Reverse sneezing in dogs

Health and Wellbeing

You might be going about your day as normal, and suddenly you hear a peculiar snorting sound coming from the next room. Instantly, you rush to your dog’s side to see what the problem is, and it turns out they’re absolutely fine, looking at you confused as if nothing even happened. But you definitely heard something, so what was it?

Reverse sneezing in dogs

Your dog was paw-ssibly reverse sneezing. The clue is in the name with this one, it’s essentially the opposite of a normal sneeze. So, what actually is reverse sneezing, why does it happen and is it dangerous for my dog?

WHAT IS REVERSE SNEEZING IN DOGS?

Reverse sneezing is one of those things that separate us humans from the canine world, it’s a phenomenon that dogs experience but people won’t. This is probably what makes it so unnerving if you’ve never heard your dog do it before.

As you’ll be aware, when you sneeze, pressurised air is pushed out of the nose quickly, and it always feels like a relief. However, during a reverse sneeze, your pooch will try and forcefully pull the air in through their nose.

Reverse sneezing episodes can also be referred to as backwards sneezes or a paroxysmal respiratory response, which essentially just means that it occurs in unexpected, persistent, spasm-like episodes.

Some dogs can experience reverse sneezing quite frequently throughout their lives, it’s not an uncommon thing for dogs. However, it occurs much less frequently in our feline friends.

WHY DOES REVERSE SNEEZING IN DOGS HAPPEN?

Reverse sneezing occurs when the dog’s soft palate becomes irritated and the only way to try and relieve the irritation is through reverse sneezing.

The soft palate is an essential part of a dog’s mouth, it’s the soft but muscular section located at the back of the roof of the mouth. It works to help with vocalisation, swallowing and breathing.

If your pooch’s soft palate becomes irritated, it will spasm and subsequently narrow the trachea. In response to this, your pooch will extend their neck outwards in an attempt to enlarge their chest so they can breathe.

Despite your dog’s efforts, the narrowed trachea hinders their ability to inhale an entire breath of air. As a result, your pup will try to inhale any air that they can get through their nose, causing the reverse sneeze.

WHAT DOES REVERSE SNEEZING IN DOGS SOUND LIKE?

The sound of a reverse sneeze can give you quite a shock if you’ve never heard it before, it essentially sounds as if your pooch is actually trying to inhale their sneeze, which is where the name of reverse sneezing originates.

Imagine a loud snorting or gagging sound, some even compare it to a honking noise! If you know what it sounds like, it can actually be quite funny to hear. Reverse sneezing is characterised as quick, repeated wheezes that might sound like something is stuck in their throat. The episode might even be accompanied by your puffing pooch’s eyes appearing to be bulging.

If you have never encountered a dog reverse sneezing before, you might mistake it for coughing, choking, or paw-tentially something even more severe like a collapsing trachea. No need to worry though, reverse sneezing is just a strange occurrence that many dogs will encounter.

If they’ve never had a backwards sneezing episode, however, it’s advised to take them to the vet just in case it is something more serious. If you’re aware of what reverse sneezing sounds like, just leave them be and let it play out.

If you do think it’s best to see a vet, a video of the sneeze would be su-paw helpful for diagnosis, however, you might not be quick enough to capture it in time.

HOW LONG DO REVERSE SNEEZING EPISODES LAST?

Episodes of reverse sneezing finish just as quickly as they start.

Typically, your pooch will only reverse sneeze for around 30 seconds to a minute, a lot of the time it can be even less than that. Luckily, they will catch their breath again in no time!

WHAT CAUSES REVERSE SNEEZING IN DOGS?

We know that a regular sneeze operates in order to get rid of something that is irritating your dog (or you) in the nasal cavity, and coughing is to eradicate an irritant located further down in the trachea.

A reverse sneeze occurs for the exact same reasons as normal sneezing and coughing, it’s just the body’s method of eliminating something that is irritating them even further down the throat, at the nasopharynx (the area that connects with the nasal cavity above the soft palate) to be exact.

The exact cause is unknown really, it’s just known to be caused by something irritating the nose, sinuses, or back of the throat.

