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Why Is My Dog Honking?
The strange but usually benign case of reverse sneezing

Reverse sneezing is a disconcerting event in which a dog makes an alarming respiratory sound, similar to a honking noise. This understandably leads pet owners to think that their dog is having trouble breathing and in grave danger. These episodes are followed by a warp-speed drive to the ER where we generally assess a happy dog wagging his or her tail and giving us the look of, “Not sure what all the fuss is about, but boy, that sure was a fun car ride!”

Reverse sneezing is a condition that usually does not need any treatment. It is called reverse sneezing because it sounds a bit like a dog “inhaling sneezes” or “snorting backwards.” These episodes are short-lived and usually resolved by the time of presentation, leaving us veterinarians to (embarrassingly) try to mimic the noise in the exam room. This video shows a typical reverse sneezing episode

What is the cause and what is my pet experiencing when this happens?

The most common cause of reverse sneezing is an irritation of the soft palate and throat that results in a spasm. The dog’s neck will stretch outward and the chest will expand during the spasm as it tries harder to inhale. The trachea narrows during this time, and it’s hard to get the normal amount of air into the lungs. All of these actions together result in the disturbing display.

What are some other causes?

Anything that irritates the throat can cause this spasm, and subsequent reverse sneezing, including:

  • excitement
  • eating or drinking
  • exercise intolerance
  • pulling on a leash
  • mites
  • foreign bodies caught in the throat
  • perfumes and environmental irritants such as household chemicals
  • viruses
  • pollen, allergies and post-nasal drip

Further evaluation should be pursued if reverse sneezing becomes a frequent occurrence, as there may be a treatable underlying cause of the episodes, such as mites or allergies. In many cases, however, the cause cannot be identified.

What can I do?

Reverse sneezing itself rarely requires treatment. When the sneezing stops, the spasm is over. If the episode continues beyond a few seconds, sometimes massaging your dog’s throat can help stop the spasm. Also, it is sometimes effective to cover the nostrils for quick moment, which makes the dog swallow and helps to “clear out the irritation.”

Some dogs have these episodes their entire lives; while others develop the condition only as they age. In most dogs, however, the spasm is an occasional and temporary problem that goes away on its own, needing no treatment and leaving the dog with no aftereffects.

Are some dogs more prone to reverse sneezing?

This commonly happens to brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced babies such as Pugs or Boxers) that by nature have elongated soft palates. These breeds will occasionally suck the elongated palate into the throat while inhaling, causing reverse sneezing. Beagles, Yorkies and other small dogs are also particularly prone to it, possibly because they have smaller throats. Cats are very rarely prone to reverse sneezing, and if these signs are noted, veterinary attention is needed.

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Veterinarian Shea Cox has enjoyed an indirect path through her professional life, initially obtaining degrees in fine arts and nursing. She later obtained her veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine solely since that time. In 2006, she joined the ER staff at PETS Referral Center in Berkeley and cannot imagine a more rewarding and fulfilling place to spend her working hours. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb, cook up a storm and sail. Her days are shared with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman children that curiously occupy opposite ends of the personality spectrum.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | September 28 2011 |

My gordon setter had this seemingly harmless honking for months.It wasn`t until her cheek bulged out that we found out she had a tumor in her sinus that broke through the bone.She had to be put to sleep.

Submitted by Shea Cox | September 29 2011 |

I am so sorry to hear of your loss and your situation emphasizes the point that further evaluation should be pursued if reverse sneezing becomes a frequent occurrence, or if it seems out of breed character. Thank you for sharing your difficult experience and memory with us.

Submitted by Cindi's Mom | September 28 2011 |

My Cindi has been doing this more often as she ages (she's now over 12.5). At first I thought she was going to throw up (she did once or twice). I've massaged her throat when I can get to her in time and it seems to help. It's definitely a post-eating thing; if she's really horked down her dinner it seems almost like acid reflux in humans-- the tripped-up esophogus getting in the way of inhalation. Glad to hear there's nothing to worry about. Thanks for an informing article.

