Why Do Dogs Sneeze?

Dogs sneezing can be a common occurrence, but sometimes you may notice your dog sneezing during unusual times or more than usual. In this article we investigate the causes of sneezing in dogs and what it could mean for your dog.
Dog sneezing

A dog sneezing is common, normal and really cute to watch! But why do dogs sneeze and what does it mean?

When it comes to sneezing in dogs, it doesn’t tend mean that your dog has a cold, like sneezing usually means in humans. In fact, dogs sneeze for a large amount of reasons. It can be due to something minor like a reaction to dust, or more serious. Or it might be a “play sneeze” – more on that later. It all depends on how often your dog is sneezing and what colour the discharge is.

In most instances, your dog is sneezing in response to an irritant in the upper airway of the dog’s nose. The dog then sneezes to expel the irritant, much like humans do! There can be many other reasons why your dog is sneezing though, so we’ve made this guide so you can find out why do dogs sneeze?

Why do dogs sneeze?

There are loads of reasons why your dog is sneezing. It could be an irritant in their nose like dust, household products, perfume or even pollen. Sneezing in dogs can also be due to something stuck in their nose, such as dirt from digging!

If your dog is sneezing a lot, it may be a reaction to something in the atmosphere. Be careful when spraying items around your pet as it may irritate their nose. Hunting dogs and those that snuffle in the undergrowth can also get lots of unusual things stuck up their nose like fragments of twigs and leaves. If your dog likes to wander nose-first through the undergrowth, be sure to be on the lookout for this.

Usually sneezing helps the dog to expel the item on its own, but if their nose is bleeding or they keep pawing at their nose and sneezing, consult your vet as they may need to remove the object.

Why do dogs sneeze when playing?

Many dog owners notice that dogs often sneeze when they are playing or excited by something. This is called “play sneezing” and it’s normal and harmless. It just means that your dog is having loads of fun!

Dogs sneeze when playing to signal that their behaviour is only play, and that they’re enjoying themselves. Sneezing when playing is particularly common in small breeds but many dogs do it. If your dog is sneezing when you’re playing together, there’s usually no need to worry.

Dogs playing together with toy

Can dogs get nasal infections?

Usually, the reason why your dog is sneezing is a one-off reaction to the something in the air or a play sneeze. However, if your pooch is sneezing regularly, it could be a nasal infection. Generally, dogs that have upper respiratory tract infections are more likely to cough rather than sneeze, but it’s still worth consulting your vet if symptoms persist.

Aspergillus fungus is a common nasal infection caused by inhalation of a fungus from dust, hay or bits of grass. Symptoms include sneezing, nose pain, nosebleeds, discharge and visible swelling. If your dog demonstrates any of these symptoms you should take them to a vet as soon as possible.

On rare occasions, persistent sneezing in dogs can also be caused by nasal mites. These tiny bugs get inside your dog’s nasal passages and are commonly picked up from digging in the dirt with their noses. Nasal mites are incredibly irritating for dogs and can cause nosebleeds and excess discharge from your dog’s nose. If you suspect your dog may have nasal mites, take them to the vet for treatment.

Other reasons why your dog may be sneezing:

  • Infected tooth. The third upper premolar has roots that are really close to the nasal passages, so if this tooth or any near to it are infected, it may cause your dog to sneeze.
  • Tumours. Very occasionally, persistent sneezing in dogs can be a sign of something serious, like a tumour. Second hand smoke is the main cause of tumours in dogs’ nasal passages and is more common in longer-nosed breeds. If you think your dog is unwell, take them to the vet for a diagnosis.
  • If your dog is a brachycephalic breed. These dog breeds such as Boston terrier, Bulldog and Pug have compressed nasal passages, so they’re much more likely to sneeze than other dogs.
dogs digging in the dirt

When is a sneeze, not a sneeze?

A sneeze isn’t always actually a sneeze in dogs. Sometimes your dog may be snorting, which if you have a healthy dog is usually a sign of an upper airway obstruction, so you should take your dog to a vet to have it looked at. Snorting is also common if your dog is overweight as the excess weight can make it harder for them to breathe. 

Your dog may also be experiencing a reverse sneeze. This is most common in small breed dogs and brachycephalic breeds. When experiencing a reverse sneeze, air is pulled quickly and loudly in through the nose, resulting in a sudden loud noise like a honk. In fact, some owners think it sounds like the dog is laughing. Your dog will also stand with their elbows apart, head forwards or back before making the sound. Reverse sneezing rarely requires treatment, so you don’t usually need to worry if your dog does this.

To find out more about your dog’s behaviour, read our guide to why dogs bark.