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What is Grunting?

Grunting is a low, short guttural noise that is made by a short exhalation of air. It is generally a more forceful exhalation than a sigh, but a less forceful one than you would find in a cough. Grunting can be a normal vocalization in canines and is often simply an expression of happiness and relaxation or a bid for food or play. It is important to note the attitude of the animal, however, as chronic grunting, grunting that is unusual to your animal, or grunting that is accompanied by other signs and symptoms may indicate more serious disorders which may require veterinary attention.

Reasons your canine may grunt are:

  • Communication
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Pain
  • Respiratory disorders

Why Grunting Occurs in Dogs

There are many reasons that your canine may be grunting. In the majority of cases, grunting is nothing to be concerned with and is either an involuntary expression of satisfaction, or it is being used as a communication device. You may notice involuntary satisfied grunts when your dog is enjoying a petting or grooming session, relaxing at home, or even sometimes when it is sleeping soundly. 

Communication

Grunting as a communication sound is often heard during greeting sessions, as a method of begging, and sometimes during play. Although dogs that are bred to have shorter faces, such as pugs and bulldogs, may be predisposed to developing respiratory disorders, they are also more likely to use grunting to communicate. 

Gastrointestinal Problems

Some of the most severe digestive orders that may be indicated by grunts include bloat and pancreatitis. If your usually quiet dog begins grunting and showing signs of discomfort a call to the veterinarian is recommended, particularly if this happens after eating. 

Laryngeal Paralysis

When the laryngeal nerve stops working properly, the muscles in the throat don’t open efficiently making it difficult to breathe. This can result in strange grunting sounds frequently accompanied by lethargy, and a change in dog’s voice, and may require surgery to correct. 

Pain

Dogs respond vocally to pain in several ways including growls, whines, yelps, and grunts. If your dog grunts and moves away when you touch them, it may be an indication of pain. 

Respiratory Disorders

Many respiratory disorders are associated with grunting and coughing noises. If coughing, sneezing, or snorting noises are often occurring at the same time as the grunting sounds, then a respiratory disorder may be responsible for the symptom.

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What to do if your Dog is Grunting

The best response to grunting will depend on if additional symptoms are present as well as the animal’s overall behavior. Most of the time simple grunting from your canine does not require any sort of treatment. It is a natural vocal response to many situations, however, when it becomes chronic, is accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty breathing, flinching from touch, or other signs of discomfort or pain, it may require additional consideration. 

Dogs that are snuffling and snorting along with the grunting may need to be evaluated to ensure that there are no impediments to their breathing. If the respiratory sounds are accompanied by shortness of breath, a vocal change, or coughing, there may be a serious underlying condition. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may require antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medications, or in severe cases, surgical intervention. Dogs with short noses, also referred to as brachycephalic dogs, may suffer from a disorder known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), which is manageable with veterinary assistance, although not curable. 

If your dog is flinching from touch when the grunting occurs, you will want to watch for other signs that the dog may be in pain, such as obsessively licking a certain spot, dilated pupils, and increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Depending on the location and severity of the pain, your veterinarian may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications or may request that you bring the dog in for a more thorough physical examination. If your dog is also stretching its legs out far in front of it and arching the back, he may be trying to relieve pain in the abdomen or back. If this behavior, known as the “position of relief” or the “dog praying position,” is exhibited by your dog, you should contact a veterinary professional immediately as this may indicate a dangerous condition known as bloat.

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Prevention of Grunting

Although grunting itself is not generally considered a medical disorder that requires prevention, many of the disorders that it can characterize may be prevented. Laryngeal paralysis is most often triggered by damage to the throat area, such as a bite wound, lacerations, or even damage due to surgery.

You can help to prevent this disorder by ensuring that your animal is put in as few dangerous situations as possible, and by equipping them with suitable protection gear if their job puts their throat area at risk. Dogs that are prone to bloat should be prevented from gulping their food. This can be accomplished by feeding the animal in multiple smaller portions rather than just one or two large meals and choosing food bowls designed to slow the dog down while it is eating. Choosing food with fewer carbohydrates and delaying exercise after eating may also reduce the chances of developing this dangerous condition.

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Cost of Grunting

The cost for treatment in regards to symptomatic grunting depends greatly on the underlying cause of the vocalizations. The averages for disorders that are characterized by grunting can vary greatly. While a case of simple bruising may only cost a few dollars for anti-inflammatories, laryngeal paralysis generally runs around $2000, while bloat has an average treatment cost of around $5000 to combat.

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Grunting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Dachshund

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Two Years

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0 found helpful

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Gutteral Sounds

Moves slowly in the house but runs outside. Has good appetite. Not in pain. Sounds like some type of respiratory problem but not sure.

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that your pet is feeling better. Since I cannot see them, or listen to their heart or lungs, If they are still having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 23, 2020

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Pit Bull

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One Year

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Grunting And Mouthing

Dog is grunting a lot and gets mouthy. Sometimes after meals but seems to be random times

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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1 Recommendations

SO sorry to hear that you are having issues with your dog. If he is being aggressive with his food, it may be best to start training him that it is okay for you to mess with his food while eating. These behaviors can end up causing someone to get bite if not corrected. Good Luck with training.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Pomeranian

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Six Years

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Shaking Grunting

My dog keeps shaking/shivering. His back is hunched and his tail and ears are down. He occasionally makes quiet grunting sounds. All he wants is to be close to me. And he does that when he’s not feeling well. His poop was a little wet.

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, without being able to examine your dog, it is hard to say if he is in pain, or if he doesn't feel good because he has some GI upset. If this continues throughout the day, it would probably be best to have him seen by a veterinarian. They can examine him, see if he is in pain or if his stomach is upset, and give him medication so that he feels better. I hope that all goes well for him!

July 26, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Four Years

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Tight Stomach, Shaking, Grunting

she was fine then started grunting and acting like maybe her stomach hurts. I felt it and its tight and she's shaking a very small amount.

July 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello It sounds like your dog is having some type of gastrointestinal upset. Continue to monitor her and if she starts vomiting or having diarrhea, she should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Good luck.

July 20, 2020

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