Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: What Is It?
Reverse sneezing (also known as backwards sneezing, inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, mechanosensitive aspiration reflex, or the pharyngeal gag reflex) is something dog owners witness fairly often.
Those of us who are not familiar with the sound of a reverse sneeze may find it to be alarming, and some owners may think that their dog is choking or in some form of respiratory distress. Luckily, most sneezing events are short-lived, and owners learn to accept them as odd and innocuous. You may still be wondering what triggers this form of sneezing in dogs and when it is something to worry about.
What Does a Dog Reverse Sneeze Look and Sound Like?
The noise can be quite strong and startling initially. At the veterinary hospital that I used to work at, we occasionally had worried clients bring their dogs in after witnessing this respiratory event. After some reassurance and owner education, these clients learned to accept the sneezing as benign.
A reverse sneeze consists of loud snorting as the air is forced through the nose. Unlike a normal sneeze where the air is pushed out of the nose, the opposite happens, and the air is pulled in through the nose. The dog's head and neck may be extended as it takes in rapid and long inspirations. Sometimes, dogs will stand still with their elbows tensed and spread apart. When coupled with the appearance of bulging or strained eyes, this characteristic stance may be visually worrisome for dog owners. Several videos are provided to demonstrate this respiratory event which is simply best understood by actually witnessing it.
What Causes Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
While the exact cause of reverse sneezing remains unknown, it's believed to stem from some sort of irritation occurring in the nose, throat, or sinuses—the dog may be trying to clear its airway or remove mucus. When a dog reverse sneezes, a physiological spasm of the throat and soft palate occurs. Episodes may be triggered by excitement, a tight collar, exposure to allergens, and abrupt changes in environmental temperatures in some dogs. Reverse sneezing shouldn't be confused with the coughing seen in dogs with a collapsed trachea, which is considered a high-risk condition.
Reverse sneezing happens more often in small dogs. It's believed that a smaller throat and windpipe may be the predisposing factor, however, medium and large dogs are not immune to this condition. Brachycephalic dog breeds (those with shortened muzzles) are also more likely to reverse sneeze. The brachycephalic breed anatomy causes their elongated soft palates to be sucked into the throat on occasion, thus triggering a respiratory event.
How to Stop Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
Fortunately, episodes are generally short-lived. Most dogs don't appear to be bothered by them and act bright and alert after they subside. Reverse sneezing is merely annoying rather than dangerous, especially if the event happens several times in a row. There are a few methods you can use to try to stop an episode:
- Closing the nostrils and massaging the throat: Dr. Karen Becker suggests briefly closing the dog's nostrils and massaging the throat. This encourages the dog to swallow which will reverse the reverse sneezing chain.
- Blowing into the nose and offering water: Dr. Mark Hiebert alternatively suggests blowing into the dog's nose or offering a drink of water, which also elicits the dog to swallow. This technique requires caution as many dogs dislike it when humans blow air into the face, and some can even defensively bite!
- Leaving the dog alone: Most of the time, it's best to just let the dog be. However, always consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis of your dog's symptoms before "ignoring" a respiratory event.
When to Seek Veterinary Advice for Reverse Sneezing
If the condition suddenly becomes chronic and increases in frequency, it is best to seek the advice of a veterinarian. Reverse sneezing may be triggered by a foreign object stuck in the airway. If you live in an area where foxtails grow, one might be stuck in your dog's respiratory tract. Respiratory events may even be caused by mites or nasal tumors.
It's also important to differentiate reverse sneezing from other conditions such as a collapsed trachea or kennel cough. A recording of your dog's episodes may be of tremendous help for your veterinarian's differential diagnosis.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I had never heard the term "reverse sneezing" in all the years we've had dogs. Is this a fairly new phenomenon? We have a Jack Russell who just started this two days ago. It freaked me out, as we had a Schnauzer who had seizures.
Answer: No, dogs have been reverse sneezing for as long as we can remember. It's surely an adaptive trait to cause these spasms to occur anytime there is an irritation of the soft palate and throat. Clearing that airway from irritation is important, though the term reverse sneeze is new.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Linda Kaduk on April 23, 2020:
My Aussie has been suffering from upper respiratory allergies for several weeks and hydroxyzine has solved the sneezing but his nasal passages are terribly stuffed. He did a bout of reverse sneezing last night which seemed to clear his nasal passages some. What can be done to get him relief? My vet does not want me to use Afrin nasal spray because of possible side effects.
Glory on October 06, 2019:
My Vet recommends putting my dog under anesthesia and putting a scope up her nose to see if anything is stuck in her nose. Is this safe or painful for my dog. She has been dealing with severe reverse sneezing very severely for nine days now and her allergy medicine is not helping. If any one has dealt with this problem please respond. Thanks
Rolf Seringhaus on September 14, 2018:
I have read all the Vet explanations. The theory of ‘expelling’ some irritant is illogical since the episodes are a struggling INHALING of air, not exhaling, as in trying to expell. I think vets have not researched this and perpetuate the ‘expelling’ myth. Dogs have a rather severe struggle to inhale, this in itself is NOT trivial and deserves research and commitment to explain what really is happening. So, vet researchers, get to work!
Judy Dotson on March 12, 2018:
Thanks for this video. I appreciate it so very much.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 25, 2013:
My female dog does this too occasionally, never heard my male do it though, which makes me wonder why some dogs are more prone to it.
Dr Penny Pincher from Iowa, USA on November 24, 2013:
My terrier mix does this perhaps a couple times per month. It is concerning to watch, but my vet said that it is not dangerous. Thanks for the info!
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 21, 2013:
Interesting phenomenon. Thanks for providing such an informative hub. I had never even heard of this. Voted up ++.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on November 20, 2013:
I think my dogs that I had while growing up used to do this every now and again. Thanks for clarifying what this is!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 19, 2013:
My girl reverse sneezes every now and then, oddly I have never seen my male reverse sneeze, I wonder if it's something that has to do with anatomy or being more sensitive to environmental triggers.
GiblinGirl from New Jersey on November 19, 2013:
My dog does this on occasion and I wondered what was going on - good to know it's no cause for concern.