Why do dogs sneeze when play fighting? I often see my dogs sneeze when they’re play fighting with each other, or even just when they are very happy or excited. Ever wonder why they do that? Is play sneezing related to real sneezing? The short answer is it’s a little bit of both! In this guide, I’ll explain what the canine behavior and veterinary health experts say about the different kinds of dog sneezes, so you can tell the difference between a real sneeze and a play sneeze.
- Why do dogs sneeze?
- Allergies in dogs
- Respiratory illness in dogs
- Why do dogs sneeze when play fighting
- Should I worry if my dog keeps sneezing?
Why Do Dogs Sneeze?
Before we get to play sneezing, let’s look at some of the common causes of general sneezing in dogs. Dogs sneeze for a variety of reasons, and many of them are the same as why other animals – and people – sneeze. An occasional sneeze is a basic and typical reaction to an itchy or irritated nose.
Sometimes your dog might sneeze more than normal. Frequent sneezing may be a sign of a health issue, especially if combined with other signs of illness. Here are some of the more common health-related causes of sneezing in dogs.
Allergies in Dogs
Sneezes are your dog’s natural way to clear irritants out of the nose. Your dog can inhale dirt, dust, pollen, and other foreign particles. These irritants can cause itching and trigger one or more sneezes to get rid of them. Sometimes these tiny particles are just bothersome, but in some dogs, they can trigger an allergic reaction.
Many dogs have skin reactions to allergens in the environment (this condition is called atopic dermatitis) but some dogs can also have respiratory reactions, like humans. When an allergy-prone dog inhales airborne allergens like pollen into the respiratory tract, it stimulates the dog’s immune system, leading to inflammation and the release of chemicals called histamines.
If your dog is experiencing sneezing along with red, swollen, and itchy skin, there’s a good chance your dog might have an allergy. Be sure to see your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment of canine allergies.
Respiratory Illness in Dogs
While upper respiratory infections tend to be more common in cats than in dogs, there are some respiratory diseases that can cause sneezing in dogs. When a dog has an upper respiratory infection, the sneezing will usually be accompanied by other symptoms like runny nose and eyes, cough, and congestion.
Canine flu is caused by the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the canine influenza virus (CIV) and can produce sneezing, fever, and other flu-like symptoms in dogs. Dogs may experience sneezing with other infectious diseases like kennel cough (canine infectious tracheobronchitis) or pneumonia, although these illnesses typically affect the lower respiratory tract and lungs rather than the nose.
There’s also a parasite called the canine nasal mite (Pneumonyssoides caninum or Pneumonyssus caninum) that can live in a dog’s nasal passages and sinuses and cause sneezing and nasal discharge.Sneezing can also be caused by tumors in a dog’s nose or sinuses. Unfortunately, these canine nasal tumors are often malignant carcinomas. See your vet if the sneezing is accompanied by chronic nasal discharge, especially if it contains blood or pus. Not all canine sneezes are caused by allergies or illnesses. So, let’s look at play sneezing next.
Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play Fight?
Vets and behavior experts say that there are a couple of reasons why dogs sneeze when they play fight. One is a physical reaction and the other is a form of communication.
Play fighting (and play in general) can trigger sneezing because this energetic movement makes your dog breathe faster, which can cause their airways to close a bit. A sneeze lets your dog take a break and a big breath of air. Play fighting can also cause your dog to inhale bits of dirt, grass, or the other dog’s hair or dander. Inhaling these foreign objects will trigger sneezing as well.
How is Sneezing a Form of Canine Communication?
When dogs are play fighting together, they may snarl, growl, flatten their ears, or show other signs of aggression. Experts say that the play sneeze is a dog’s way of telling the other dog that they are feeling happy and playful, and not angry or hostile.
Besides sneezing, a dog that’s play fighting may also bow, bounce, or make exaggerated vocalizations and movements to signal that the interaction is fun and not serious. A dog may sneeze while playing with you too, even when there are no other dogs around. This play sneeze is a way for your dog to express happiness to you.
Should I Be Worried if My Dog Keeps Sneezing?
Play sneezing is a dog’s way of saying “I’m having a good time!” Dogs will display this behavior with other dogs and animals, and their humans as well. An occasional (non-play) sneeze in your dog is normal and not a cause for concern. Like humans, dogs sneeze when their noses feel itchy or irritated.
To be safe, see your vet if your dog’s sneezing is excessive or accompanied by other symptoms like itchy skin, cough, or nasal discharge, as these can be signs of a more serious illness or allergy. But, as a general rule, sneezing is not something you need to worry about. Particularly when your dog is playing.
Why Do Dogs Sneeze When Play Fighting?
A sneeze whilst your dog is playing is just their way of communicating with you or the other dogs around! Have you noticed your dog sneezing when they’re playing?
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- White, S. & Moriello, K. ‘Allergies in Dogs’, Merck Veterinary Manual (2022)
- Tonozzi, C. ‘Overview of Respiratory Diseases of Dogs and Cats’, Merck Veterinary Manual (2022)
- McCawley, J. ‘Dog Behavior 101: Playing or Fighting’, Metro East Humane Society (2019)