Submitted by Shea Cox | October 6 2011 |

Hi Cindy's Mom! (cute name!!) I just noticed this comment and wanted to add that it would be a good idea to have her checked out initially by your veterinarian. Or, record an episode and have your veterinarian evaluate how it appears. This topic isn't meant to diagnosis, more just make people aware, and I would hate for something more (potentially) serious be left unevaluated. There are many other things that cause those symptoms, one of which is mega esophagus, which can occur in older dogs and symptoms can be noted after eating. I don't want to alarm you, and it is unlikely that, but if the signs continue or progress, you should have little Cindy evaluated. Thank you for your comment :) Shea

Submitted by lisa stevens | September 29 2011 |

I really appreciate the information, as I have had a couple of mixed- breed larger dogs who honked. It wasn't frequent, but it did scare the begeezus out of me at first. And I appreciate the comment regarding the very sad situation that turned out to be a tumor. Now I feel better prepared to observe and make a more educated decision when my pups honk in the future.

Submitted by Shea Cox | September 30 2011 |

Thank you, Lisa! I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment!

One of the difficulties with anything medicine related, is that one thing (in this case, reverse sneezing) can look similar to other problems (collapsing trachea, nasal tumors, nasal foreign bodies, etc), and it is always best to err on the side of being more pro-active and having it checked out initially. Peace of mind is priceless, even if we later feel we have "over-reacted" :).

One additional tip I can add is to video the next incidence with a camera phone or the like... you'd be amazed at how much this can help us narrow things down (because you know our babies always seem to return to normal the second they walk into the veterinary hospital :).

Thanks again! Shea

Submitted by pseedie | September 30 2011 |

does reverse sneezing ever have anything to do with a collapsed trachea? My dog reverse sneezes fairly often and when i rescued him he was 3 years old , i was his 3rd owner and due to his "behavior issues" had a collapsed trachea. He's 16 now, so we've obviously survived the behavior issues and the backward sneezes, but you've made me curious... [=

Submitted by Shea Cox | September 30 2011 |

Hi pseedie! Thanks for your question... I like curiosity! :)

Reverse sneezing and collapsing trachea are 2 different problems, in two different areas of the body, but can look very similar.

Reverse sneezing is a problem in the soft palate area (back of the mouth), while tracheal collapse is due to a weakening of the cartilage rings in the trachea (down further). This weakening causes the tracheal membrane to get "loose and floppy." A tickling sensation is then caused by this membrane touching the tracheal lining and generates coughing; if there is severe weakness in the cartilage, there can be an obstruction of the airway that interrupts breathing.

With that being said, dogs that are prone to collapsing trachea (small and/or bunched-up-face breeds) are also prone to reverse sneezing, so it is possible that they could experience both. Maybe collapsing trachea would be a good topic in the future? :)

I hope this helps and I am happy to hear your boy is 16- that's awesome! :). Shea

Submitted by Jennifer B | October 1 2011 |

Finally! An answer! I always thought that there was something terribly wrong with Toby, my beagle. When I started watching the video I was amazed! Thank you so much for posting this!

Submitted by Anonymous | October 4 2011 |

HAVING THIS KNODLEDGE IS VERY HELPFUL SINCE I HAD NEVER HEARD OF IT
IT WILL KEEP ME FROM RPNNING TO THE VET EVERY TIME MY DOG SNEEZES. THANK YOU FOR SHARING.

Submitted by Shea Cox | October 6 2011 |

:) Thanks for the comment!

Submitted by Shea Cox | October 6 2011 |

You are welcome! Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)

Submitted by julia | October 4 2011 |

Reverse sneezing is also a common vaccinosis symptom. Consult a good homeopath. My dog reverse sneezed until homeopathic treatment completely relieved this symptom.

Submitted by Shea Cox | October 6 2011 |

Hi Julia! It makes me happy to hear of doggy success! Out of personal curiosity and my own medical growth, how was your baby treated for this?

Submitted by Marisa Mello | October 6 2011 |

I have a 12 year old Rotti who began reverse sneezing 3 days ago. It only happens when he lays down. I've had other dogs who reverse sneeze often (boxers) and my Shep with a tumor in her throat. I'm questioning why it is happening only when laying down. Any thoughts?
Thank you, Marisa Mello Peoria Az

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | October 11 2011 |

Hi Marisa~ thanks for your question. This would be a situation where I would urge obtaining video of the episode and having an exam done by your veterinarian to determine what diagnostics should be performed (X-rays, blood work, rhinoscopy).

Rotti's are not your typical "reverse sneezers" and I'd be concerned with his presentation of a sudden onset as well as his age. I'd be concerned with the possibility of something more serious going on, such as a nasal tumor, as he is a breed that can be prone to such things.

