Have you ever played fetch with your canine companion when they start sneezing up a storm? You’re certainly not alone! It seems that dogs are often prone to bouts of sneezing when they are at their most playful. Why is it that dogs sneeze when they play? It's (usually) not a sign that they're sick or allergic to something in their environment. The true answer might surprise you.
Why do dogs sneeze?
Dogs sneeze for many reasons. Like in humans, dog sneezing is often linked to a foreign object tickling the airways, said Karyn L. Collier, DVM, medical director for Wellness Medicine at Saint Francis Veterinary of South Jersey.
"In dogs, a sneeze can be triggered by a mechanical irritation – dust, pieces of plant material," Collier said. "Sneezing can also be triggered by different odors, such as perfumes, scented candles, or hair spray."
There are a wide range of potential causes for sneezing, including:
- Irritants and allergies: Irritants in the air such as dust or pollen can agitate dogs' respiratory systems just like they can bother humans. If these irritants are present in the environment, they could trigger sneezing in your dog. If your dog’s sneezing is accompanied by paw-chewing and red, runny eyes, it may be a sign that your dog has an allergy.
- Mites: There are certain species of mites that live inside the noses of dogs. They are passed between dogs on physical contact and can cause inflammation and sneezing.
- Illness: Much like humans, dogs will also sneeze when they are sick. If you suspect your dog is under the weather, it is best to seek veterinarian input to ensure their health and well-being are protected. "If a dog has persistent sneezing accompanied by nasal discharge that is mucoid or hemorrhagic, the dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian," said Collier.
Veterinarian tests to determine the cause of excessive sneezing can include radiographs, blood tests, or a rhinoscopy. However, minor irritation not due to serious conditions can be easily treated with saline nose drops or the use of over the counter antihistamine products for mild allergies.
You can also help prevent health issues and keep common allergies in check by providing your dog with a healthy and balanced diet, regular baths, brushing their teeth, and keeping up with their grooming. While there is no substitute for a good veterinarian, healthy living can keep your furry friend in the best of health.
Not all dog sneezes are created equal
Do dogs sneeze when they’re not sick? Those playful puppy sneezes may be your dog trying to “talk” to you or to other dogs.
"Sneezing while socializing with other dogs may be a form of communication," said Dr. Amanda Nascimento, head of integrative veterinary medicine and research at NHV Natural Pet. "Even when interacting with people, sneezing can be a way of transmitting happiness."
However, Nascimento added, it is possible that the movements associated with a happy and active pup increase the likelihood that a local irritant such as dust makes its way into your dog's airways. Playtime might even cause your dog's airways to restrict to some degree, and sneezing might be a way of getting more air, said Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian and consultant for Doglab.com.
"When dogs are excited and playing, they will be very energetic and this can cause them to breathe faster," Ochoa said. "This causes their airways to close slightly. When they sneeze, this is their body's way of making them slow down and take a big breath."
Collier added that the natural movements and facial expressions of a dog during play could trigger the sneeze. However, there is one other reason many veterinarians believe dogs sneeze when they play.
"It is thought that sneezing may be a signal that it is a friendly interaction versus a hostile one," Collier said.
When dogs play, especially with one another, it can closely resemble fighting. Oftentimes, dogs will even growl or yelp during play. To a non-dog observer, it can sometimes be alarming. Sneezing might be one way to signal that "no, mom, we're just playing."
"The general consensus is that dogs will sneeze while playing with each other to signal that they are, indeed, just playing," said Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today.
"Sneezing as a play signal can be transferred to other scenarios, such as when your dog plays with you or when your dog is simply very excited about something," Coates added.
Dogs sneeze for many reasons
Generally, there's nothing to worry about when your dog begins sneezing during playtime. It is most likely a signal that your dog is having fun during a friendly interaction with another dog or human. It could also just be a natural byproduct of getting a little too wound-up, whether that’s because your dog inhaled an irritant or they need to slow down and take a breather.However, it is always important to keep an eye on your dog's health. If you ever suspect that sneezing is unrelated to play or if there is nasal discharge present, contact your veterinarian and set up an appointment.Otherwise, puppy sneezes generally are something to sneeze at. Puppy sneezes are a sign that our dogs are having fun and building relationships with us and other animals. So once you’ve determined there is no sign of illness, go ahead and laugh at the cute things your dog does while playing and toss the ball for another round of fetch.
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