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What Is a Reverse Sneeze in a Dog – Decoding the Phenomenon

What Is a Reverse Sneeze in a Dog – Decoding the Phenomenon

Reverse sneezing in dogs is a respiratory event where a dog appears to be trying to inhale while sneezing, causing a distinctive snorting sound. This can be startling, but it’s generally a benign occurrence. Understanding this peculiar reflex is essential for pet parents who want to ensure their furry friend’s well-being.

Understanding the Reverse Sneezing Mechanism in Canines

Imagine a dog suddenly standing still, extending their neck, and making a snorting sound. This is the hallmark of a reverse sneeze. Unlike regular sneezing, which expels air out, reverse sneezing involves a rapid and forceful inhalation of air through the nose, causing the dog’s soft palate to flutter. This vibratory action is a reflex aimed at removing irritants from the nose or throat.

The muscle spasm during a reverse sneezing episode can seem dramatic, as the dog tries to inhale through their nose against a closed glottis. The sounds like the dog is in distress, often described as a goose honking, are the body’s way of clearing any irritants from the nasal passages. While it may seem alarming, reverse sneezing is typically harmless.

The Science Behind Reverse Sneezing

During a reverse sneeze, the dog’s soft palate and throat muscles spasm, resulting in a rapid and repeated inhalation. Various stimuli, including dust, perfumes, or even the dog’s excitement, can trigger this spasm. While it may appear uncomfortable, reverse sneezing is generally not harmful. It is simply the body’s way of removing irritants from the upper respiratory tract.

How Does It Differ From Regular Sneezing?

A regular sneeze helps expel irritants from the nasal passages with a forceful outward burst of air. In contrast, reverse sneezing is an involuntary, convulsive inhalation that seems to suck air rapidly back into the nose, making a distinct sound unlike the familiar achoo of a regular sneeze.

what is a reverse sneeze in a dog

Recognizing the Signs of Reverse Sneezing

When a dog is experiencing a reverse sneezing episode, they typically stand still, extend their neck, and emit loud snorting or choking sounds. The episode may last from a few seconds to a minute. Although it may look and sound serious, it’s usually a benign occurrence requiring medical treatment.

Identifying the Distinct Sounds of a Dog Reverse Sneezing

One of the most distinctive signs of a dog’s reverse sneezing is the sound, often compared to goose-honking. This noise comes as the dog tries to inhale through their nose during the spasm, which can last up to 30 seconds. Pet parents might notice their dog extending their neck and their chest expanding as they attempt to draw in air.

Duration and Frequency of Reverse Sneezing Episodes

Typically, a reverse sneezing episode is brief, often lasting no more than 30 seconds. However, some dogs may experience multiple episodes in a row or have them sporadically throughout the day. While occasional reverse sneezing is normal, frequent episodes may warrant a check-up with the vet.

Investigating the Causes of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Various factors can trigger reverse sneezing episodes in dogs. These can range from nasal mites to allergies or a simple tickle in the throat. Brachycephalic breeds like Shih Tzus may be more prone to this reflex due to their nasal structure. Sometimes, everyday activities like eating or drinking and environmental irritants, such as air fresheners, can set off an episode.

Common Triggers for Reverse Sneezing

Common triggers for reverse sneezing include dust, perfumes, pollen, excitement, or pulling on a leash. Brachycephalic dogs, with their shorter nasal passages, are particularly susceptible to these episodes.

When to Consult an Animal Hospital

If your dog is experiencing frequent reverse sneezing, accompanied by nasal discharge, or trouble breathing, consult an animal hospital. The vet may prescribe antihistamines if it’s allergies or perform further tests to rule out underlying health issues like nasal tumors.

Managing and Treating Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

While reverse sneezing doesn’t often require treatment, pet parents can help their dogs by staying calm and offering comfort. If the episodes are frequent or severe, a visit to the vet may be necessary to examine your dog for any potential underlying health concerns.

First Aid for a Reverse Sneezing Episode

During a reverse sneezing episode, you can massage your pet’s throat to help stop the muscle spasm. Some pet parents find that a gentle blow of air in their dog’s face can also help to shorten the episode. Offering reassurance through a calm and upbeat presence can help ease any anxiety and stress your pet may face.

When Veterinary Intervention May Be Required

Veterinary intervention may be required if your dog is experiencing persistent reverse sneezing, especially if accompanied by other symptoms like nasal discharge, trouble breathing, or exercise intolerance. A vet can determine if the cause is a foreign body, nasal mites, or an upper respiratory tract infection such as kennel cough.

Preventative Measures and How to Support Your Dog

Ensuring a clean bill of health with regular vet checkups is crucial. At home, keep your environment free of dust and strong scents. Support your pet through these scary moments by remaining focused on enrichment toys and activities, which can help divert their attention from the discomfort of reverse sneezing.

Environmental Changes to Reduce Reverse Sneezing

To minimize reverse sneezing episodes, maintain a clean and allergen-free environment. This includes regular cleaning, using hypoallergenic bedding, and avoiding air fresheners or smoke around your dog.

How to Comfort Your Dog During a Reverse Sneeze

When your dog reverse sneezes, it can be startling. You might hear a loud snorting as dogs rapidly inhale air through their noses. Although reverse sneezing in dogs can be alarming, it’s generally not harmful. Gently stroke your pet’s neck to comfort them. This action may help to stop the spasm. Speak calmly to reassure them, as dogs may reverse sneeze more with stress or excitement. Also, frequent episodes could indicate tracheal collapse or other issues, necessitating a veterinary checkup.

Unraveling Myths and Misconceptions About Reverse Sneezing

Some dog owners mistakenly think a dog that struggles to breathe during a reverse sneeze suffers from a collapsing trachea or requires sedated oral treatment. In reality, dogs experiencing reverse sneezes rapidly suck air into their nasal passages to clear irritants, and the episode usually resolves without intervention. While the sounds can mimic labored breathing, treatment for reverse sneezing typically isn’t necessary. However, if the episodes are frequent or severe, consult your vet.

Separating Facts From Fiction

It’s vital to distinguish between reverse sneezing in dogs and cats and more severe conditions like heart disease. While the clinical signs may appear similar, reverse sneezing is often benign and self-limiting. Heart disease, on the other hand, requires immediate veterinary attention. If you’re uncertain about your pet’s symptoms, seek professional advice rather than rely on guesswork or misinformation.

what is a reverse sneeze in a dog

Bottom Line

Reverse sneezing in dogs is a peculiar but typically harmless condition. It may be dramatic, but it’s often not a cause for alarm. Familiarizing yourself with the signs and sounds of reverse sneezing can help you stay calm and comfort your pet. If the episodes are infrequent and your dog appears to recover quickly, there’s no need for concern. However, if you notice an increase in frequency or severity or your dog seems distressed, it’s time to visit the vet.

Understanding your dog’s health and well-being is a part of responsible pet ownership. By separating the myths from the facts, you can provide the best care for your furry friend. Always remember to consult a professional to keep your dog happy and healthy. Their well-being is worth every effort, and your peace of mind is priceless. Embrace the journey of dog ownership, and cherish every moment with your loyal companion.


  • Becca Hartmann

    • Age: 47
    • Lives In: Portland, Oregon
    • Interests: Botanical gardening, craft brewing, and collecting vintage dog posters
    • Favorite Dog: Border Collie, because their intelligence and energy keep me on my toes.
    What I Enjoy About Writing: "Sharing knowledge about our furry companions while promoting responsible dog ownership is my jam. Off the clock, I'm either tending to my garden with my Border Collie, Zoe, or sipping on a homebrew and admiring my dog poster collection."