The sneezing may be occurring following laying down due to drainage that collects while in this "dependent" position, triggering the episode.

Feel free to keep me posted or if you have any further questions~ Shea

Submitted by Kurt H | August 28 2012 |

We have Morkies, a cross between Yorkshire terriers and Maltese, and they are adorable, but both can do this. Applying Bernoulli's Law (and believing that it was tracheal collapse all along) I reasoned that air moving faster exerts less side pressure, this leading to the collapse of soft tracheas. So on my own I began to occlude one nostril when this starts. Voila! At least most of the time! Reassuring talking and calm stroking at the same time help, but alone are far less effective for us than this technique. Surprisingly, lowering the dog to the floor gently and encouraging running has relieved it also, so apparently the elongated palate (soft palate of course) is more the issue, since if they open their mouths to pant it goes away. So much for my theories!

Submitted by Minno | September 9 2012 |

Clara is a female Bichon-Poodle, 8 years old. Her face and neck are definitely Poodle and the rest of her is Bichon (she looks like a triangle ;o]). She has had very short episodes in the past but in the middle of last night, she had a horrendous chain of episodes! Her neck has never been as tight as it was this time. I rubbed her throat for a bit and it stopped. However, a few seconds later she had another one. In total she had four episodes, with each one progressively longer than the last. I did not know about covering her nose. Because we had recently lost our labradoodle to cancer, I was totally freaked out and crying. Thankfully the episodes did stop!

I am wondering, however, what are the differences in symptoms between reverse sneezing and a collapsed trachea? When we go for walks, she is constantly pulling at the leash which makes her cough. We DID NOT go for a walk yesterday and shamefully, I'll admit we haven't been for a walk in five days. So, I am thinking Clara has reverse sneezing and not a collapsed trachea. I WILL record her if it happens again, but I was wondering what your thoughts are in the meantime, that is, the difference in symptoms.

Thank you so very, very much!

Submitted by Anonymous | September 28 2012 |

Please get your doggie a harness that does not put pressure on her trachea. Our miniature poodle has a weak trachea and I let every groomer know so that they keep clear of that area with collars and leashes. That will help alot to protect and preserve the trachea function. I use the Easy Walk harness, which has a lead from the front so she cannot successfully tug on the leash. Good luck!

Submitted by Sandra | March 26 2013 |

Hello, my dog charlie is 14, he has been making this coughing/honking sound for several years now. there are spells when it gets really bad, and he will do it all day and all night. It seems to be aggravated by drinking and if you touch his throat area(even really gently. But can start randomly as well. We have taken him to the vets and spent a nice £450 for a diagnosis, but unfortunately after blood tests and x-rays there was nothing abnormal with him so we left with the prblem still unsolved. It seems like it is almost a voluntary urge like something is stuck in his throat, because when distracted or let out in the garden it will stop! sometimes if he is doing it for a long spell he will occasionally bring up some white foam from the urges, after the honking sound. It is very stressful for me because nothing i do can seem to help him. Here is a video of him when he is doing it if it helps. any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU6GO-vcTb0

Submitted by anthony | July 22 2013 |

My dog sounds funny when she honks

Submitted by Alan Werda | November 26 2013 |

Our Yorkie-Poo exhibited honking noises early on. We took her to our vet for this (twice - even with an audio recording), and two different Vet's there said it was due to her face/nasal passage configuration and was common to dogs like ours. On the morning of August 28, 2013, she sounded like she was choking on something so we rushed her to our vet. She was gasping for air and was turning blue. They put an oxygen mask on her and did a radiograph which showed that 3/4 of her trachea had collapsed and that death was near and nothing could be done. Katie was sedated and we held her to say our goodbyes - and then she was put to sleep at the young age of 5 1/2 years. My wife and I are still grieving and will continue to for a very very long time. (I'm crying as I type this). We blame the vet(s) for not properly diagnosing her years earlier as having a collapsing trachea - which could have been treated - and Katie would still be alive and giving us joy, love and affection for many more years.

Submitted by sharon | July 19 2014 |

I have two three quarter sharpei quarter staff and they have been making these honking sounds which haveworried me sick and i was about to take them to the vets! But after reading this article i feel relieved that its only sneezing. Its a very scary thing to hear. But thankfully what was explained here is exactly what happens with my two dogs. So panic over and thanku for the information.

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