It’s another day at the dog park, and you bring your dog to meet her friends. Sitting on the bench, you watch as she runs around excitedly with what appears to be her new best friend.
They’re playing pretty rough, rolling around, and snapping at each other. You get a little worried at this point. But suddenly, she lets out a sneeze. And her new best dog friend also sneezes. And they continue playing.
So what just happened?
Sneezing during playtime occurs pretty often with dogs. If you’ve seen this before, you might notice it happens more often when dogs start roughhousing. It’s when they get overly energetic and playful when the achoo’s come in.
Scientists and dog behaviorists believe that sneezing is your dog’s way of telling her partner that the activity is playtime and not fighting. It’s her way of saying “Hey, this is fun! I’m not trying to hurt you okay, we’re just having a good time!”
This important non-verbal cue is one sign that your dog was properly socialized as a puppy. When puppies play with their littermates, they need to know when they go overboard with their playtime. If they bite a little too hard or play a little too rough, their partner will snap back and not want to engage. This tells them that what they did would not be tolerated.
Playtime sneezing is a valuable social cue that dogs learn. It helps prevents roughhousing from escalating into fights. There is a fine line between exuberant play and aggression, but inserting a sneeze or two here and there makes that line clear.
It doesn’t just happen between dogs either. Dog owners who play with their canine buddies also report incidences of sneezing. If it happens to you, feel proud! That’s your dog telling you that she’s very much enjoying your game and that even if she’s being playful, she doesn’t mean to hurt you. How sweet!
Other reasons for sneezing
If your dog sneezes during playtime, it’s likely to signal to her friend that she’s enjoying herself. But if it continues to happen even after playtime, it could be for another, more worrying reason.
Sneezing is a way for the body to expel something in the upper respiratory tract, particularly the nasal passages. This is opposed to coughing, which is meant to remove something further down, likely at the level of the lungs.
Your dog could be sneezing because something is blocking or irritating her nasal passages.
This is a big problem because canines rely heavily on their sense of smell. Proof? Their noses have 100,000 to a million times more sensitive than a human’s based on the number of olfactory receptors alone. The part of their brain that processes smell is seven times as large as ours. Their noses are even structured differently to allow for concentration of smells and prevention of scent mixing.
Given this, it is easy to see why fur parents should be concerned about the health of their dog’s nose. Sneezing is among the first symptoms that something is wrong, so taking it seriously can save you from additional cost and worry down the road.
So what could be the other reasons dogs sneeze?
There are a lot of tiny particles in the air that, in high levels, could irritate your dog’s nose.
Allergic rhinitis occurs seasonally when pollen production is high. Dust and mold in the home could also cause sneezing. Chemical sprays used to fumigate and clean your home can also serve to irritate the sensitive lining in your dog’s nasal passages. If your dog likes to dig, the soil and sand she happily burrows into could make her sneeze later on.
Most dogs will likely return to normal once letting out a sneeze or two. But just because dogs recover quickly from inhaling particles doesn’t mean you should expose them to it.
It is impossible to completely control the atmosphere and the number of particles suspended in it, but you do have the power to keep your dog away from it.
Avoid going to places with high levels of air-suspended particles, whether it’s flower beds in the spring or the sandy areas that get a lot of wind. If you are spraying your home with chemicals, make sure to keep your dog in a different area or outdoors where air can circulate. If the sneezing continues even after the change of scene, it may be time to bring her to the vet.
One of the principal ways dogs interact with the world is through sniffing. They sniff the ground, the air, other dog’s butts, human crotches, among other things. In doing so, they inhale not only the scents that tell them about the world but foreign objects as well.
Among the most common things that dogs accidentally inhale are seeds, blades of grass, or grass awns. If your dog has been playing in areas with long grass and continues to sneeze even after playtime, it may be a sign that there is a foreign object lodged in her nose.
Other signs to look out for are pawing of the face, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, or head shaking.
While objects inhaled in the nose are very small, they can be life-threatening if left unchecked. They can find their way deeper into the respiratory tract, or else damage the sensitive mucosa of the nasal passages. This allows other pathogens to enter your dog’s body and cause even more serious problems.
Bring your dog to the vet if you notice signs of irritation that accompany sneezing. Removal of grass and other debris can be done with forceps if it’s reachable, or via endoscope if it’s further down.
A microscopic parasite named Pneumonyssoides caninum is one possible culprit behind your dog’s sneezing. This yellowish mite occurs principally in the sinuses of dogs, and are transmitted via direct contact. So be careful who your dog touches noses with!
If your dog exhibits only sneezing, then it’s unlikely to be mites. But if your dog has nose bleeds, frequently paws at her nose or face, shakes her head vigorously, and appears to have difficulty breathing, then the chances of her having a nasal mite infection significantly increase.
