Seeing your dog snort or gag while breathing rapidly can be a scary experience. When this happens, there’s a good chance your pup has gone through a bout of reverse sneezing. This is a relatively common event for dogs, and it can have several different causes. Thankfully, it’s usually not serious.

Here’s some information on what reverse sneezing is, and things you can do to help reduce the chances that you – and your dog – will ever have to go through this kind of situation again.

What is Reverse Sneezing?

Reverse sneezing, also known as paroxysmal respiration, can affect any dog, regardless of size. However, it usually occurs among smaller breeds, particularly a short-headed or brachycephalic breed, such as a Bulldog, Boston Terrier, or a Boxer.1

Again, while reverse sneezing can obviously be alarming if you’re a dog owner, it’s harmless in the vast majority of instances.2 As long as your dog doesn’t have a severe underlying condition, such as a heart problem, they should be fine. Dogs typically return to normal immediately after a reverse sneezing attack.

You’ll probably have a bit of advance warning that a reverse sneezing attack is about to happen. Your dog may suddenly stand very still, stretch out his or her neck and head, and then snort loudly. The reason it’s known as a reverse sneeze is that your dog usually keeps their mouth closed. The noise you hear is coming from your dog’s nose.3

What Causes Reverse Sneezing?

Reverse Sneezing | Dr MartyAn attack of reverse sneezing is usually a reaction to some sort of inflammation of your pup’s sinus or nasal passages. It could be your dog’s way of trying to expel some sort of irritant, such as powder, dust, or some other allergen.

In some instances, it happens when a dog gets a little too excited. Indoor irritants, such as perfume or cigarette smoke, could worsen the issue.4

Just like you sneeze or cough to expel an irritant, a dog’s reverse sneezing is meant to do the same thing.

It could be due to something as simple as a blade of grass stuck to the back of your dog’s nasal passage. Other common causes include drinking or eating too quickly, excess pressure on the throat (due to pulling on a leash with too much force), or allergies.5

Episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds up to a minute or more, and could be accompanied by physical alarms such as trouble breathing or bulging eyes. Your dog may seem to be choking on an object.6

While occasional reverse sneezing is normal, there are some instances where it could be a sign of a problem. If, for example, your dog doesn’t start until he’s older, does it frequently, or attacks start becoming more severe, take your dog to your vet. You should also have your pet checked out if they’re exhibiting post-nasal drip, or any kind of unusual nasal discharge.

Is it Reverse Sneezing, or Something Else?

Reverse Sneezing | Dr MartyIt’s important, however, that you are able to discern between reverse sneezing and a condition known as tracheal collapse. While reverse sneezing is usually characterized by a “snorting” sound, tracheal collapse is accompanied by more of a “honking” sound.

If you ever notice your dog emitting that sound, you’ll need to get them to the vet as soon as possible. Tracheal collapse is more common in Yorkshire terriers than other breeds and usually happens when a dog is about six or seven years old. A dog with tracheal collapse will usually have trouble breathing and may also go through fainting spells.7

What Can You Do About Reverse Sneezing?

If your dog is experiencing a reverse sneezing attack, you can try to gently massage your pup’s throat, or pinch off the openings to her nostrils. This will help to stimulate a swallowing motion that could stop the episode.8 Giving your dog something to eat or drink could also work.

There are a few other things you can try to reduce the frequency of attacks. For example, use a halter or harness when taking your dog for a walk, instead of a collar. Buy a “slow bowl,” which will make it harder for your pooch to eat too quickly. You should also do what you can to reduce potential irritants in your home, such as dander and dust. If your dog’s environment is typically chaotic, do what you can to calm things down.

Reverse Sneezing | Dr MartyWhen to See a Vet

If your dog’s reverse sneezing is accompanied by a bloody nose, lethargy, or a decrease in appetite, you should take them to the vet. You should also get your dog checked out if these events begin to increase in regularity.

Your vet will probably run different tests to rule out a potentially serious underlying condition. They’ll also thoroughly check your pup’s throat, mouth, and nasal passages. A tissue sample may also be needed in order to rule out serious conditions.9

If the reverse sneezing is due to mites or an allergy, your vet may recommend addressing the problem in order to reduce the intensity and frequency of attacks. If an allergy is the cause, your dog may need antihistamines. In the case of polyps or other growths, they may need to be removed, so your dog can breathe more easily. Frequent reverse sneezing episodes usually require some sort of medication to bring your dog relief.

Wrapping it Up

As alarming as a reverse sneezing attack may be, don’t panic – remember, it will very likely be harmless. But if it starts happening with regularity, then stay on the safe side and take your dog to the vet to make sure nothing more serious is going on.

For more pet health tips, keep reading here:
How To Care For Your Senior Dog
Do Dogs Really Need Beds? (surprising benefits of dog beds)
How To Relieve Separation Anxiety In Your Dog

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