Dogs can make all sorts of noises, but what does it mean if they make snorting sounds like a pig? Certain breeds of dog are more likely to snort than others, and there are health conditions that can make these sounds more pronounced too. In this article, we will look at these factors as well as other reasons your dog might be snorting, and also what you should do to help.
Why does my dog snort like a pig?
It can be worrying when your dog is snorting, especially if it sounds like they are struggling for breath. Snorting is not a normal sound for a dog to make and it is usually caused by a spasm in the muscles in your dog’s larynx (back of the throat). However, this can have different causes and here we’ll explore each of these pig-like sounds in turn.
1. Excited/playful behavior
Some dogs may start snorting when they become over-excited, especially while playing or exercising. This is usually because they have an underlying issue such as being a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed or because they are overweight, as most fit normal dogs wouldn’t experience snorting. Playing and exercising could exacerbate things and make snorting more likely for these dogs.
2. Reverse sneezing
Reverse sneezing is something that most dogs will experience from time to time. Some dogs are more prone to this than others, including small and brachycephalic breeds.
The soft palate is a piece of tissue that extends from the roof of the mouth to the back of the throat, and if this becomes irritated it can spasm causing a reverse or backward sneezing effect. The soft palate is normally responsible for assisting with breathing and swallowing. It can become irritated through allergies (pollen being a common one), household air fresheners and other scented products, pulling on the lead, or eating and drinking.
When your dog is having an episode of reverse sneezing he will usually extend his neck and make attempts to draw air through his nose, against the soft palate spasms. This makes an exaggerated inward snorting noise. It can look quite distressing, especially if you’ve never seen your dog do it before, but most dogs are back to normal again within 5-30 seconds.
Reverse sneezing doesn’t usually require treatment unless it is happening more frequently or more severely than normal. Speak to your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog.
3. Brachycephalic and small breeds
Unfortunately, brachycephalic and certain small breeds of dog are more prone to making snorting noises than others. This is due to these dogs trying to fit all the same anatomy as other dogs into a much smaller space. Many of these breeds suffer from a variety of airway conditions, including an overlong soft palate relative to the size of their mouth and throat, a stenotic (narrow) trachea, and other abnormalities. These can all contribute to breathing issues as well as making reverse sneezing much more likely.
You can help your dog by keeping them in lean body condition, avoiding irritants like cigarette smoke and aerosols, and by seeking veterinary advice. Their breathing shouldn’t be viewed as “normal” for the breed, as some dogs will be struggling. Surgery is an option in some cases to help shorten overlong soft palates and treat other abnormalities seen in brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). This can help to improve the animal’s quality of life.
4. Collapsed trachea
Tracheal collapse is a health condition that can cause coughing and may lead to affected dogs struggling to breathe. The rings of cartilage that hold the trachea (windpipe) open become progressively weaker, leading to the trachea collapsing in on itself. This collapse can also extend down to the smaller airways nearer the lungs like the bronchi, leading to a worsening of signs.
Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, poodles, and chihuahuas are the most commonly affected breeds, and middle-aged to older dogs are more prone to the condition. These dogs will often have a characteristic honking cough rather than a pig-like snort, but sounds can vary.
Diagnosis is usually made with radiographs (X-rays) and endoscopy, passing a small camera down into the airways to look at them directly. Treatment can involve medical management in milder cases including weight loss, avoiding irritants in the environment that trigger coughing (cigarette smoke, air fresheners, etc.), and medications to reduce inflammation and spasms. Some more severely affected animals will require surgery, which usually involves placing artificial rings or a stent in the trachea to hold the airway open.
5. Irritants in the nose and throat
Foreign material in the nasal passage or the back of the throat could cause irritation and snorting in your dog. Blades of grass are the most common thing that veterinarians find back there, but other things would also be possible. A mass or a growth in the back of the throat could cause similar symptoms and may require surgery to remove.
Nasal mites can irritate dogs and lead to normal sneezing, reverse sneezing, nose bleeds, and nasal discharge. Diagnosis is usually made by rhinoscopy (use of a small camera) and flushing to get a sample from the nasal passages for analysis.
Allergies are also a possible cause of irritation in your dog’s nose and throat. Some dogs can be allergic to things like grass pollens, tree pollens, and house dust/dust mites. They may require antihistamines or other allergy medications to keep symptoms under control.
Second-hand cigarette smoke, household air fresheners, scented candles, deodorants, and other sprays can all possibly irritate your dog’s sensitive nose and throat. If you notice that the use of these products sets off a bout of snorting then you should try and avoid using them around your pet or look for alternative products to use in your home.
6. Collar or excess weight
Your dog might snort if his collar is on too tight or if he is pulling against his leash. This can squash the soft tissues in his throat leading to snorting, gagging, or coughing. If your dog has a particularly sensitive throat then you might want to use a harness instead of a collar to try and avoid this.
Carrying excess weight can also put extra pressure on the tissues in the throat, making snorting much more likely. If your dog is overweight then you should speak to your veterinarian for advice on how best to help him shed some pounds.
How to stop your dog reverse sneezing
Most dogs will recover from an episode of reverse sneezing all by themselves without the need for you to intervene. You could always comfort your dog by stroking him gently until it resolves. Massaging your dog’s throat may also be helpful in some cases.
If your dog is suffering from more frequent episodes of reverse sneezing or if they are becoming more severe then you may need to get things investigated by a veterinarian. They may want to perform some further tests such as examining your dog’s throat under anesthetic to check for any foreign material or growths near the soft palate that could be irritating.
In some cases, your dog may be suffering from an overlong soft palate, which could require surgery to correct. This complaint is most common in brachycephalic and small breeds. Your vet may also need to x-ray your dog’s throat and chest to look for other medical complaints such as a collapsed trachea. Your dog could end up requiring medication to help with allergies or to treat nasal mites, depending on the findings.
But, to reiterate, most dogs with occasional episodes of reverse sneezing do not require any intervention at all.
Snorting like a pig should not be viewed as normal for any breed of dog. It is usually due to an underlying health complaint or irritation. However, occasional reverse sneezing is nothing to be alarmed about and most dogs will recover from a short bout of it with no issues. If the snorting-type noises are happening more frequently or with greater severity then contact your veterinarian, who might decide further investigation is needed.