These mites are difficult to see not only because they’re small, but also because they live in the inner parts of a dog’s nose. Visit a vet if you think your dog could have an infection.They will have endoscopes to visualize your dog’s nasal canal and see if there are little moving bugs in there.
Sneezing can also be an early sign of several viral infections in dogs. Canine distemper, canine adenovirus types 1 and 2, and canine parainfluenza are the most common culprits.
These are all highly infectious diseases that can be transmitted via urine, feces, saliva, and direct contact with affected animals. Viral infections do not have direct treatments. Therapy consists of strengthening the animal’s immune system and preventing secondary infections from occurring.
For viruses, prevention is infinitely better than cure. Luckily, there are effective vaccines available on the market for these viruses. Proper vaccination is a landmark for responsible pet ownership, so make sure to protect your puppies and dogs as early as you can!
If your dog loves to jump into piles of dead leaves or rub against dead carcasses and decaying matter, she could accidentally inhale fungal spores. This allows fungi, most often from the Aspergillus genus, to get inside the respiratory tract and cause sneezing and other symptoms.
The good thing is that healthy dogs with working immune systems can get exposed to fungus and suffer no consequences. It only becomes a problem if your dog is immunocompromised or has issues with the mucosa of the nasal passages.
This is why it is important to keep “less harmful” causes of sneezing from getting worse. Even something as innocent as dust can cause inflammation, making it all the easier for fungi to proliferate.
Wait, sneezing happens in the nose, right? So what’s a toothache got to do with the respiratory system? Surprisingly, quite a lot.
Dental roots in the upper jaw are very close to the nasal passages. If the tooth infection has been left untreated, the pus and bacteria could spread to the nearby structures, causing fistulas. That is a hole in the oral cavity that leads to the respiratory tract, and yes, it is as painful as it sounds.
You’d think a hole in the mouth going up to the hose would be obvious, but many cases of oronasal fistulas were brought into the clinic because of incessant sneezing.
Tumors in the upper respiratory tract are pretty rare, but when they do occur, they are, more often than not, malignant. Sneezing, runny noses, and pawing of the face are the first signs. Because there are many causes for these symptoms, this type of cancer is often overlooked. By the time the growth is noticeable, it may already have led to facial deformation and seizures.
Snub-nosed dogs like pugs, bulldogs, and boxers tend to sneeze and wheeze more than other breeds. Their lower jaw is normal-sized, but their upper jaw has become shortened due to breeding. This resulted in smaller nostrils, narrow air canal, and a soft palate that extends further into the throat than it should.
Because of these structural differences, it is normal for brachycephalic dogs to make more sounds when they breathe than other dogs. Sneezing, snoring, and reverse sneezing are common.
Reverse sneezing is when your dog takes a big gulp of air. Her neck extends and her chest expands. It may sound alarming, but it is just your dog’s way of removing irritation or blockage to the air canals. Brachycephalic breeds do this quite often, but dogs of all shapes and sizes may reverse sneeze as well.
While flat-faced dogs normally make wheezing and sneezing sounds, their fur parents shouldn’t dismiss these signs outright. These dogs are more prone to respiratory issues, so care should be taken when they do strenuous activities or are exposed to hot environments.
Knowing The Difference Between Play Time Sneezes And Disease-Induced Sneezes
Based on what was discussed, sneezing could be either innocuous or insidious. How can you tell the difference?
You need to pay attention to:
When The Sneezing Occurs
Playtime sneezes occur only when your dog is playing with another living animal. It is a form of communication, so it will only occur when there is someone to receive the message, whether it’s a four-legged friend or a two-legged one.
Disease-induced sneezes often occur at random times. It may be an acute case wherein the onset is sudden and the sneezing is continuous, or a chronic case wherein the sneezing comes and goes.
Whether acute or chronic, it is important for you as a fur parent to take note of changes in your dog’s activities prior to the bout of sneezing. This is valuable information that your vet needs to reach a diagnosis.
Playtime sneezes come with other non-verbal cues of happiness and energy. A wagging tail and relaxed, playful stance are good signs. Play bowing, or when your dog’s forelegs are stretched out on the ground in front with her butt up in the air, is another way to know she’s having fun.
Your dog may be sneezing and play bowing now, but that is no guarantee that a fight won’t erupt later. Always supervise when your dog is playing with other animals. Keep an eye out for a rigid tail, a stiff, unmoving stance, growls, or lunges. Make sure to separate animals immediately to deescalate the situation.
Sneezes you should worry about usually come with other symptoms. For example, playtime sneezes never come with nasal discharge or incessant pawing of the nose and face. Differences in energy level and appetite are less obvious but equally important symptoms. These should already be taken as red flags. Take your dog to the vet immediately to have these checked.