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Dog Reverse Sneeze Causes and Treatment

Updated on November 18, 2013
Reverse sneezing in dogs
Reverse sneezing in dogs | Source

Understanding Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Also known as backwards sneezing, or more technically, paroxysmal respiration, mechanosensitive aspiration reflex or pharyngeal gag reflex, reverse sneeze in dogs is something dog owners witness fairly often. For those not familiar with this sound, the noise may at first appear as alarming. Some owners may think their dog is choking or in some form of respiratory distress. Luckily, most events are short-lived and owners soon start accepting them as odd, nut innocuous events. But what are really reverse sneezes in dogs, and most of all, are they something to worry about?

Dog Reverse Sneezing Causes

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 sinus area. The dog may be trying to clear the airway or remove mucus. An insider look reveals that when the dog reverse sneezes there is a spasm of the throat and soft palate. At times, reveres sneezing may be triggered by excitement, a tight collar or exposure to some type of allergen. In some dogs, reverse sneezing occurs when there are abrupt changes in temperature. Reverse sneezing shouldn't be confused with the coughing seen in dogs with a collapsed trachea.

Because reverse sneezing happens more often to small dogs, it's believed that a smaller throat and windpipe may be a predisposing factor. However, medium to large dogs are not immune from this form of sneezing. Brachycephalic dog breeds (those with smashed-in faces) are also more likely to reverse sneeze perhaps because their anatomy causes their elongated soft palates to occasionally be sucked in the throat.

What Does a Dog Reverse Sneeze Look Like?

The noise can be quite strong and startling for those not used to it. At the veterinary hospital I used to work for, we occasionally had worried clients bring in their dogs after witnessing a bout of reverse sneezing. They were then reassured and learned to accept it as a normal, odd event of their dogs' lives.

Typically, a reverse sneeze consists of a loud snorting sound which is made as air is forced through the nose. Unlike a normal sneeze, where air is pushed out the nose, in a reverse sneeze the opposite happens, the air is pulled in through the nose. This is how the sneeze got its name. The dog's head and neck may be extended as the dog makes rapid and long inspirations. The dog may be standing still with his tense elbows spread apart. This tense stance along with the dog's bulging eyes is what often causes dog owners to worry. The best way to ultimately describe a reverse sneeze is to provide a video of a dog reverse sneezing. Several videos are provided with this article. It's simply one of those things that are best understood by actually witnessing them.

Greyhound reverse sneezing

Stopping a beagle from reverse sneezing

What to do About Dog Reverse Sneezing

Fortunately, reverse sneezes are for the most part short-lived. The dog doesn't appear to be bothered by them, and acts bright and alert after the episode subsides. Often this causes dog owners to learn to live with them without over-worrying. Those who are alarmed and rush their dog to the vet, often report that on their way the dog suddenly stopped "coughing" in the car and went back to acting normally.

More than being dangerous, reverse sneezing is annoying, especially when the dog reverse sneezes several times in a row. There are a few secrets of the trade though to stop them, just like there are ways to stop human hiccups. One method suggested by veterinarian Karen Becker consists of briefly closing the dog's nostrils and massaging the throat. This encourages the dog to swallow which will reverse (pun intended~!) the reverse sneezing chain. An alternative is suggested by veterinarian Dr. Hiebert who suggests blowing into the dog's nose or offering him to drink water, which also elicits the dog to swallow. However, this requires caution as many dogs dislike being blown in the face-- and some can even defensively bite!

Most times, it's best to just let the dog be. However, at times, it's best to consult with the vet to make sure everything is in check. For instance, if reverse sneezing suddenly becomes chronic and too frequent, it best to seek the advice of a vet. For instance, reverse sneezing may be triggered by a foreign object stuck in the airway, (if you live in an area, where foxtail grow, suspect one stuck in the dog's respiratory tract) mites in the nose or even nasal tumors. It's also important to differentiate reverse sneezing with other less innocuous respiratory conditions such as a collapsed trachea or kennel cough. A recording of your dog's reverse sneezing episode may be of tremendous help for your vet's differential diagnosis.


Dr Karen Becker's video below.

Veterinary Partner, Reverse Sneezing

Disclaimer: if your dog is repeatedly reverse sneezing, see your vet. This article is not a substitute for veterinary advice.

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Veterinarian Karen Becker Discusses Reversed Sneezing

Have you ever heard your dog reverse sneeze?

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    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      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.

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 3 years ago from Iowa, USA

      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 profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Interesting phenomenon. Thanks for providing such an informative hub. I had never even heard of this. Voted up ++.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I think my dogs that I had while growing up used to do this every now and again. Thanks for clarifying what this is!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      GiblinGirl 3 years ago from New Jersey

      My dog does this on occasion and I wondered what was going on - good to know it's no cause for concern.