Sneezing in dogs and cats

A sneeze is an explosing release of air from the lungs through the nasal cavity and mouth. It is a protective reflex to expel irritants from the nasal cavity. Intermittent, occasional sneezing is considered normal. Persistent, paroxysmal sneezing should be considered abnormal. Disorders commonly associated with acute-onset, persistent sneezing include nasal foreign body and feline upper respiratory infection. The canine nasal mite, Pneumonyssoides caninum, and exposure to irritating aerosols are less common causes of sneezing. All the nasal diseases considered as differential diagnoses for nasal discharge are also potential causes for sneezing; however, animals with these diseases generally present with nasal discharge as the primary complaint.

The owners should be questioned carefully concerning the possible recent exposure of the pet to foreign bodies (e.g., rooting in the ground, running through grassy fields), powders, aerosols, or, in cats, exposure to new cats or kittens. Sneezing is an acute phenomenom that often subsides with time. A foreign body should not be excluded from the differential diagnoses just because the sneezing subsides. In the dog, a history of acute sneezing followed by the development of a nasal discharge is suggestive of a foreign body.

Other findings may help to narrow the list of differential diagnoses. Dogs with foreign bodies may paw at their nose. Foreign bodies are typically associated with unilateral, mucopurulent nasal discharge, although serous or serosanguineous discharge may be present initially. Foreign bodies in the nasopharynx may cause gagging, retching, or reverse sneezing. The nasal discharge associated with reactions to aerosols, powders, or other inhaled irritants is usually bilateral and serous in nature. In cats, other clinical signs supportive of a diagnosis of upper respiratory infection, such as conjonctivitis and fever, may be present, as well as a history of exposure to other cats and kittens.

Dogs in with acute, paroxysmal sneezing develops should undergo prompt rhinoscopic examination. With time, foreign material may become covered with mucus or migrate deeper into the nasal passages, and any delay in performing rhinoscopy may interfere with the identification and removal of the the foreign bodies. Nasal mites are also identified rhinoscopically. In contrast, cats sneeze more often as a result of acute viral infection rather than foreign body. Immediate rhinoscopic examination is not indicated unless there has been known exposure to a foreign body or the history and physical examination findings do not support a diagnosis of viral upper respiratory infection.

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