Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: What Causes It?
What Is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
Reverse sneezing, also known as the “mechanosensitive aspiration reflex,” is a common phenomenon in dogs. It can be very scary to the dog owner who has never seen one before, resulting in phone calls to vet hospitals and veterinary emergency clinics.
In a regular sneeze, your dog pushes air out through the nose. However, in a reverse sneeze, air is pulled rapidly in through the nose, producing a noisy inspiratory effort.
What Does a Reverse Sneeze Look Like?
During a reverse sneeze, your dog will make rapid inspirations, standing still with their elbows spread apart, head extended, and eyes bulging. They’ll make a loud snorting sound, which might make you think they have something caught in their throat. The episode may also end with a noise that sounds like a snort or gag, followed by a swallow. These events can be described as paroxysmal, which means a sudden and recurrent attack or spasm. It is very common for some dogs to have repeated episodes throughout their lives.
How Long Do Episodes of Reverse Sneezing Last?
Each reverse sneezing occurrence generally lasts between under a minute and two minutes.
What Does Reverse Dog Sneezing Sound and Look Like?
Below are two videos that give a visual representation of reverse sneezing:
This is the classic posture and noise caused by reverse sneezing, as exhibited by this Greyhound.
This mixed-breed dog suffers from a short episode of reverse sneezing.
What Causes Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
The exact reason for reverse sneezing episodes is unknown, but may be related to allergies, nasal irritants, nasal inflammation, pharyngeal irritation, or sinus drainage. It also occurs in some dogs when they are excited or due to foreign object obstruction in the nasal cavity.
A reverse sneeze may look disturbing – many people fear that their dog is not breathing during these episodes – but it is not a harmful condition and there are no ill effects. Reverse sneezing attacks are generally quite brief and not life-threatening. Between episodes, dogs will behave normally.
In situations where reverse sneezing is frequent, a more serious condition may be the underlying cause. Testing for nasal mites, allergies, or nasal cancer should be completed if cases are recurring. A small fiberoptic scope can be used to examine the nasal cavity and back of the throat.
Which Breeds Are Most Like to Reverse Sneeze?
Any age, breed, or sex of dog can be affected. Reverse sneezing seems to be more common in Beagles, Terriers, and brachycephalic breeds (Bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, and Shih Tzu).
What Is the Treatment for Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
For normal episodes of reverse sneezing, no treatment is needed. If the reverse sneezing is persistent or associated with other signs, your vet may perform diagnostic tests to determine if there is an underlying cause and treat accordingly. For example, if the cause of the excessive symptoms is due to nasal mites, a parasitic treatment medication would be the appropriate form of management.
How to Stop a Reverse Sneezing Episode in Dogs
Nothing works consistently to stop a reverse sneeze. Occasionally, an episode can be stopped if the dog is stimulated to swallow by either massaging the throat or briefly pinching the nasal openings. Sometimes, opening a dog’s mouth and gently pulling on the tongue or giving the dog something to eat and drink can also stop a reverse sneezing episode. Some dogs have reverse sneezing episodes so often that various medications may be needed to reduce their frequency.
What to Watch For
If reverse sneezing occurs frequently (daily or several times a day) and is associated with other clinical signs, then further evaluation should be completed by your veterinarian.
Watch for abnormal signs that may suggest a more serious problem, including nasal discharge, epistaxis (bloody nose), regular sneezing, difficulty breathing, abnormal facial deformity over the nose area, decreased appetite, and/or lethargy.
Prevention of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
In general, it is hard to prevent reverse sneezing in dogs. Some dogs are more inclined to have reverse sneezing than others, just like some people sneeze more often than others.
The best way to try to prevent reverse sneezing is minimize exposure to air irritants and allergens.