However, we do know that there are some particular things that can cause this irritation, for example:

  • Hay fever and other allergies
  • Household products (perfume, air fresheners, cleaning products)
  • Overexcitement
  • Pulling on lead while attached to collar
  • Too much exercise
  • Objects in throat (such as grass seed or a foxtail)
  • Nasal mites
  • Elongated soft palate
  • Eating/drinking

It can be pretty hard to determine what the exact trigger was that set off the episode of reverse sneezing. However, you might notice that your curious canine was sticking their head in the grass and it happens, or you’ve just sprayed a brand-new air freshener and it sends them into a sneezing frenzy. In these cases, you’ll probably be able to identify the trigger.

IS MY DOG IN DANGER WHEN THIS HAPPENS?

Although that horrible honking sound can be quite alarming, it definitely sounds worse than it is.

Reverse sneezing will cause no harm to your pooch, and they’ll be completely normal leading up to the episode and immediately after.

Unless your pup is reverse sneezing frequently, in which case you should take your dog to the vet, they’ll be completely fine, something will have just tickled them.

ARE THERE SOME BREEDS THAT ARE MORE PRONE TO REVERSE SNEEZING?

Reverse sneezing is a strange event that absolutely any dog can encounter, and it’s pretty common too so don’t be surprised if your pooch has an episode.

However, due to their biological structure, some dogs are more prone to reverse sneezing. Small dogs such as terriers have a naturally narrower throat, making them more susceptible to spasms.

Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breeds such as PugsFrenchies, Boxers and Bulldogs are probably the most at risk of encountering reverse sneezing.

Reverse sneezing in dogs Pug

Due to their cute squishy faces and short muzzles, brachycephalic dog breeds have an elongated soft palate. When these dogs breathe, the extended soft palate can be too long for their mouth meaning that they can unintentionally suck the soft palate into their throat, causing an irritation which results in reverse sneezing.

HOW IS REVERSE SNEEZING IN DOGS TREATED?

Most cases of reverse sneezing happen as a natural bodily process and are completely benign, not requiring any form of treatment or medication. As stated, if you’ve never heard the sound before, you may want to get your pooch checked over by the vet, however, this isn’t essential.

Despite this, if your pup is reverse sneezing regularly and the episodes become more severe, you’ll definitely need to consult a vet to determine the underlying cause.

Reverse sneezing itself doesn’t need any kind of treatment, but whatever caused it might do. If your vet can’t find out the cause on an initial examination, they may need to do chest x-rays and paw-ssibly a rhinoscopy, which is where a camera is inserted into the nasal cavity and goes down into the throat in search for any abnormalities.

Underlying causes could include allergies, in which an antihistamine may be provided, medication to eradicate parasites if nasal mites are the cause or even the removal of foreign objects such as grass seed and foxtails if that’s what’s irritating your poor pup.

IS THERE A WAY TO STOP REVERSE SNEEZING IN DOGS?

As we know, the wheezing, honking, snorting, gagging sound of reverse sneezing can be disconcerting, so you may want to try and soothe your pooch as best as you can. There are a few tips and tricks that can paw-tentially help.

Briefly covering your pup’s nostrils for just a moment should hopefully encourage them to swallow, leading to the irritant that caused the event to be washed away. Alongside this, you can massage their throat, in an attempt to dislodge the pesky thing that’s caught there. Gently stroke your dog and have a little chat with them to reassure them that you’re there and it’s all fine.

Despite this, the episode will probably be over and done with before you can even get to them, it rarely lasts over a minute so don’t worry too much about coming to their rescue.

CAN I PREVENT MY DOG FROM HAVING A REVERSE SNEEZING EPISODE?

Reverse sneezing can’t really be prevented. Think of it when we sneeze ourselves, something tickles our nose and the sneeze creeps up on us quickly. We can’t really stop it happening, and it’s the same with reverse sneezing.

As stated, it’s hard to know the exact cause of reverse sneezing. However, after an episode of sneezes, maybe give your environment a quick evaluation.

Did you spray something new? Was your pup basically pulling your arm off on the lead and they’ve irritated their neck? Whatever it is, if you can find the cause or allergen that’s created the irritation, you might be able to remove it to prevent any further episodes.

This is easier said than done though, many of the causes are just in the environment and you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint it, never mind remove it!

RECAP

Naturally, dogs are inquisitive little creatures that love nothing more than to sniff at everything that falls in their path. Due to their curious canine nature, they’re prone to all kinds of silly mishaps, like getting something caught in their throat that gives them an itch.

Reverse sneezing is a common occurrence in our pooches, so if you know what to expect, it should ease some of your concerns if you ever do hear the strange sound!

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.