anaesthetic free dentistry is only a cosmetic procedure.

If there’s any discharge, it’s yellow and unilateral.

Idiopathic Lymphoplasmacytic Rhinitis

Idiopathic rhinitis is possibly the most frustrating condition on this list. It won’t kill anyone, but it’s very annoying, and like the name suggests, poorly understood. Another name for it is chronic hyperplastic rhinitis.

Affected dogs produce a thick, yellow, ropey bilateral discharge that gets sneezed on walls and furniture. There’s also a lot of snorting and snuffling and sometimes even a vomit afterwards. Diagnosis (found in the link at the end) is made by ruling out other conditions.

The best we can do is to keep these dogs on continuous medication. Options include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or prednisolone based on the response. Recently suspicion of a link with gastrointestinal disease has led to antacids or special diets being trialled as well. It would be nice to know more.

Fungal Infections

Thankfully, fungal infections are rare, because they’re nasty and difficult to treat. Like tumours, they progress slowly and can cause facial deformities.

Symptoms include long-term sneezing with a yellow discharge that may contain blood.

Nasal Tumours

Everyone’s fear is that the sneezing and nasal discharge are caused by a tumour. That fear is well-founded, as around 80% of nasal masses are malignant.

Thankfully, tumours in the nose are one of the least likely reasons for sneezing. When they do occur, the discharge will usually be unilateral and blood-tinged.

Rare Causes

To finish this excessively long list, I’ll throw in some rare causes of sneezing you’re never likely to see.

  • There is a nasal mite of dogs found in many parts of the world, including NSW and Qld in Australia. I would not be surprised if the isoxazoline tick preventatives mentioned here would treat this.
  • Distemper virus used to be a cause of severe, thick nasal discharge but vaccination has made it almost unseen in developed countries.
  • Herpes virus can cause sneezing and nasal discharge in puppy litters.

So at this point you must be thinking it’s all hopeless. Thankfully that’s not true. Most of the causes of sneezing are the better ones, and most improve with treatment.

I’ll finish with two top tips your vet will thank you for doing before you come:

  1. Touch a white tissue to the nose. This should tell you if a discharge is coming from one or both nostrils and its colour.
  2. Hold a cold mirror up to the nose and look at the condensation pattern. This will tell you if one or both nostrils are blocked.

Related: Causes Of Bleeding From The Nose In Dogs (includes a list of the tests your vet might recommend for nasal disease)

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

20 Replies to “Causes Of Sneezing In Dogs”

  1. My puppy is 6 months. Over the last few days he is sneezing a lot and has a runny nose. How long should I wait before seeing the vet?

  2. I noticed today when I was giving my dog milk it was coming out of his nose while he was drinking it can you tell me why? When he was a puppy he was attacked by a pit bull and his throat was all crushed so sometimes he coughs when he eats and drinks can that be the cause ?

    1. Hi Kailee. That could indeed be the cause. However it’s very unusual and worth a checkup. There could be a repairable defect in his soft palate.

  3. Hi Andrew , My Chihuahua is 16 and slowly over the last 8 weeks she has had watery eyes and stuff coming out her nose also it’s kind of like sneezing but more a snorting noise, if it was a grass seed in her nose how would the vet get it out ? The thought of her being hurt or in pain kills me I feel so sad for her atm seeing her unwell should I just get some antibiotics from the vet to see if it’s an infection and if it helps her ? ..
    Cheers Karen

    1. Hi Karen. Beyond the information in this article, it will take a veterinarian to answer these questions after examining your dog. Avoid trying to second-guess the answer as it’s almost certainly something you haven’t thought of.

  4. We have an 8 month boxer female. She has been on prednisone for SRMA since Feb 1. 2 weeks ago she started sneezing heavily, especially in morning and when going outside. Runny nose clear discharge with pinkish color only on her right side. And red eyes. Can allergies cause these while on pred? Thank you.

    1. Hi Ann. A unilateral discharge with blood does not fit the pattern of allergy. There could be infection associated with immunosuppression, or an unrelated issue such as a grass seed. You definitely need veterinary assistance.

  5. My dog has been sneezing for a month now. Mainly when she goes outside but sometimes inside. She has snot which comes out of various sides of her nostrils. She has diabetes and can’t take certain meds. She has been to our vet three times. Last time they gave her a nasal wash and looked up her nose. They also did an X-ray of her throat and found nothing. One side of her nostrils was irritated so they applied steroid drops. That was two days ago. Vet said next step would to scope her by a clinic who has the equipment. She is still sneezing with snot. Any suggestions? She is 10. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Jill. It sounds like they are doing all the right things and scoping is a good idea. It may end up being the idiopathic rhinitis mentioned above.

  6. My two year old, has a gunky eye, clear water nasal discharge and seems congested; also, he has been sneezing. I had thought I cold but with your article I know for sure it isn’t, what could it be? Thank you

  7. My neighbors dog came over and play with my puppy who only has one round of vaccines the neighbors dog had white stuff coming out of her nose and mouth I am worried about my puppy since she is not fully vaccinated and was around the dog with the white stuff

    1. Hi Lindsey. You are right to be concerned. It’s best to be quite selective about which dogs your puppy plays with until all the vaccinations are working. In this case, all you can do is watch closely and go to the vet symptoms appear.

  8. I have a 5 year old border collie and she started sneezing a few days ago only alot in the mornings and now it’s progressing with a clear nasal discharge. I’m not sure honestly what to do, it doesn’t seem like it’s kennel cough and she seems physically fine, has an appetite and energy level.

    1. Hi Harmony. The critical information is whether the discharge is from one or both nostrils, whether she’s been in groups of dogs recently, and whether it’s summer where you are, when grass seeds are prevalent. However regardless you’re best getting a vet to take a look.

  9. My 11 year old dachshund has been sneezing for about a month with mucus coming out one side of nose. Took her to vet and he gave cough tabs and antibiotics. Didn’t work. Then took her back to vet, he did gave her 3 more antibiotics in a shot and did blood work. Antibiotics didn’t work and blood tests came back normal. He wants to do xray. Why?

    1. Hi Liz. That’s a reasonable thing to recommend, as you can see from the sorts of causes listed in this article.

  10. Hi my Dog is a 13 year old Golden retriever and he just started to sneezed one day when I got home and I thought it was because I was home and he was excited but its been over 4 months
    And he still does it now not only when I get home. Sometimes I can stop it by petting him but sometimes in inside my home and her
    At him sneezing a lot today i saw the his nose was slightly irritated like when your nose turns red for blowing it to much . Yes twist runny but mostly from one side or nasal. Not both. What can I do.

    1. Hi Jereimy. The situation you describe is worrying. The presence of a unilateral nasal discharge in an old dog most often indicates something serious is happening in the nasal cavity. All you can do is get a vet to investigate. Good luck.

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