Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: What It Is and What to Do About It

Our dogs can make some pretty weird noises sometimes, and for the most part, we’re used to all their snorts and snuffles and just treat these sounds like a fact of life. But have you ever heard your dog reverse sneeze? It can be a pretty scary experience if you don’t know what’s happening.

What is reverse sneezing?

When a dog (or a person) sneezes, air is forced rapidly out through the nose in an attempt to expel a foreign body. Reverse sneezing, also called paroxysmal respiration, is pretty much exactly the opposite. This reflex forces a dog to quickly and violently inhale with a wheezing or snorting sound. The body is typically trying to suck a foreign invader or irritant out of the nasal cavity, so the goal is similar to a regular sneeze.

Your dog may extend its neck forward, tilt its head back, flare its nostrils, and close its mouth with the lips pulled back, or some variation of this position, during reverse sneezing. It may look like the dog is choking or convulsing, and his eyes may even bulge. Reverse sneezes will generally happen multiple times in quick succession before your dog returns to his normal state, but in the absence of an underlying condition, they are harmless.

Wondering if you’ve ever seen a dog reverse sneeze before? Check out this video to get a better sense of what it looks and sounds like:

Why do dogs reverse sneeze?

Reverse sneezing typically happens when the soft palate or nasopharynx is irritated by something, like pollen, dust, or a foreign object. The reflex can also be triggered by overexcitement, exercise intolerance, or eating or drinking.

The irritation causes a spasm of the soft palate, and the trachea narrows. The dog then extends its neck and forcefully inhales in an effort to expand the chest to breathe better through the narrowed trachea.

Whatever the cause of your dog’s reverse sneeze, the episode will be over quickly, and your pet will likely move on with life as if it never happened.

Is reverse sneezing harmful?

We imagine a reverse sneeze in your dog might feel something like a panic attack in humans does. It may be scary, and your dog may feel like they’re unable to breathe properly, but they’re not really in any danger. Occasional reverse sneezing may even be considered entirely normal, although it doesn’t hurt to bring it up with your vet anyway.

However, if the reverse sneezing occurs frequently or increases in frequency, or if two or more dogs suddenly start having this issue around the same time, you should discuss the symptoms with your vet as soon as you can. Reverse sneezing that is accompanied by coughing, nasal discharge, choking, or trouble breathing may also warrant concern. Your vet should examine your dog to make sure there isn’t another underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

What should I do if my dog reverse sneezes?

The first thing to do is to stay calm so as not to increase your pet’s discomfort and anxiety. The episode shouldn’t take long, so work on being a calming presence to your dog while you wait for the event to pass. Try to get it on video if possible so you have something to show your veterinarian.

Some vets suggest trying to stop prolonged episodes of reverse sneezing by stroking the dog’s throat to encourage swallowing. You can also try gently blowing in your dog’s face for a couple of seconds or opening his mouth and gently pressing on his tongue to get him to swallow. Use caution with these tricks, however, as each individual dog may react differently to them.

Reverse sneezing typically does not need to be treated, but you do need a vet to rule out other potential issues that could be dangerous for your pet (infection, foreign body, inflammation, etc). It’s a good idea to call the office to find out what their recommendation is.

Do some dogs reverse sneeze more than others?

Brachycephalic breeds are more likely to reverse sneeze than other dogs. Boxers, pugs, shih tzus, and bulldogs commonly have this issue. It may also be more likely for these breeds to have a potentially dangerous underlying condition, such as a collapsing trachea, making it more important that they receive an exam from your veterinarian.

Can reverse sneezing happen to my cat?

While reverse sneezing is much less common in cats, it does happen occasionally. Ask your vet if you have concerns about reverse sneezing in your cat (or any pet).

Click on the video below to learn more about reverse sneezing from a veterinarian.

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Elizabeth Morey graduated summa cum laude from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she dual majored in English Literature and Spanish with minors in Writing and Business Administration. She was a member of the school's Insignis Honors Society and the president of the literary honors society Lambda Iota Tau.

Some of Elizabeth's special interests include Spanish and English linguistics, modern grammar and spelling, and journalism. She has been writing professionally for more than five years and specializes in health topics such as breast cancer, autism, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Apart from her work at GreaterGood, she has also written art and culture articles for the Grand Rapids Magazine.

Elizabeth has lived in the beautiful Great Lakes State for most of her life but also loves to travel. She currently resides a short drive away from the dazzling shores of Lake Michigan with her beloved husband.

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