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Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play?

Does your dog have a habit of sneezing while playing with other dogs? If you’re hearing the atchoo sound more often than before, you’re probably wondering why dogs sneeze when they play?

Dogs sneeze when playing for several reasons. More often than not, play sneezing is completely normal behavior dogs use to show they are excited and having a great time. The play sneeze can also be a cue for the other dog to keep things fun or a reassuring gesture that this is just playing. 

Though play sneezing isn’t usually a cause for concern, you should try to understand what it means and why it is happening. Keep on reading to learn why dogs sneeze when they are playing and when it’s time to see a vet! 

7 Reasons Why Dogs Sneeze When They Play

Reasons Why Dogs Sneeze When They Play

Sneezing is an involuntary reflex for both dogs and people. The presence of some foreign material inside the nose is the main reason why people and dogs sneeze. 

While the presence of dust, pollen, and dirt is the most common cause of sneezing, this isn’t the only reason why dogs sneeze during play! Since dogs can’t talk and we can’t decipher barks, scientists can only make assumptions on this subject. 

With that in mind, here are seven reasons dogs sneeze when they play:

1. Invitation to Play

Dogs use body language and specific meta-signs to invite other dogs to play. Signs such as play faces, play bows, grinning expressions, and springy body language are clear indicators that your pooch is in the mood to play with a furry playmate. 

Besides these cues, you may hear a sneeze just before the dog play begins. This particular sneeze is an invitation to play and a sign for the playmate to keep things light and fun. 

This type of sneeze sounds more like a snort than an actual sneeze since it comes from the nose, not the lungs. 

2. Communication

Another reason dogs sneeze when they are playing is to communicate with other dogs. Dogs are constantly communicating with each other, even while playing.

Besides facial expressions, sneezing is a simple way to confirm they are simply playing, and mean no harm to the other dog.

3.  Allergies

Like people, dogs are prone to allergies. If your dog is engaged in a vigorous play session in a dusty area, a lot of dust and pollen may be lifted in the air, triggering a bout of sneezing. 

Keep in mind that pollen from flowers and trees can also make your dog sneeze. Once pollen enters your dog’s nose, vigorous sneezing can occur as the result of seasonal allergies (source). 

4. Strong Smells

Dogs have powerful noses which allow them to smell and experience normal household odors much more intensely than humans (source). If you like to use aerosols or scented candles around your home, your pooch may become irritated by those scents.

When playing, your dog’s body uses more oxygen and produces more carbon dioxide causing your dog to breathe more. At the same time, the smells of the aerosols and scented candles can become too much for your dog’s respiratory system, triggering a bout of sneezing. 

It’s never a good idea to use perfumes, aerosols, or candles inside the house, especially when your dog is playing in that area. 

5. Request for Time Out

According to experts, some dogs may use sneezing as a way to signal that the play has gone on too long. Sneezing can be your dog’s way of saying they need a breather before the fun starts again. 

If you observe your dog’s playing session, you’ll witness specific play behaviors that signal to the other dog that the play can begin and that your pooch is having the time of its life. 

However, even the best and funniest playdates have to end sometime. Sneezing might be your pup’s way of asking for a break. 

6. Reassuring Gesture

While playing, dogs constantly reassure each other that everything they are doing is a part of the play and shouldn’t be taken seriously. 

Using body language and meta-communication, dogs communicate about communication. While this may seem like too much hassle, the use of meta-communication helps dogs to discern smaller intricacies in communication that can turn a playdate into a fight in no time.

The special signals dogs use during play are often referred to as meta-signals. These meta-signals are there to indicate that while the play may seem rough, the end goal is to have fun. 

When playing, dogs repeatedly use these signals to leave no room for misunderstandings. According to experts, sneezing is a meta-signal, used by dogs to put their playmates at ease.

 7. Health Problems

If you notice your dog is sneezing a lot while playing but also when they aren’t roughhousing with other dogs, you should visit your vet. 

Persistent and forceful sneezing isn’t only a symptom of allergies, it can point to other health problems. If you notice your dog is sneezing all of a sudden or during solo play, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. 

Foreign bodies, like foxtail, nasal mites, or nasal tumors are all known to cause uncontrollable sneezing in dogs. Also, if your pooch was recently boarded in a kennel, the sneezing can be a symptom of kennel cough which is a highly contagious disease that needs veterinary treatment. 

When to See a Vet?

Play sneezes sound more like a snort than an actual sneeze and they come from the nose, not the lungs. Deep and strong sneezing that seems to come from the lungs may be a sign of health problems that need veterinary treatment. 

Furthermore, if your dog can’t stop sneezing or seems to be in pain while sneezing, they may have an obstruction of the nasal passage. These issues are best left to professionals, so take your dog to the vet right away.


Dogs use body language and many subtle gestures to communicate with each other, and play sneezing is just one of them. The play sneeze can be your dog’s way of initiating a play session, communicating they are having a great time or requesting a quick break before roughhousing begins again. 

As long as your dog isn’t sneezing forcefully and doesn’t seem in pain, there’s nothing to worry about. However, call your vet right away if your dog can’t stop sneezing or if they have a nasal obstruction. 

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