There’s just something about a dog sneeze, particularly a play sneeze, that is absolutely adorable. A sneeze from a dog can easily produce a laugh from their human. As cute and comical as it is, it’s also curious. 

Why does my dog sneeze when he gets excited?

Does your dog seem to sneeze anytime it gets excited? It can be quite amusing, but it also leaves you wondering why. It turns out, dogs can sneeze for many reasons, including communication and expressing emotion. 

How Sneezes Occur

Sneezes are an involuntary response by the body, usually to some type of irritation in the nose. The brain has a “sneeze center” that controls all the muscles needed to produce a sneeze. Just like humans, dogs will close their eyes when sneezing. However, not all dog sneezes are “real sneezes”. A real sneeze comes up from the respiratory tract, while play sneezes are more shallow. 

‘Happiness

You read that right. Some dogs sneeze because they are happy. It sounds strange to us. After all, sneezing usually isn’t a pleasant human experience. However, dogs have different types of sneezes. Essentially, a dog can sneeze for the same reason cats purr. Just to express their happiness or contentment. 

Invitation to play

If your dog enjoys playing, the sneeze could be its way of saying “hey let’s play”. Excitement often leads to play, especially for young or energetic dogs. If your dog sneezes then grabs its favorite toy, you know how to decode their sneeze. 

Calming

If your dog is overly excited, they may sneeze as a way to calm down. Dogs have over 50 calming signals and gestures, including sneezing. It can be their equivalent of taking a deep breath to relax. 

Why does my dog sneeze when I pet him?

There are a few reasons your dog might sneeze when you pet him. You’ll need to pay attention to the sneeze itself to figure out which one it is. A sneeze for communication or emotional expression purposes will be shallow. It’s similar to a child’s fake sneezing. It’s easy to see it’s different from a “real sneeze”. When a dog sneezes due to irritation in its nose, it will be deep and coming from the respiratory tract, like a “real sneeze” from a human. 

Happiness

Your dog could be sneezing out of happiness or excitement. It can be his way of saying, “I like this”. The sneeze will be shallow if this is the reason. 

Allergies 

This is the more concerning, or at least inconvenient, reason your dog is sneezing when you pet him. If it’s a hard sneeze from the respiratory tract, it’s likely caused by allergies. Just like humans, dogs can have allergies. It could be your perfume, lotion, or even the sweater you are wearing. If you’ve recently been outdoors, it can also be pollen on your body or clothes. 

Unlike humans, whose allergies often get better as they age, dogs are more likely to have allergies as they get older. Skin allergies are common in dogs, so if your dog is sneezing, keep an eye out for itching, skin irritation, or frequent licking. 

Nasal Irritation

Their sensitive nose also makes them more susceptible to irritation. This is similar to allergies, but it’s not a true allergic reaction. If you’ve ever smelled perfume and started sneezing, you likely experienced a similar type of nasal irritation. Your dog will sneeze when exposed to the irritant, but won’t show other signs of allergy. Soon after the irritant is gone, the dog will stop sneezing. This often occurs with scents, so consider perfume, lotion, laundry detergent, and cleaning products. 

Why does my dog sneeze when he sees me?

Most dogs will wag their tail when they see their owner. They may hop in your lap or bark excitedly. Sneezing isn’t the greeting you expect from your furry friend. 

Fake sneezing

Your dog may be fake sneezing to get your attention. This can be because they are excited, happy, or just to say “hey, I’m here”. Just like kids, dogs learn what works to get what they want. If they sneezed and it got your attention, they may keep it up because it works. If this is the case, you’ll notice that your dog is watching to see if you are paying attention when they sneeze. 

Positive Reinforcement

If your dog sneezed and you found it funny or endearing, they will remember it and repeat the behavior. Dogs don’t have detailed memories like people. Instead, they have positive and negative associations. Your dog probably won’t remember that you laughed when they sneezed. They will remember that something good happened after they sneezed. 

