Some dogs are affected by a condition called reverse sneezing (i.e., inspiratory paroxysmal respiration) that occurs when the soft palate muscle at the back of the dog’s throat spasms. The resulting noise can be alarming, but reverse sneezing is not painful or problematic for the dog. Keep reading to learn more about this peculiar condition.
What causes reverse sneezing in dogs?
A reverse sneeze is an involuntary inspiratory reflex that occurs when the soft palate is irritated. Similar to coughing or regular sneezing, a reverse sneeze expels an irritant. A cough helps remove irritants in the trachea, a regular sneeze helps expel irritants in the nasal cavity, and a reverse sneeze helps expel irritants in the nasopharynx, which is the area between the nasal cavity and the throat. Some possible soft palate irritants that can result in a reverse sneeze include:
- Allergies — Environmental allergens, such as pollen, molds, dust mites, and grasses
- Household products — Household products, such as cleaning products and air fresheners
- Grooming products — Grooming products, such as perfume, cologne, and hair spray
- Infection — Bacterial and viral respiratory infections
- Abnormalities in the throat — Tumors and abnormalities, such as an elongated soft palate
- Nasal mites — Nasal mites live in the nasal passages and sinuses and cause reverse sneezing, nose bleeds, head shaking, and facial itching.
- Pressure on the throat — Pulling on your dog’s leash can irritate their soft palate.
- Overexcitement — Some dogs reverse sneeze when they get excited.
- Eating and drinking — Eating and drinking, especially in dogs prone to gulping their food and water
While any dog can experience reverse sneezing, brachycephalic dogs, such as pugs, Boston terriers, boxers, bulldogs, and shih tzus, are at increased risk, because they commonly have an elongated soft palate that can irritate the throat during inhalation. Small-breed dogs are also more prone to reverse sneezing, possibly because they have a smaller nasopharyngeal region.
How do I know if my dog is reverse sneezing?
Irritation to a dog’s soft palate causes the muscle to spasm, resulting in a temporary obstruction to the tracheal opening. To breathe better, the dog extends their neck and forcefully attempts to inhale through their nose, which sounds like the dog is inhaling the sneeze and is why the condition is called a reverse sneeze. Typically, a reverse sneeze results in a loud snorting sound that sounds like a goose honking, and owners often think that something is stuck in their dog’s throat. These episodes usually last about 30 seconds, and the dog is completely normal before and after the episode.
If possible, take a video to show your veterinarian, so they can help you determine if your dog is reverse sneezing. If your dog shows other signs, such as lethargy, coughing, increased respiratory rate or effort, or difficulty breathing, seek immediate veterinary care.
How is reverse sneezing diagnosed in dogs?
Reverse sneezing is not a serious condition, but your dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out other, more concerning conditions, such as a collapsing trachea or nasal tumors. Diagnostics may include:
- History — Your veterinarian will ask you to describe your dog’s episode and ask about their environment and medical history. A video is extremely helpful, since your dog is unlikely to replicate the episode in the clinic.
- Physical exam — Your veterinarian will examine your dog, taking their temperature, palpating their throat, and listening to their chest.
- X-rays — In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend X-rays of your dog’s sinuses or chest.
- Rhinoscopy — If your dog’s reverse sneezing is chronic or severe, your veterinarian may perform a rhinoscopy to look for nasal cavity and throat abnormalities.
How is reverse sneezing treated in dogs?
Reverse sneezing is typically a benign condition, but if the episodes have an underlying cause or their frequent occurrence hinders your dog, your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
If your brachycephalic dog has an elongated soft palate, your veterinarian may recommend corrective surgery.
Can I stop my dog’s reverse sneeze?
Most reverse sneezing episodes last only a few seconds, but holding the dog’s nostrils closed for a second, lightly massaging their throat, and blowing in their face may help. These techniques are meant to make the dog swallow, which will typically stop the reverse sneeze spasm.
If your dog is exhibiting odd snorting noises, contact your veterinarian to determine if they are reverse sneezing.