Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

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Ever seen a dog take rapid, long inhalations, stand still, and extend her head and neck, making a loud snorting, gagging or honking sound? Then you’ve seen a reverse sneeze. Also called a backward sneeze or inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, it’s a common respiratory event in dogs.

What is reverse sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is so named because it sounds a bit like a dog inhaling sneezes, and it occurs when a dog rapidly pulls air into the nose, as opposed to a regular sneeze where the dog pushes air out through the nose.

During a reverse sneeze episode, the dog may sound like she’s choking, having an asthma attack or otherwise struggling to breathe, but this is not the case.

If your dog is standing still and making the characteristic extension of her head and neck, she is most likely reverse sneezing. It may calm your nerves to watch a video of a reverse sneeze. Does your dog look and sound similar to this one?

Smaller dogs are slightly more susceptible to reverse sneezing, as are short-snouted dogs with brachycephalic—which means broad and short—skulls. But be aware that any breed of dog can reverse sneeze!

Are reverse sneezes dangerous for dogs?

Reverse sneezing is not dangerous for dogs, though it may cause them (and you!) some distress. Most dogs are completely healthy before and after reverse sneezes. Think about them as you would your own regular sneezes: common, and not a cause for concern.

Reverse sneezing is not dangerous for dogs, though it may cause them (and you!) some distress.

What causes reverse sneezing in dogs?

The exact causes of reverse sneezing are unknown, though it’s theorized that they are triggered by irritation to the upper airway (nose, sinuses or back of the throat); an attempt to remove mucus from the respiratory system; or simply over-excitement.

Many dogs will have repeated episodes of reverse sneezing over their lives. Often, and frustratingly for the humans who love them, the episodes don’t seem to have a specific cause and will occur at random.

Some people have witnessed reverse sneezing while a dog is asleep or immediately following a nap. Reverse sneezing may also occur after play, exercise, or meals; exposure to dust or pollen; or other irritants, including smoke, strong odors, or other allergens. A common time of year for reverse sneezing is the change in seasons, when flowers begin to bloom and pollen increases. Rarely, reverse sneezing may be caused by nasal mites, foreign bodies such as seeds, or other masses.

How is reverse sneezing treated? Can I stop my dog from reverse sneezing?

Most of the time, no medical treatment is required for reverse sneezing. You may gently pet your dog’s neck or body to calm her during an episode. You can also try a home remedy of covering both nostrils for a few seconds and lightly blowing on your dog’s nose. Once a dog exhales through the nose after a reverse sneeze, the episode is typically over.

Though reverse sneezing is not a medical problem, dogs who have frequent episodes could be suffering from an allergy that may be treated by a vet with antihistamines or steroids. Your vet may also want to investigate the possibility that your dog has something in her airway that’s causing irritation and needs to be removed.

How long does reverse sneezing last?

A reverse sneezing episode can last for several seconds to a minute, although longer durations have been reported. It isn’t uncommon for a dog to have two episodes in a 24-hour period. Episodes of reverse sneezing more frequent than twice a day are uncommon, and may merit a visit to the vet.

If you are especially concerned with your dog’s reverse sneezing, make a video of an episode to share with your vet, since it isn’t likely to happen during a visit to the clinic. While there’s no cure for reverse sneezing itself, there may be an underlying cause that can be treated, plus showing the video to your veterinarian can help alleviate your own fears that something is seriously wrong.

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