Deep Sneeze

Again, it’s important to notice the type of sneeze your dog is having. If it sounds like a deep sneeze, it could be allergies or an irritant. Does it occur when you are very close to your dog, or simply in the same room? 

Why does my dog sneeze when playing?

Sneezing during play is common for dogs. There are a few different causes, and it can be either nasal irritation or a way to communicate. 

Play Sneezing

Play sneezing can be a way to start play or a way to say “Hey, I’m just playing”. It’s part of the dog’s universal language, and sends the message that only play, and not aggression, is intended. 

Calming Signal

Just like kids, sometimes a play session can get a bit out of hand. What starts off as a friendly game can turn into a fight when excitement runs high. A dog can sneeze as a way to say “hey, let’s calm down a bit”. It can diffuse an intense situation. Perhaps humans should develop this skill! It can also be used to say “I’m tired. I need a break from play”. 

Curling lip

Dogs often curl their lip when playing. It can look like a smile or an almost snarl. When they curl their lip, they also wrinkle their nose. This can cause a tickle in their nose, which leads to a sneeze. 

Nose bump

When a dog’s nose gets bumped, it will sneeze. Play sessions can be very physical, and it’s common for dogs to experience a bump here and there. 

Dirt

Playing can also disturb the ground, kicking up dirt and dust. When dirt or another irritant gets in the nose, the dog will sneeze as a way to remove it. If a dog is digging as part of play, this can also cause them to get dirt in their nose. 

Why does my dog sneeze when she lays on her back?

Does your dog tend to sneeze when laying on its back? There are a few good reasons for this. 

Irritant in nose

The most common reason a dog sneezes in this position is that its nose is essentially on the ground. It’s easy for dirt or dust to get into the nose. The position also makes it more likely for the irritant to travel past the nasal cavity, which can also cause sneezing. 

Allergies

If your dog is allergic to grass or pollen, this can cause them to sneeze as well. Again, their nose is to the ground, so it’s easy for allergens to enter the nose and cause sneezing. If your dog is inside, it could be dust causing the allergy. 

What should I do about my dog sneezing?

In most cases, your dog sneezing is nothing to worry about. However, in some instances, it can indicate a problem. What to do about your dog sneezing will depend on the cause. 

Shallow Sneezes

The good news is if your dog has shallow sneezes, you don’t need to do anything other than listen to what your dog is saying. Shallow sneezes occur as a way of communicating or expressing happiness. Are they playing or asking you to play with them? Are they excited or happy to see you? Are they overstimulated and trying to calm down? 

Allergies and Irritants

Some allergens and irritants can be avoided, but many can’t. If your dog is forcefully sneezing, allergies or irritation are the most likely culprit. It’s best to work with your vet to determine the cause and treatment. If your dog sneezes when you pet him or indoors, try eliminating fragrances. This includes lotion, perfume, candles, and household cleaners. Add items back one at a time, and watch for signs your dog is allergic. 

If your dog is allergic to grass, pollen, or dust, you can limit exposure but eliminating it isn’t possible. Let your dog outside when the pollen count is low, and keep them inside when it’s high. Invest in a high-quality air filter. Dust your home regularly. Your vet may recommend allergy testing and medication. 

Medical Issues

Dogs are susceptible to colds just like humans. If your dog is sneezing frequently, they could have a cold. If they are sneezing from the chest, they may have a respiratory infection. Sneezing can also indicate an obstruction in the nose. This can be a simple piece of grass or something serious like a tumor. 

Dogs can also get nasal infections. The most common cause is a fungus inhaled from grass, hay, or dust. Nasal mites are rare, but they can also cause frequent sneezing. 

When to Worry

Play sneezes or minor allergies aren’t a major concern. However, there are signs that your dog’s sneezes should be evaluated by a vet as soon as possible. If your dog is sneezing frequently and experiencing pain, nasal discharge, red eyes, or a cough, you should get them checked out. If you notice behavioral changes like fatigue or loss of appetite, these are also cause for concern. If your dog seems to have trouble breathing or can’t stop sneezing, get them evaluated immediately. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.