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Why Do Dogs Sneeze While Playing?

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

Fila Brasileiro Brazilian Mastiff seasonal allergy_olgagorovenko_shutterstock

Dogs have so much energy and a love for life, it is infectious. They start jumping up, maybe barking, and then all of a sudden, out comes a gigantic sneeze! Luckily, that isn’t infectious! However, it may be a cause of alarm for some dog owners, particularly if it happens repeatedly. Is their pup sick? Do they need to see the vet?

Researchers aren’t entirely sure why dogs sneeze as they get excited and start to play. There are multiple theories. We explore those theories, what they might mean for dog owners, and when to find a sneeze concerning.

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The Reason That Dogs Sneeze While They Play

Dogs have an interesting behavior that they exhibit when they are playing around with both dogs and humans. It is called “play sneezing” and is an entirely normal reaction.

Dogs primarily communicate to the world around them using body language. When they play, there can be signals that usually indicate aggressiveness. They might curl their lips back and raise the fur on the back of their neck.

These can be confusing for other dogs, who might stop in certain situations. A playful sneeze is meant to offset the situation, letting the other pup know that they are still just playing and want to keep it casual instead of letting it turn into a fight.

Play sneezes are meant to show that their behavior is strictly playful. It comes out as a short snort, more from a wrinkled nose instead of a sneeze erupting from their lungs.

dog's nose
Image Credit: PICNIC-Foto-Soest, Pixabay

Other Reasons That Your Dog Might Sneeze

Although a playful sneeze is quite common, there are several other reasons that your dog might sneeze that shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. Even if your dog sneezes quite frequently, it is often just one of their physical communication methods.

Environmental Sensitivities

The most common reason that a dog might sneeze comes down to environmental sensitivity. A dog’s nose is made for better smelling, with up to 300 million olfactory receptors, and the part of their brain that analyzes smells is almost 40 times stronger than ours.

What this comes down to is that their noses are much more sensitive than our own. This sensitivity causes them to sneeze whenever they inhale a strong smell that irritates some of these olfactory receptors.

For this reason, you often see them sneeze after they sniff around in the grass for a while. In the home, they might sneeze more often because of a collection of dust, a candle, strong-smelling cleaners, or even your perfume or cologne.

Get Your Attention

Dogs are masterminds when it comes to getting our attention. Whether it be through their puppy-dog eyes or pulling off a cute trick, they love it when their people focus on them.

They can use sneezing to do just that, especially if they noticed that it got your attention in the past. They might try to cuddle up to you and if you don’t notice them right away, sneeze near you to get a reaction. Whether it is a good or “bad” reaction doesn’t matter to them.

Breed-Specific Problems

Certain dog breeds, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs, are known as brachycephalic. In other words, they have a slightly malformed skull without much of a muzzle, if any. They don’t have similar noses as most dogs because of years of inbreeding.

That appearance may have been a desirable trait for the dogs’ aesthetics years ago. Now, though, scientists and veterinarians understand how bad this is for the dogs. That short snout limits their ability to breathe. Because of this, they might sneeze much more frequently than other breeds.

pug covering nose
Image: Yekatseryna Netuk, Shutterstock

When a Sneeze Is Concerning

There are times that sneezing might require more attention. Just like in humans, it can also be a sign of sickness. Unlike humans, the fact that a sneeze is used in so many situations can make it difficult to know when to take it seriously and when just to move your dog’s nose away from your face.

The most significant sign that a sneezing dog needs medical attention is if mucus starts to come out during the sneeze or from their nose. If you feel any liquid from a dog’s sneeze, it won’t be that much most of the time, and it should be transparent and not viscous.

If a dog starts to sneeze green, yellow, or thick white mucus, it probably means they have some kind of illness. It is not typical for that to happen when they are healthy.

The other factor to keep in mind is allergies. Just like humans, dogs can have allergies. They are most often seasonal and caused by things like pollen. Your dog might start sneezing more during spring. If it begins to disrupt their life or become unhygienic for you and your family, check with a vet to get them allergy medicine.

Take note of the sound of your dog’s sneeze if you can. Playful sneezes will be short, from-the-snout sneezes when they play. These should sound more like quick snorts. If a sneeze ever starts to sound like it comes from their chest, it could signify a medical condition.

Other Signs That It is a Friendly Game

There are other signs beyond a sneeze that could signify a friendly game of play with another dog. If you are concerned with infrequent aggression or problems with other dogs, you might want to look for other signs that your dog is relaxed and having fun.

  • A play bow is a good sign that they are ready to play. It isn’t a sign that your dog is trying to be aggressive or dominant, since it puts them in a somewhat vulnerable position. They will stick their tail high in the air and bend their front legs in this position.
  • Interestingly, yawning is a typical sign that a dog is calm, not always sleepy or bored. A yawn is meant to show others that they are safe to approach.
  • If a dog sniffs the ground around another dog after they first meet, it frequently means that they are not interested in displaying aggressive or overly alert behavior. In other words, they are ready for a game.
Dog Sniffing Chamomiles FLowers_Shutterstock_Sergej Razvodovskij
Image Credit: Sergej Razvodovskij, Shutterstock

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In Summary: Dogs Sneeze While Playing

If you are concerned about how much your dog sneezes while they play, it is unlikely to be a cause of worry. Instead, they are probably just telling the other dog that they are having fun and want to keep playing.

Featured Image: olgagorovenko, Shutterstock

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