Reverse sneezing is a common occurrence in dogs that is sometimes misunderstood. Your dog makes a strange breathing sound along with a type of spasm to the head, neck, and chest. It may seem like your dog is struggling to breathe or having some kind of convulsion. Fortunately, there is no need to panic when reverse sneezing occurs.
What Is a Reverse Sneeze?
Reverse sneezing is a brief respiratory event that causes a dog to snort, honk, or huff with a stretched neck, puffed-up chest, and bobbing head. In medical terms, it is sometimes called inspiratory paroxysmal respiration or pharyngeal gag reflex.
This involuntary movement of air resembles a backward sneeze because the dog forcefully inhales rather than exhales like a normal sneeze. At first, it may seem like your dog is experiencing respiratory distress. Reverse sneezing often happens several times in a row before the breathing goes back to normal. Reverse sneezing episodes usually last for a few seconds but may continue for a minute or two. Unless episodes are prolonged or the dog is experiencing other symptoms, reverse sneezing is no more serious than regular sneezing.
Causes of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
Reverse sneezing occurs as a response to a narrowed or irritated airway around the pharynx and soft palate of a dog's throat. An involuntary spasm causes extension of the neck and expansion of the chest which narrows the trachea. For a moment, the dog is unable to take in air. Once the spasms end, the dog resumes normal breathing.
There are several potential causes of reverse sneezing in dogs.
- Environmental inhalants like pollen, fragrances, chemicals, and smoke often cause airway irritation.
- Leash-pulling may irritate the throat and trachea.
- Eating and drinking may cause reverse sneezing, especially if the dog eats or drinks too quickly.
- Upper respiratory infections or post-nasal drip may cause irritation to the soft palate.
- Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome usually have elongated soft palates that cause reverse sneezing. This condition commonly affects short-nosed dog breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs.
- Small dogs may be more likely to experience reverse sneezing because their airways are often narrow.
- Trauma to the neck and airway may cause reverse sneezing. This may occur after a dogfight.
- Dental problems may lead to inflammation of the airway or a discharge that irritates the throat.
- Tumors in or near the airway may cause reverse sneezing.
- Nasal mites cause airway irritation. This condition is more common in stray dogs and wild canines than in pet dogs.
- Inhalation of grass awns may inflammation of the airway.
What to Do if Your Dog Is Reverse Sneezing
There is no need to panic if your dog has occasional episodes of reverse sneezing. In most cases, reverse sneezing is harmless and only happens once in a while. There are a few steps you can take to minimize reverse sneezing.
- If you suspect the reverse sneezing was caused by an inhaled irritant in your home, bring your dog outside and air out your home.
- Avoid spending too much time outdoors during high-pollen seasons if your dog seems sensitive to the air at these times.
- Use a harness rather than a neck collar if your dog often pulls on the leash and experiences reverse sneezing.
- Switch to slow-feeding dog bowls if your dog reverse sneezes after meals. Keep water bowls shallow if your dog drinks too fast, but make sure to fill them frequently so they don't become dehydrated.
Reverse sneezing is usually self-limiting and requires no interaction from you. You may be able to stop or slow down your dog's reverse sneezing if the episode continues for more than a few seconds. Gently hold your hand over your dog's nostrils while lightly massaging the neck near the throat for a few seconds. This may cause your dog to swallow, which can help relax the muscles. Do not continue if your dog resists the handling or seems to have trouble breathing.
Contact your veterinarian if your dog's reverse sneezing is frequent, prolonged, or accompanied by other signs of illness such as nasal discharge or bleeding, coughing, sneezing, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Your veterinarian will examine your dog and possibly recommend additional testing to determine the source of the reverse sneezing.
- Blood Tests: Complete blood count, blood chemistry, or other blood tests can help the vet assess your dog's organ function, blood cells, electrolyte levels, and overall health.
- Upper Airway Exam: The vet examines the airway while the dog is under sedation. The vet may use a tool with a light called a laryngoscope.
- Rhinoscopy and/or Tracheoscopy: While the dog is under anesthesia, the vet places a mechanical tube with a tiny camera through the airway to visualize the area. The vet may collect biopsy samples at this time.
- Diagnostic Imaging: Radiographs (X-rays), CT scans, or MRIs may be necessary to assess the structure of the dog's airway. Radiographs may be performed while to dog is awake or under anesthesia depending on the dog's comfort level and temperament. CT scans and MRIs must be done while the dog is under anesthesia.
Treatment of Airway Problems
Your vet will recommend the next step for your dog based on the diagnostic results. Treatments vary depending on the underlying cause of the reverse sneezing and accompanying signs.
Oral medications are often needed to treat infections or irritation. These may include antihistamines, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Surgery may be needed if there is a tumor or structural abnormality found in or near the airway.
Fortunately, reverse sneezing is usually nothing to worry about. Stay calm and keep an eye on your dog. When in doubt, call your veterinarian with questions or concerns.