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Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Stephanie Gorski

Steph has a PhD in Entomology and teaches college biology and ecology.

In this lesson, we will talk about what a reverse sneeze looks and sounds like. We will talk about why dogs reverse sneeze, what makes a dog prone to reverse sneezing, and what to do when your dog reverse sneezes.

Reverse Sneezing

So what do you do if your dog starts making sudden choking noises? Maybe the noise sounds like the low, even buzz of a small motor, like a lawnmower. Your dog may stretch his neck with its head down and elbows out, appearing to be under a good deal of strain and making a truly hideous noise. If you're not a veterinarian, you very likely panic. Sometimes, though, your dog isn't choking at all - he or she is reverse sneezing.

Cats can reverse sneeze, but reverse sneezing is more common in dogs. Reverse sneezing is more common in small dogs, and in brachycephalic dogs. Brachycephalic dogs are dogs that have a broad, flat skull shape like a pug, English bulldog, French bulldog, Shih Tzu, Boston terrier, or Pekinese.

Pugs are prone to reverse sneezing.
Pugs are prone to reverse sneezing.

If your dog is actually choking, its gums will turn bluish from oxygen loss. Seek help immediately.

If you know your dog is reverse sneezing and not choking, then the sound is actually kind of funny. But your pet is probably still not enjoying the experience. The exact reason that dogs reverse sneeze is unknown, but it's likely that your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction to something. Sometimes stress and excitement can bring on a bout as well. Anecdotally, dog trainers have noticed that dog shows can bring on reverse sneezing. Gently stroke your dog's neck to help him or her calm down, but only if a collapsed trachea can be ruled out; this stroking may aggravate a collapsed trachea. Dog trainer Pat Foley suggests distracting your dog with a finger on its nose or mouth, or trying to encourage the dog to swallow. Try to identify what might be irritating your dog's breathing. Dust mites, cigarette smoke, grass seed, pollen, fumes, and other environmental irritants may be a problem. Dogs can safely take some human allergy medications like Benadryl; however, it is imperative that you always talk to your veterinarian before starting treatment for your dog.

The reverse sneezes should subside on their own without any treatment. Reverse sneezing is not harmful to your dog.

However, you should still talk to your veterinarian about reverse sneezing. Reverse sneezing is occasionally a symptom of serious problems, such as obstruction of the airways, or bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Usually in these cases, you will see other symptoms, such as runny nose, forward sneezing or coughing, or lethargy. You should definitely take notice if your dog's bouts of reverse sneezing increase in intensity or duration, or if a dog that has never reverse sneezed before suddenly does so frequently.

Respiration

Imagine what it feels like to sneeze. Pretty intense, right? Now imagine doing it backwards. In reverse sneezing, dogs suddenly begin inspiring (breathing in) repeatedly through their nose. The technical term for reverse sneezing in dogs is paroxysmal respiration.

Dogs, like all organisms save for a handful of weird single-celled organisms, respire to take in oxygen and to remove waste gases like carbon dioxide. But in dogs and cats, respiration serves the secondary function of heat regulation. Unlike you, dogs and cats can't sweat.

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