Sneezing is a symptom, not a disease in itself. It is the first sign of an irritation in the nostrils. One should not take a singular sneezing episode too seriously. It might just be a speck of dust or pollen touching the nerve endings in the mucous membrane lining of the nasal canal. If there are no other accompanying symptoms (eg loss of appetite, fever, etc), then there is not too much to worry about.

On the other hand, if the animal is sneezing non-stop, then we have ourselves a problem. If there are cancers or other growths (eg polyps) in the nostril, your vet will have to cut them out. Usually tumourous tissue develops only in one nasal canal. If you are not sure which nostril is blocked up and causing the sneezing, place a mirror in front of the nose. The vapour condensation will tell you which nostril is affected.

Similarly, the sudden onset of frenzied sneezing, along with a discharge from one side of the nose, strongly suggests a foreign body present in that nostril. The dog will also paw at that side of the nose and shake its head.

A discharge from both nostrils accompanied by sneezing is fairly typical of canine viral diseases (eg canine distemper). Of course, other signs of illness (eg fever) will be present.

Sneezing indicates that the irritant involves the front part of the nose. Gagging, snorting and coughing are signs of an irritant at the back of the nasal cavity. Food being regurgitated through the nose is a classic case of such a scenario.

One has to take frenzied, uncontrollable sneezing quickly in hand, because prolonged sneezing causes swelling and congestion of the nasal mucous membranes. The result is sniffling, and the breathing has a noisy character about it. If the sneezing is bad enough, it can precipitate nosebleeds, especially after a particularly violent bout.

Reverse sneezing

This is quite distinct from the usual sneezing episode. This uncommon condition is due to a temporary spasm of the throat muscles. It sounds as though the dog has something caught in its air passages. An accumulation of mucus may be involved.

During the attack, the dog frantically and violently pulls air in through its nose, producing a loud snorting noise as if something were caught in its nose and it was trying to draw it in. Interestingly enough, the dog is perfectly normal before and after these attacks. And there are no known and visible ill effects. No treatment is necessary.

Mouth breathing

When both air passages are blocked by swollen membranes or great quantities of a pus-filled discharge, the dog is forced to breathe through its mouth. This may be especially obvious when the animal becomes excited or begins to exercise strenuously, at which time the demand for air is increased. This must not be confused with panting, which is normal.

(vomiting) through the nose

This is a condition in which food or water regurgitates into the nasal passage when the dog eats or drinks. It usually follows loss of the canine teeth. In effect, the loss results in an opening between the hard palate and the nasal cavity (oral-nasal fistula) through which water and solids may be regurgitated. Sneezing and a discharge on the affected side are common.

The condition is treated by creating a flap of skin from the inside of the lip and suturing it across the defect. Of course, this type of surgery can only be performed by skilled hands.

Please note that I have, for this week’s column, relied heavily on texts prepared by Drs Carlson and Giffin.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead.  If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.

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