Here are some tips:
- Minimize the use of fragranced candles, scented air fresheners, and odor neutralizers
- Eliminate exposure to smoke from tobacco, vaping products, and fireplaces
- Discontinue the use of all aerosols
- Change your furnace filters regularly and consider using HEPA filters
- Use a vaporizer when there is dry air
- Dust and vacuum regularly
- Wash and clean your dog’s bedding on a regular basis
- Use a harness rather than a collar, as reverse sneezing can be associated with a dog pulling on their collar or leash
- Regularly bathe your dog and clean their feet with paw wipes during allergy season
- Monitor pollen counts and minimize your dog’s time outdoors during allergy season
- Do not give your dog any medication without the approval of their veterinarian
FAQs About Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
How do I get my dog to stop reverse sneezing?
You can try the following:
- Don’t panic, as reverse sneezing can be normal and is not life-threatening
- Be patient and give your dog a little time to get over the spasm
- Gently hold your dog’s nostrils closed and rub their throat
- Blow softly in your dog’s face
- Offer a treat or small snack
- Offer fresh water or a frozen ice cube
- Stay calm, pet your dog, speak softly, and reassure them that things are okay
- If the reverse sneezing is occurring indoors, take your dog outside into the fresh air and away from any fragrances
- If the reverse sneezing is occurring outdoors, take your dog indoors and away from outdoor fires and smoke
- Offer a distraction, such as favorite toy
- Take note of anything that may have led to the event, such as smoke, a burning candle, or aerosol products
Can reverse sneezing kill a dog?
The typical reverse sneezing episode is not deadly.
When should I worry about reverse sneezing in dogs?
You should worry about reverse sneezing in your dog if it is very frequent or associated with other signs, such as trouble breathing, coughing, nose bleeds, lethargy, or your dog is not behaving normally between episodes. If there is any concern that your dog is choking, call your vet or closest veterinary emergency clinic immediately.
Because small-breed dogs are more likely to suffer from reverse sneezing, it should not be confused with tracheal collapse, which causes a goose-honk. Learn more about tracheal collapse here.
How should I explain a reverse sneeze to the vet?
If you are concerned your dog is having a reverse sneeze or something else, look at the above videos to see if you think that is what your dog is doing. If you think it is something else, take a video of your dog and call your veterinarian for an appointment. It is common for a dog not to display the symptom while you are in the office, so having the video can help them examine your dog’s behavior.
Why is my dog sneezing and reverse sneezing a lot?
We often don’t know why a dog reverse sneezes, but possible causes include:
- Irritants that can bother the nasal passage, including smoke, dust, aerosol sprays, fragrances, and pollens
- Nasal mites
- Nasal tumors
- Elongated soft palate, as associated with brachycephalic dog breeds
- Sinus drainage
If your dog has continued problems, see your veterinarian.
Why do they call it a reverse sneeze?
Instead of a regular sneeze that results in sneezing out, the reverse dog sneeze occurs during inhalation, which is why they call it a reverse sneeze.
Sometimes my dog inhales sharply through their nose, similar to a sneeze but the opposite. Why?
This sounds like a reverse sneeze.
My dog was at the vet and the paperwork says they had a case of “inspiratory paroxysmal respiration.” What is that?
That is another term for a reverse sneeze.
Is my dog suffering during a reverse sneeze?
Many dog owners think their pet is suffocating during a reverse sneeze episode, but they are not. Many dogs that appear to be upset by it are responding to our response to it.
Why does my dog get a sudden onset of reverse sneezing?
We often don’t know why, but possible causes are listed above.
What should I do if my dog’s reverse sneezing is getting worse?
Take a video of what your dog is doing and make an appointment with your veterinarian for an examination.
I have small dogs and all of them reverse sneeze. Is that normal?
Reverse sneezing can be normal in dogs and is more common in small breeds.
Can smoke cause a reverse sneeze?
Any smoke, such as from a fireplace, cigarette, cigar, pipe, or vaping, can be a nasal irritant and cause a reverse sneeze.
Final Thoughts on Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
We hope this article helps you learn more about reverse sneezing in your dog. As you can see, in most situations a reverse sneeze can be normal, isn’t harmful to dogs, and not a cause for concern. Look for and avoid any triggers that seem to cause a reverse sneeze such as smoke, air fresheners, and candles. If the reverse sneezing occurs frequently (daily or several times a day) and is associated with other clinical signs, then further evaluation should be completed by your veterinarian.