Reverse sneezing is a way for cats to clear irritants from the back part of their throat or nasopharynx. This type of sneezing is not done by humans, so witnessing it can be scary for pet parents. The back of the throat is where the nasal cavity opens into the oral cavity. When there are irritants or foreign materials in that area, animals will use reverse sneezing to try and get rid of the material.
When reverse sneezing, cats will often close their eyes, extend their necks, and make a snorting noise. If your pet is exhibiting these signs, it is vital that you ensure they are not coughing, choking, or having trouble breathing. These can all look similar and it may be difficult to distinguish the difference. Reverse sneezing is not a medical emergency as long as it resolves after a few seconds and the animal acts normal otherwise.
This phenomenon is triggered by irritants to the naso- and oropharynx. These can be inhaled allergens (like pollen) or foreign material (like grass or weeds) that is inhaled or ingested. Occasionally, reverse sneezing can accompany excitement. The first line of treatment for recurrence is an antihistamine, such as benadryl, in case allergies are the irritating culprit. If the condition persists, a sedated oral exam will need to be conducted to look for foreign material. Finally, if clinical signs are persistent, general anesthesia with an endoscopic exam of the caudal nasal cavity and possible CT scan will be recommended.
The good news about reverse sneezing is that it is commonly self limited in animals. If it is persistent or affecting your cat’s quality of life, then further diagnostics and treatment measures should be explored.