Sneezing and snorting seem like obvious enough actions to define, yet it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two in pets. Indeed, these two symptoms can sometimes look so similar so that many people use the terms interchangeably. Sneezing is generally defined as a sudden, involuntary outflow of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth. It’s usually caused in response to some irritant of the upper airway, most often to the delicate mucous membranes that line the nasal passages.
Snorting, by contrast, looks like and is defined almost identically as a sneeze. The difference is that a sneeze is involuntary, while a snort is a voluntary effort on the part of the snorter.
Dogs and cats sneeze and snort for all sorts of reasons related to the workings of the upper respiratory tract. Though many of them are normal and benign responses to simple irritation, some can signal infections, upper airway obstructions and allergic disease, among other conditions of the upper respiratory tract.
Sneezing and snorting are caused by a variety of ailments. Here are the most common causes for each of these symptoms (there is some overlap, in many cases because they can appear indistinguishable from one another).
1. Infectious diseases.
Both cats and dogs can suffer infectious diseases that manifest — at least in part — as sneezing. In fact, most any infectious disease that affects the upper respiratory system can cause an animal to sneeze. In dogs, anything from kennel cough to distemper virus can cause sneezing. In cats, viral upper respiratory infections (such as feline herpesvirus) are the most common culprits.
2. Upper airway obstructions.
Anything from cancers to polyps to foreign bodies to excess tissue in the upper airways (most commonly the result of brachycephalic syndrome seen in short-headed breeds) can cause irritation of the nasal passages and, therefore, sneezing.
3. Allergies (or other diseases of the immune system).
Though allergic rhinitis is nowhere near as common in pets as humans, it does occur. Dogs and cats both are susceptible to allergies that affect the nasal passages as well as to nasal inflammation for a variety of other immune system-related processes.
4. Inhaled irritants.
Dust, perfumes, carpet powders, pollen and other common inhaled irritants can cause sneezing in dogs and cats.
1. Upper airway obstruction.
As with humans who snore severely and suffer sleep apnea, plenty of dogs and cats who have mechanical obstructions in their upper airways (usually inherited as part of what’s called “brachycephalic syndrome”) snort more frequently than other pets in an apparent attempt to clear their respiratory tracts of debris or fluid. Indeed, any disease that causes the pet sufficient irritation to require the clearing of the nasal passages can result in snorting.
2. Obesity and excess weight.
Dogs and cats who carry too many pounds tend to display similar symptoms to those who suffer upper airway obstruction or irritation for other reasons. They, too, will snort more frequently than other pets.
Reverse sneezing :
While sneezing and snorting are both expulsions of air from the nose/mouth, “reverse” sneezing is an involuntary, spastic inhalation that some dogs experience. Episodes can last a few minutes at a time. It is not uncommon for a dog to do this after being walked and snuffling something (dust, pollen, dirt) into his nose.
Many dog owners see reverse sneezing and initially assume their dogs are choking or experiencing a crisis. Though unsettling to an uninitiated owner, there is nothing more to this condition than an irritation of the tissues of the back of the throat and soft palate. It is entirely benign.
What to Do at Home
All pets who suffer sneezing and snorting at a more frequent rate or in a different pattern than ever before should see a veterinarian. Here are a couple of simple, commonsensical tips for pet owners whose pets are sneezing or snorting to an extreme.
1. Confine your pet.
Put your pet in a crate or small space (such as a bedroom or bathroom) to observe his behavior.
2. Do not overtax your pet.
Long walks or exercise in general should be avoided until you can get your pet to a veterinarian.
3. Take your pet’s temperature.
If your pet has a fever (over 101-102 degrees) get him to a veterinarian as soon as you can.
If your pet suffers from other obvious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, pain, poor appetite or simply not acting himself, take him to a veterinarian right away — at an emergency hospital, if need be. Also, if a nasal discharge is present or if the sneezing is productive, meaning mucus, blood or other material is produced, your pet should see a doctor. These are typically signs of a more urgent medical condition than the tips provided here can resolve.
Reverse Sneeze in Dogs
My dog has been diagnosed with \”reverse sneezing.\” What is it ?
Some dogs have a condition known as paroxysmal respiration or, as it is more commonly called, “reverse sneezing”.
With this condition, the dog rapidly pulls air into the nose, whereas in a ‘regular’ sneeze, the air is rapidly pushed out through the nose. The dog makes a snorting sound and seems to be trying to inhale while sneezing.
Is my dog in danger when this occurs ?
Although it can be alarming to witness a dog having a reverse sneezing episode, it is not a harmful condition and there are no ill effects. The dog is completely normal before and after the episode. During a reverse sneeze, the dog will make rapid and long inspirations, stand still, and extend his head and neck. A loud snorting sound is produced, which may make you think the dog has something caught in his nose or throat. A reverse sneezing episode can last for several seconds to a minute.
What causes the \”reverse sneeze\”?
The exact cause of a reverse sneeze is unknown. This problem seems to be exacerbated by allergies and environmental odors such as smoke, potpourri and perfume. Dogs with narrow nasal passages (long noses) seem to be more commonly affected.
How is a \”reverse sneeze diagnosed\”?
The diagnosis is based on medical history and clinical signs. Your veterinarian will rule out other causes of abnormal breathing and snorting, such as an upper respiratory tract infection, collapsing trachea, nasal tumors or polyps, foreign bodies in the nasal passages or mouth, and so forth. Occasionally your veterinarian will perform blood tests, allergy tests or radiographs to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
How is “reverse sneeze” treated?
Most cases of reverse sneezing require no medical treatment. If your dog experiences a reverse sneezing episode, you may gently stroke the neck and try to calm the pet. Once the dog exhales through the nose, the attack is usually over. It is very rare for dogs to develop any complications or suffer any risk during these attacks. Most episodes of reverse sneeze last less than a minute, although longer durations have been reported. In certain cases, your veterinarian may choose to prescribe anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine or decongestant medications to help with your dog’s condition.