Reverse sneezing in dogs is a disconcerting event in which a dog makes an alarming respiratory sound, similar to a honking noise. This weird noise understandably leads pet owners to think that their dog is having trouble breathing or is choking 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!”
Watch the video below to see a typical reverse sneezing episode.
What is Reverse Sneezing?
Also known as inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, reverse sneezing in dogs is caused by a muscle spasm at the back of a dog’s mouth where it meets the throat. This spasm, which lasts around 30 seconds, causes a temporary narrowing of the opening of the trachea, making it difficult for the dog to inhale.
Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) says, “The dog may stand very still with their front legs and neck extended. The owner will notice their pet’s chest and abdomen rapidly moving in and out.”
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Reverse sneezing in dogs 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,” “snorting backwards,” "huffing cough," or "honking cough." These backward sneezing episodes are short-lived and usually resolved by the time you get into the veterinarian office, leaving us veterinarians to (embarrassingly) try to mimic the noise in the exam room. The video below shows a typical reverse sneezing episode.
Causes of Reverse Sneezing
What is the cause of reverse sneezing and why is my dog 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 of a reverse sneeze.
What are some other causes of a reverse sneeze in dogs? Anything that irritates the throat can cause this spasm, and subsequent reverse sneezing, including:
- eating or drinking
- exercise intolerance
- pulling on a leash
- foreign bodies caught in the throat
- perfumes and environmental irritants such as household chemicals
- pollen, allergies and post-nasal drip
Further evaluation by a veterinarian 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.
How to Treat Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
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.”
“During an episode, an owner can try speaking in a soothing voice while gently massaging the dog’s throat,” Teller said. “The owner can also gently blow in the dog face to make him swallow or gently open the dog’s mouth and press down on the tongue to alleviate the spasm.”
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.
Dog Breeds Prone to Reverse Sneezing
Some dogs more prone to reverse sneezing. Brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced dog breeds such as Pugs, Boxers and Shih Tzus) by nature have elongated soft palates and as such more commonly experience reverse sneezing in dogs. These dog 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 this honking cough, possibly because they have smaller throats.
Cats are very rarely prone to reverse sneezing, and if these signs are noted, veterinary attention is needed.