Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
What Is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
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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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
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.
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Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
Reverse sneezing or also known as Pharyngeal Gag Reflex or Paroxysmal Respiration is a strange noise that sounds a bit like an angry goose that makes your dog, it may seem to you like they’re having a respiratory issue that needs immediate veterinary attention. Reverse sneezing doesn’t require any medical treatment but it can be indicative of a more serious health problem.
What Is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
The Reverse sneezing also known as backward sneezing or Pharyngeal Gag Reflex or Paroxysmal Respiration is a common respiratory event in dogs especially in small breed, its exact cause is still unknown but might be due to allergy, dog’s attempt to remove mucus, or from overexcitement. Reverse Sneezing is a rapid and repeated forced inhalation through the nose, accompanied by snorting or gagging sounds, although it may be distressing to the dog it is not harmful to them. Most dogs are completely normal before and after episodes, and most will have repeat episodes of reverse sneezing throughout their lives.
Causes Of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
- Getting overly excited
- Post-nasal drip or nasal inflammation
- Household cleaners or chemicals
- Viruses or mites
- Foreign substances in the throat
- Pulling on a leash
Reverse Sneezing Treatment
Reverse Sneezing in Dogs is usually normal and doesn’t require any form of treatment, it will end on its own after a few seconds or minutes at the most. It’s rarely a cause for alarm, but as a fur parent, we want to help shorten our furbaby’s episode.
This may bring the Reverse Sneezing to a quicker end.
- Softly blow in your dog’s face, and massage his throat.
- Hold his nostrils closed for a few seconds.
Most fur parents want to note the cause of the irritation because if we can identify it we can steer clear of it in the future, and some wanted to consult the vet to identify the suspect of allergies or a viral infection. Your vet will be able to rule out these causes and give you further advice on how to avoid potential irritants. We have to remember appropriate treatment for excessive reverse sneezing depends on the underlying cause.
There is a medical condition in dogs that is known as paroxysmal respiration or commonly known as reverse sneezing. It is caused due to inflammation of the pharyngeal, nasal or sinus passages. It is a condition in which the dog pulls air in his nose but the air is rapidly pushed out through the nose with sneezing. During sneezing the dog tries to inhale producing a snorting sound. People might think that their dog is suffocating or having breathing problems. However, it is not a very harmful condition and gets over in a short time span.
What is Reverse Sneezing?
Pharyngeal gag reflex, also known as reverse sneezing, is common in dogs, particularly smaller and short nosed dogs. Although this condition can seem very distressing when it is occurring , it is generally harmless and passes within just a minute or two. A veterinarian should be consulted however, if the condition starts occurring regularly in an older dog, begins to happen more intensely and frequently, or is joined by additional symptoms such as nasal discharge or additional coughing. This can help rule out other disorders which may not be as harmless.
Pharyngeal gag reflex, also known as reverse sneezing, is a spasming disorder that sounds alarming when it is occurring to your pet, but is usually harmless.
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What is reverse sneezing in dogs?
It’s important to note that sneezing in dogs is different to reverse sneezing in dogs. Inverse or inverted sneezing (inspiratory paroxysmal respiration) consists of a muscle spasm caused by a palatal or tracheal irritation which results in violent air aspirations. Reverse sneezing in dogs can be incredibly worrisome to owners, as it manifests itself physically, and it may seem like a dog is drowning or choking.
Is reverse sneezing in dogs dangerous? No, in general, however, it is not a serious and/or dangerous condition.
Reverse sneezing usually appears in breeds prone to respiratory conditions such as pugs or bulldogs, with a higher incidence in brachycephalic or flat-nosed dog breeds.
For more about these dog breeds, we suggest taking a look at our article where we list a brachycephalic dog breeds list.