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Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play? 8 Reasons for This Behavior

Oliver Jones

If you have ever been playing with your dog and notice that he keeps on sneezing, you may be wondering what this could mean and if it is a cause for concern. Dogs sneezing while they are interacting with their owner and playing with other dogs is normal and can be quite cute!

There are many interesting reasons behind your dog sneezing while playing, and this article will inform you of them. Hopefully, this allows you to understand your dog’s seemingly strange behavior better.divider-dog

Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play?

1. Playful Sneezing

When your dog sneezes during playtime, such as when you are playing together outside or giving him cuddles, it could mean that the dog is only trying to show that they do not mean any aggression, and this is purely a playful act. This type of sneeze comes from the nasal cavity and not the lungs, which is why it is short and allows the dog to sneeze so much in a short period.

2. Attention

Dogs love playtime whether it is with their owner or with another dog. Sneezing can be a way that the dog uses to communicate that is it time to play with them. They may have noticed that you react to them when they sneeze which can then make them believe that their short sneezes are a great way to get your attention. Your dog may also sneeze around the house using the same type of sneeze to get your attention to play with them, which can be viewed as a way the dog is saying “please pay attention to me I only want to play”.

3. Health Concerns

If your dog gets out of breath while they play it may be a sign that they have an underlying health problem that needs to be addressed by a vet. Pneumonia is a common condition that affects a dog’s respiratory and causes shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and mucous buildup. If your dog exerts its energy, it may struggle to breathe properly and sneeze as a result. The sneezes may be wet and gooey mucous may cover their nose after they sneeze. It Is important to get them to a vet right away and to reduce activity until the dog has been treated.

4. Strong Smells

Dogs have very strong noses which enhances their senses and allows them to smell normal household fumes much stronger than humans. If you are wearing perfume or have aerosols and candles around the house, your dog may pick these scents up and their nasal cavity will become irritated. During playtime, your dog uses more energy and therefore has to breathe more. Your dog does not expect to smell perfumes or aerosols and only wants air during this time. It is not a good idea to wear perfume or burn candles and aerosols around the house when your dog is in that area.

If your dog is playing outside in the dirt and grass, sand can get up their nostrils and cause them to sneeze to relieve the congestion. This can happen if your dog is playing ball and picks it up with its snout in the dirt.

5. Allergies

Just like humans, dogs are prone to allergies. These allergies can stem from a seasonal change where pollen is present in the air. If your dog is playing outside and starts to constantly sneeze, it may mean that they are having mild allergies to the environment. Dogs can also be allergic to perfumes and other unnatural smells, so check for any changes in your dog’s breathing and behavior if you think that your dog may be suffering from allergies. Seek help from a vet for a good allergy treatment so that your dog can have relief while going about their favorite activities.

6. Enough is Enough

Sneezing may also be a way for your dog to say that they want you to stop interacting with them now. They may be tired or in distress from too much playing. Although dogs do enjoy playing with their owner and toys, they also do not want it to go on too long, especially if they are a young puppy or senior dog that gets tired easily. This sneeze may be accompanied by yawing and your dog may try to lie down to get away from the situation. It is best to listen to your dog and see what they enjoy in the form of playtime and how long they can typically keep their energy up.

If your dog is playing with another dog, this is a canine signal to show that they no longer find it interesting anymore and they want to remove themselves from the situation with no aggressive attempts towards the other dog.

7. Communication

Dogs cannot speak, so they rely on other forms of non-verbal communication. The main form being sneezing. Other dogs understand the main meaning behind this behavior because they have enhanced communication abilities that are not always distinguishable from humans. It is common for two dogs to play and constantly sneeze at each other. They are both showing that they are only playing and telling the other dog what is too far or when they are feeling too tired to continue playing.

8. Happiness

Dogs will often sneeze while playing can be seen as a sign of happiness and excitement. It also alerts other dogs or their owners that they are exerting play behavior. If you commonly see your dogs playing together and sneezing, it is usually not a cause for concern. This is another great way to determine if your dog is happy which is something all dog owners would love to know.

