Sneezing and snorting are common to all dogs, and normally do not present a health problem. The most common cause is "reverse sneezing." However, other causes may include canine influenza, distemper and kennel cough. More serious, life threatening diseases include nasal tumors, congestive heart failure and pulmonary lung diseases. Understanding your dog's behavior, knowing his health history and monitoring his health on a daily basis are vital for understanding when to seek a vet's assistance.
Reverse sneezing, or inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, is common in dogs. Any breed or size dog can develop it, although smaller dogs seem to be more susceptible. Dust or allergens may be the culprit; however, the exact cause is unknown. The event is characterized by rapid, forced air in through the nose usually accompanied by snorting, neck extension and bulging eyes. Although the sound can be terrifying to a pet owner, and the condition distressing to the dog, it is not harmful.
Sneezing and snorting can also indicate kennel cough. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), this highly infectious disease is "a term loosely used to describe a complex of infections--both viral and bacterial--that causes inflammation of the dog's voice box and wind pipe." Symptoms include a tell-tale harsh, dry cough with retching, sneezing and snorting. If these signs persist, immediately isolate your dog and contact your vet.
Canine influenza is a relatively new (first reported January 2004), contagious respiratory disease. The signs mirror those of kennel cough, with sneezing and coughing. A fever usually occurs as well, and this condition does require veterinary medical attention. According to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, "Nearly 100 percent of dogs that come in contact with the virus become infected, regardless of age or vaccination history." In the 80 percent of dogs that exhibit signs of infection, mild to severe infections develop.
The first signs of canine distemper are sneezing and coughing. Other signs may include a mucus discharge from the dog's eyes and nose, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. This disease requires immediate veterinary attention, as it affects a dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous system. According to the ASPCA, "Puppies and adolescent dogs who have not been vaccinated are most vulnerable to the distemper virus. They are typically rescues with unknown vaccination histories or have been bought from pet stores."
Sneezing and snorting are also symptoms of nasal tumors. Other signs include snoring, progressive nasal discharge and bleeding. According to the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, "Nasal tumors are a very uncommon tumor of older dogs, accounting for only about one to two percent of canine cancers. The cause is unknown, but environmental carcinogens and chronic nasal irritation may play a role." The disease normally occurs in older medium to large breeds, although occurrence in young dogs is not unknown.
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Common causes of sneezing and snorting in younger dogs include allergies and nasal/sinus infections. Foreign bodies can also be a major cause, which is why it is important to know your dog's play habits, chewing habits and eating habits. Dogs frequently chew and/or eat things they should not, such as table food, sticks from outside and your furniture, particularly during the puppy stage. If your dog's sneezing and snorting worsens or continues for more than a few days, contact your vet.