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  • Leah F., LVT

Unveiling the Mystery of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

What is a reverse sneeze?

A typical sneeze expels air forcibly out of the body, but a reverse sneeze, or paroxysmal respiration, is exactly the opposite. Dogs, and on occasion, even cats, will reverse sneeze. They sharply inhale through their nose and may jerk their heads and almost look like they are gasping while sitting or standing still. They may often extend their head and neck while making snorting or choking sounds. It can last just a few seconds or stretch on for minutes. While it may look scary, it isn’t harmful, and there are no lasting effects, but it can certainly be distressing for everyone.

Reverse Sneezing Causes

The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought that an irritant in the back of the nasal passage or throat generally triggers reverse sneezes. It could be something as simple as dust, a blade of grass, pollen, smoke, certain chemicals, odors, or even a drastic change in the air temperature. Sometimes it can be brought on by anxiety. Less often, it could be something more complicated, like a polyp or tumor.

Breeds More Likely to Reverse Sneeze

Short-nosed breeds with elongated soft palates or dogs with long narrow snouts can be more sensitive to irritants because of congestion of their anatomy in their nasal passages and throats. Conversely, cats are less likely overall to experience a reverse sneeze.

Tips to Help Your Dog While Reverse Sneezing

The most important thing to do is remain calm. It can be hard to do when you see it for the first time or because your pet looks distressed, but if you become anxious, it can also make your pet nervous. If you feel comfortable, try covering and uncovering one nostril, or the most helpful is rubbing their throat to help them move any irritant by swallowing.

Preventing Reverse Sneezing

Avoiding irritants or known triggers is the best prevention. It may help to keep a mental or physical log of what was happening right before the reverse sneezing episode began. It can help you to identify a pattern and things to avoid in the future. Pets with allergies or asthma may be at a higher risk. Veterinarians can sometimes prescribe medication to help.

When to See a Veterinarian

Most cases do not require any medical treatment, but if your pet is reverse sneezing more often than usual, it is a good idea to have them checked out by their vet. It can be extremely helpful to record a video of it happening to show them. There could be contributing factors, like a collapsing trachea, foreign material, a polyp or tumor developing in the nasal passage or throat, or even an upper respiratory infection. Your veterinarian can help you identify and treat any underlying health problems. They may recommend bloodwork, allergy tests, x-rays, or even sedation to look into their nasal passage with a specialized scope. In some cases, your pet may need medication or surgery to help get them back to normal.


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