It can be rather amusing for most people, hearing their dog make unusual sounds. It’s weird and cute.
But the responsible owner you are, you want to know when the giggling should end.
And whether you should start to be concerned.
In that case, we’ve got you covered!
Keep reading to learn:
- How your dog makes grunting sounds.
- 13 very surprising reasons why they do this.
- If it’s harmlessly weird or you need to see a vet.
- What you can do about some preventable cases.
- And much much more…
Why does my dog grunt like a pig?
Your dog grunts because of overexcitement. Exercise intolerance, allergies, irritants, respiratory illness, or nasal mites could also factor in. As can basic things like leash reactivity and eating/drinking. More complex reasons involve issues with the palate, trachea, and larynx.
“Oinking” or “honking” are among the terms we use for it. More formally, we call it “reverse sneezing.” But scientifically, that piggy grunting sound your dog makes is known by two names:
- Pharyngeal Gag Reflex.
- Paroxysmal Respiration.
They’re quite mouthfuls, huh? So we’ll stick with “reverse sneezing.”
But first, let’s take a look at those complicated names. Science-y words are often self-explanatory once you know what they actually mean.
Pharyngeal relates to the pharynx which is just a fancy word for the throat. And we’re all familiar with the gag reflex.
It’s that contraction in the back of your throat. It’s triggered when something touches the area around your tonsils or the base of your tongue.
Its purpose is to prevent choking. Or to keep you from swallowing harmful objects or substances.
And next up…
“A fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease).”
That’s how Merriam-Webster defines paroxysm. And we know respiration simply as breathing.
In a nutshell, this grunting sound happens when your dog’s gag reflex is triggered. Or when they have sudden fits of quick breathing.
And, of course, it’s also known as reverse sneezing. VCA explains it:
“The dog rapidly pulls air into the nose, whereas in a regular sneeze, the air is rapidly pushed out through the nose.”
So now that we know how it happens, let’s take a look at why.
13 reasons why your dog grunts like a pig
It may seem an odd reason. To be clear, your dog doesn’t intentionally imitate farm animals when they’re excited.
We usually associate excitement with positive things. But it isn’t always good. Especially when referring to a dog’s state of arousal. This means their level of excitement and mental control.
Overexcitement doesn’t automatically mean happiness. No matter how “happy” your dog might look. It can actually be a sign of a behavioral imbalance.
A highly aroused dog will exhibit symptoms like what we might see in a hyperkinetic one.
But there’s a key distinction. Highly aroused dogs are acting due to their body’s physiological stress response.
They show visible hyper and restless behavior. But they also have symptoms we don’t easily see. These include elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate.
The effect on breathing could go so far as to result in grunting. And that’s why your dog ends up sounding like a pig when they’re overexcited.
#2: Exercise intolerance
We’ve joked about it on a lazy day when we wanted to procrastinate on that workout. “We’re allergic to exercise,” we said.
But exercise intolerance is a very real thing for some people. And dogs too.
In our canine counterparts, the symptoms are:
- Collapse (EIC)*.
- Wobbly gait (EIC)*.
- Not wanting to play.
- Sleepiness or tiredness.
- Laying around more than usual.
- Increased body temperature (EIC)*.
- Panting or breathing heavy while exercising.
*Exercise Induced Collapse
Dogs who have exercise intolerance have trouble breathing.
You might notice this in your dog. Maybe during playtime or long walks. Their heavy panting starts to break up into grunts.
Your dog is grunting because they’re intolerant to exercise. Or as we playfully said of ourselves, “allergic to exercise.”
And speaking of…
Certain allergies may involve the respiratory system. Especially if they are caused by inhalant allergens such as dust and pollen.
Allergens are substances that trigger allergies. They can be touched, eaten, or inhaled.
They’re typically harmless to most animals. But in some, they cause an overreaction of the immune system. Or what we call an allergic reaction.
The symptoms can include:
- Allergic rhinitis.
We’ve established that the grunting sounds have to do with respiration. And your dog has a history of reactions to inhalant allergens. So we can connect the dots.
And we’ll arrive at the cause for this unintentional imitation of Babe.
You might also want to know: Top 10 Reasons Why Dogs Act Like Something Is Biting Them
#4: Environmental irritants
You’ve frowned in a pre-pandemic elevator when someone’s perfume was too strong.
Or when you passed by the janitor spraying cleaning products.
Or when you got into the taxi with an air freshener that offended your nose.
Now, remember, a dog’s olfaction or sense of smell is infinitely superior to ours.
They’re a macrosmatic species, meaning they primarily depend on this.
We, humans, depend more on vision (sight) and audition (hearing). That puts us among the microsmatic species.
A study looked at the impact of canine nasal airflow patterns on macrosmia. It stated that their nasal cavity “contains hundreds of millions of sensory neurons.”
Naturally, environmental irritants would have a more profound effect on them.
These scents can already be overpowering for humans. How much more for dogs who can smell 100,000 times better?
They would certainly affect a dog’s breathing. And this could result in grunting.
#5: Respiratory Illness
Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites cause various respiratory infections in dogs.
It may be to varying degrees. But a common symptom they all have involves breathing difficulty.
A review of the pathology and treatment of such illnesses in dogs gives these clinical signs:
- Mild dyspnea (shortness of breath).
- Severe pneumonia with systemic manifestations.
And what’s a highly probable result? Your dog grunting.
