First of all, reverse sneezing in dogs isn’t really sneezing. If you’ve ever seen your dog honk, snort or gasp for breath, you’ve witnessed reverse sneezing in dogs.
Reverse sneezing in dogs is not in itself something to be concerned about, although it can be alarming to witness if you’re not sure what’s going on. However, reverse sneezing in dogs can be a symptom of other conditions that require veterinary attention.
Officially termed pharyngeal gag reflex or paroxysmal respiration, reverse sneezing in dogs is a condition where a dog will extend his neck and begin making gasping sounds as though she can’t catch her breath.
Some episodes of reverse sneezing in dogs are caused by leash pulling, overexcitement, or eating or drinking too fast. Other causes of reverse sneezing in dogs include allergies, an unfit dog suddenly getting too much exercise, household cleaners, viruses, cancer, nasal mites or something caught in their throats.
The most common cause of reverse sneezing in dogs is that something irritated the dog’s soft palate and throat, which then causes a spasm. This irritation affects the trachea, which narrows and makes it harder for the dog to get air.
Pay attention to what’s going on when your dog begins reverse sneezing. If the behavior occurs after you clean, it may be a reaction to residual chemicals in the air. Cigarettes and marijuana are also irritants and cancer-causing carcinogens to pets, and some dogs are extra-sensitive to candles and incense. Use all-natural, pet-friendly cleaners, and do your cleaning when your dog is in another room.
“Reverse sneezing in dogs can cause some anxiety for pet parents, who may mistake it for coughing. The two behaviors sound similar to an untrained, unfamiliar ear, but actually have many differences,” according to Michael S. Stone, DVM, DACVIM, a small animal specialist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “A dog coughing will expel air out of the mouth, resulting in a dry, hacking noise. Reverse sneezing involves rapid inhalations through the nose, indicated by the pig-like snorting.”
Massaging the dog’s throat, or covering her nose to make her swallow, can help clear out whatever is irritating the throat. If this doesn’t help, try offering food and water, or taking your dog outside.
Most dogs will recover just fine on their own. However, if the reverse sneezing continues, get a veterinary consultation.
Signs that reverse sneezing needs vet attention include blood or discharge from the nose, any kind of deformity around the nose, a lack of energy or appetite, or any breathing problems.
Brachycephalic breeds with flat faces — like Boxers, Pugs and Shih Tzus, for instance — have soft palates that are stretched. These dogs may experience bouts of reverse sneezing more frequently than other breeds because they can actually suck the palate into their throat when they inhale. Smaller breeds are also more apt to be affected by reverse sneezing because they have a smaller throat.
Also, if you have a cat and she’s experiencing this condition, make a veterinary appointment ASAP. This is a sign of feline asthma, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Thumbnail: Photography by sebliminal/Thinkstock.
Writer Elizabeth Vecsi lives in the Hudson Valley with her five cats. Over the past two decades, she has been an editor and writer for various pet publications, including Cornell’s Dogwatch.