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The Science Behind Dogs Sneezing When Playing – A Vets Thoughts

vet examining dog's gums
Image Credit: Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

Dr. Karyn L. Collier, a medical for wellness medicine at Saint Francis Veterinary says that dogs will frequently sneeze when they play. She calls it the ‘play sneeze’ and that these sneezes are shorter and shallower than a true sneeze that originates from the respiratory tract. Collier says that you can identify a true sneeze from a play sneeze by the sound. A playful sneeze sounds more like a sharp snuffle, rather than a full bodily reaction to the sneeze.

Collier explains that play-sneezing may be a form of canine body language to communicate to other dogs that they are having a great time playing. As the play sessions turn rougher, the dog may sneeze to signal that this wrestling and playing is all in good fun and that this rougher form of playing is not meant to be aggressive or hostile.

Dr. Sarah Ochoa, an exotic veterinarian, explains that increased activity and facial expression changes in an excited dog can change the way air moves through nasal passages. This can change the rhythm of their breathing. Play sneezing can translate to other exciting moments in your dog’s life, such as when you come home after a long day or when guests come to the door. Your dog may then sneeze to convey its excitement.

What Does It Mean When Dogs Sneeze During Play?

dog in the grass licking nose
Image Credit: 753204, Pixabay

The main reason this happens is that they are trying to communicate to you that they mean no harm or have no aggressive intentions while they are playing with you. This is not your dog’s normal sneeze, and it may sound quite different. In some cases, they may even just breathe air out of their nose sharply which can sound quite loud and alarming. The reasoning behind this is usually not a cause for concern and may continue to happen regularly.

Playtime is meant to be fun for all parties involved. Do not worry too much over this behavior, especially if it only happens when they are playing and that there are no other health issues in your dog.

Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play Together?

mother dog and puppy playing
Image Credit: shanblan4, Pixabay

When dogs play together, they communicate with each other in ways humans cannot understand. Dogs will often sneeze to show the other dog that they are enjoying this and do not want it to escalate further to any rough fighting. Your dog is purely happy at the moment and wants to communicate this to their canine friend. They do not want to hurt their playmate, and even if they are chasing or nipping each other, it is only out of playfulness and nothing else.

Another possible reason is that the dog no longer wants to play together and that this is a warning sneeze. They will also try to get out of the situation and growl or run away if the other dog does not get the message. This is a common occurrence when older dogs play with puppies. Puppies do not always understand signals from adult dogs and only have one thing on their mind, to play. Puppies innocently get over-excited and want to play with the older dog as much as possible. This may be the time when you need to intervene and distract the puppy with another form of play so that the older dog can relax in peace.

In some cases, the dog may sneeze with its lips upturned in a grimace. This is a clear signal that they are not willing to continue playing with the other dog and they may result in harsher forms of communication like nipping or growling if the situation does not cease.

Dogs sneezing while they play together is normal and a healthy form of communication from canine to canine.

Why Do Dogs Sneeze Heavily While Playing?

Glen of Imaal Terrier dog standing on grass
Image Credit: No-longer-here, Pixabay

If your dog is sneezing using its whole body and mucous comes out, it may be due to a reaction to strong smells, allergies, or breathlessness. These sneezes differ from the short burst of sneezes used as communication to you or other dogs while playing. This type of sneeze may only occur once after your dog has smelt something that has irritated its sinuses.

Why Do Dogs Snort When Playing?

The sneeze used to convey their communication towards to playing situation can sound like a snort. This type of sneeze is forced and primarily used for communication purposes. This sneeze or snort is not a natural reaction to external factors like when your body naturally sneezes beyond your control. The sneeze varies depending on the dog, but small dogs like the pug who have contorted snouts may sound like they are snorting instead of sneezing.

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Final Thoughts

It is quite interesting to learn the reasoning behind why dogs sneeze when they play. It is often normal and natural and shows a perfect example of how fascinating dog communication is. It is also reassuring to know that if your dog is displaying short sneezes while playing with you, they are only trying to convey that they are enjoying this time together and mean you no harm.

If you are ever concerned that your dog may be sneezing due to allergies, health problems, or environmental distress, it is essential to take them to the vet for a check-up.

We hope that we have given you the answers you need to understand the true meaning being this behavior.


Featured Image Credit: memorable9, Pixabay

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.