#6: Pulling on the leash
Leash training is important for both owner and dog. It not only makes walking a more pleasant experience for both. But it also makes it a safe activity.
If your dog is leash trained, they won’t bark their lungs out at other dogs or passers by. They won’t attempt to chase after (and possibly bite) them.
But on top of that, it’s safer for them in terms of their physical health. The minor discomfort when you tug on the leash encourages them to follow your lead.
But some dogs can’t take the hint. And they carry on pulling, insisting on going where they please.
Now if the leash is attached to a harness, there’s not much harm.
But if the leash is attached to a collar, the pressure could potentially injure their windpipe.
This choking effect plus the amount of energy your dog expends as they pull on the leash is sure to have an impact on their breathing.
And very likely, their grunting.
Working on your dog’s leash training is the logical step to preventing this. You’ll both enjoy nice quiet walks. You won’t have to feel like you’re walking through a farm.
Does your dog become a grunter specifically at mealtimes? If so, they may be eating and/or drinking too fast.
At first glance, this reason may not seem serious compared to the others on the list. But this “speed-eating” behavior could lead to other problems.
Your dog gobbles up mouthfuls of food at record speeds. It isn’t only kibble they’re swallowing but also air.
Aerophagia, which literally means “eating air,” is mainly associated with digestive issues. But it can also cause respiratory problems.
Food particles can be sucked into the lungs. Bacterial infection or pneumonia can result from this.
And, of course, grunting.
If this is the case with your dog, it’s recommended that you get them a slow feeder bowl.
#8: Elongated soft palate
It’s something common to brachycephalic breeds. This term is translated from the Greek as “short-headed” and Pugs were probably the first ones to pop into your mind.
The AKC lists the others:
- Shih Tzu.
- Chow Chow.
- Boston Terrier.
- French Bulldog.
- Brussels Griffon.
And ACVS describes the elongated soft palate as “a condition where the soft palate is too long so that the tip of it protrudes into the airway and interferes with movement of air into the lungs.”
It’s not surprising then that brachycephalic breeds are prone to grunting. If your dog belongs to this breed, then sounding like a pig is quite normal.
But for some, an elongated soft palate can be life-threatening. This can be the case if it causes too much of an obstruction in the airway.
Don’t take for granted that grunting is relatively normal for your dog’s breed. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and check with the vet.
#9: Tracheal collapse
The trachea, or windpipe, is a rigid tube. It has prominent rings made of cartilage that keep it open.
The lungs create negative pressure when breathing. And without these cartilage rings, the trachea would collapse.
But according to VCA, these rings can sometimes lose their strength and rigidity. And when air is drawn into the trachea, the rings flatten. This results in a tracheal collapse.
The exact cause of this condition is not known. It’s suspected to be congenital or present from birth.
Smaller dogs suffer more from this. FETCH lists the following as the most prone:
- Yorkshire Terriers.
- Miniature and Toy Poodles.
Age may also be a factor. Tracheal collapse is usually seen in middle-aged dogs.
But regardless of age and breed, there is one very telling sign: a honking cough.
#10: Laryngeal paralysis
This condition affects the dog’s larynx or voice box.
It has the obvious function of vocalization.
But it’s also responsible for opening the vocal cords when inhaling.
This allows airflow to enter.
It then closes the vocal cords when swallowing. This prevents food and water from going into the trachea.
The laryngeal muscles may weaken and relax. And the cartilages that maintain the structure of the voice box collapse as a result. This is what’s known as laryngeal paralysis.
It’s a condition that’s common in dogs. Specifically middle-aged and older dogs. It also affects larger breeds more, such as Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, and Great Danes.
And as you would expect, a sign of this is grunting.
#11: Esophageal obstruction
The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the pharynx to the stomach.
It may happen that foreign objects find themselves lodged in your dog’s esophagus.
A blockage in the esophagus would naturally result in breathing difficulties. And these difficulties in turn would result in grunting.
Prevention of this lies solely in the dog parent’s hands. You’ll have to be extra vigilant. Especially when you’re taking your pooch out for a walk.
There’ll be plenty of dirt, rocks, and tufts of grass. We wouldn’t want any of these making their way to your dog’s esophagus.
#12: Nasal cancer
This is a particularly saddening possibility. But nasal cancer could be the reason your dog grunts.
According to PetCure Oncology, nasal tumors account for 1–2% of all cancers in dogs. And 80% of them are malignant.
There are a number of signs and symptoms of nasal cancer. But relevant to the question at hand is noisy breathing.
A tumor blocking your dog’s airway gives them respiratory troubles. When asleep, they snore loudly. And when awake, they make noises when breathing. Yes, grunting noises.
#13: Nasal mites
“What kind of mites?!”
No doubt, we’re all familiar with mites. But when it gets specific, it’s usually ear mites.
However, if your dog grunts like a pig, you should probably get better acquainted with nasal mites.
Pneumonyssoides caninum or Pneumonyssus caninum. That’s what they’re called. And I’m sure it’s not a pleasure to meet them.
They make their home in the nasal passages and sinuses of your dog. This causes discomfort and interferes with breathing. That’s why your dog makes those grunting noises.
Veterinary intervention is required. A number of somewhat complex procedures are needed to examine your dog’s nose.
But here’s a hopeful statistic from the Merck Manual: “several antiparasitic medications appear to be effective in more than 85% of cases.”
So your dog doesn’t have to sound like a pig forever.